Unexpected Business Lessons from Artist Henri Matisse

Thanks Matisse!

I somewhat reluctantly (I am now embarrassed to say) attended the Henri Matisse retrospective at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I freely admit to a limited appreciation for art, but this was a fantastic exhibition. And Matisse offered up some unexpected business lessons:

 “Each picture as I finish it, seems like the best thing I have ever done…. and yet after a while I am not so sure. It is like taking a train to Marseille. One knows where one wants to go. Each painting completed is like a station—just so much nearer the goal. The time comes when the painter is apt to feel he has at last arrived. Then, if he is honest, he realizes two things—either that he has not arrived at all or that Marseille… is not where he wanted to go anyway, and he must push farther on.” – Henri Matisse

The artist’s quote illuminates the business canvas. Like why we, and the organizations we create, are in a constant state of change, chaos, and renewal. Which helps me understand why I have never met a satisfied, successful CEO. Which helps me appreciate the best CEO’s I know who take extreme pleasure in the journey, including the ups and downs, and treat the achievement of a goal simply as a part of the process.

Successful enterprises, and the CEOs who run them, embrace as compatible equals both evolution and stability; they neither fear, nor overly celebrate, the moments of light and dark that ultimately lead to business excellence.

A contemporary artist of a different sort, Steve Jobs, said: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”