How Picasso can make you a better leader

For centuries, artists have shaped how we see the world and we can learn leadership lessons from them.

Pablo Picasso is a great example.  Half a century before Apple was encouraging us to “Think Different” Picasso was challenging us to think differently through his art.  It’s easy to forget Picasso was a master painter of realism – he could paint a bird or a landscape as well as Rembrandt or Turner.

Picasso got bored with realism and wanted to represent traditional things in new ways.  This often involved showing the subject from multiple perspectives on one canvas – the front, back and side of a horse, for example.  This new way of representing things was extremely confronting and uncomfortable for people – even his closest friends and admirers initially told Picasso to stop such nonsense.

Just as Picasso shows there are many ways of viewing the same thing, there are also many ways of doing something.  If, like many leaders, you want innovation, you can benefit from a Picasso mindset by encouraging others to bring fresh approaches and thinking to the table.

It’s not unusual for leaders to talk big about wanting innovative ideas but to recoil when given them!  So you must also be ready to authentically consider whatever ideas you receive – no matter how whacky and uncomfortable they initially seem.

Being really open to big bold ideas is easier said than done.  Why?  Again the art world provides an insight. French writer Jean Cocteau said: “Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.”

When really innovative ideas come along they can be dismissed because they appear too whacky or “ugly”.  Often this is because they are viewed in relation to the current fashion of doing things, and anything that is truly innovative is going to be at odds with the current fashion.  Consider that the “ugly” or confronting idea that comes to you today could be the art form of how you do things tomorrow!

Here are some ideas to help you think like Picasso and to get “match fit” to try on big bold innovative ideas:

  • Watch TV programmes and read books and magazines you normally wouldn’t.  Read and watch with an open mind.
  • Listen to music that is the polar opposite to your current taste. Listen to enjoy, not endure.
  • Eat or drink something you decided 20 years ago you didn’t like – taste with the intention of enjoying.
  • Take a different route to work each day.
  • Re arrange your office or living room.
  • Listen to the person you least “rate” as though they are a genius.

You get the idea – purposefully expose yourself to the new and confronting!

Nick Sceats is a Managing Director of Catapult. To learn more about Catapult Leadership, contact