Art of business that tests the unknown

Tuesday January 19 2021
By Business Daily Africa

Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art” is the thought of artist and pop icon Andy Warhol. In 1968 he painted a can of Campbell’s soup, challenged traditional perceptions of what is ‘art’, and grew influential and affluent in the process.

Is business art or science? Is business more impressionistic, a touch of ‘flying by the seat of your pants’, or does it have more of a scientific cause and effect, with predicable outcomes?

Depending on their discipline, managers see business differently. Lost in their journal entries, accountants are concerned about managing risk, marketing folks focus on the unique selling proposition and engineers dwell on design and durability.

Whatever one’s training, art of business is very much about problem solving. Being clear on the situation and what one aims to achieve. “A well defined problem is 90 percent solved,” said Albert Einstein.

Defining the problem clearly, being able to look at it from a number of perspectives is a lot of the battle. Here, there is a need to apply logic and a dash of ‘out of the box’ more creative lateral thinking. It’s always helpful to apply inductive thinking, going from the particular to the general.

Applying the scientific method, developed over the centuries, setting out a researched ‘best guess’, a hypothesis of what one thinks is happening, and then going about either proving, or disproving the hypothesis. Better to take a leap and state what one thinks is the solution, than waste time, getting lost in a sea of confusing possibilities.


Helps to make all this as visual as possible, setting out a logic tree. And, in the process having fun, being a touch artistic, playing with the not so obvious possibilities.

Here there is a need to have an openness to experimentation and failure.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, stresses hypothesis testing as being part of the company’s success. “Instead of saying ‘I have an idea’ what if you said ‘I have a new hypothesis, let’s go test it and see if it’s valid, ask how quickly we can validate it’. And if it’s not valid, move on to the next one,” explains Nadella.

Just like the surprising onset of the coronavirus, amazing thing is that despite the lust for predictability, business rarely goes exactly as expected. The stochastic variable, what engineers call the ‘bugger factor’ usually comes into play. And one often has their most insightful thoughts about solving a business problem, outside of the workplace.

Often an approach, a solution, just comes to one, much the same way Isaac Newton, sitting under a tree in 1666, developed his law of universal gravitation, by watching apples fall straight to the ground.


In business, there is a mysterious gap, between knowing and being in action, making it happen, being ready to risk failure. Any village idiot can preach, and most do, but prophesising is not enough.

Somehow one has to take all that experience, book learning and entertaining YouTube clips and turn them into a viable business, that creates value for the customer.

Business has been turned upside down by an invisible microrobe, equal to 50 to 200 nanometers, that’s a billionth of a metre. It would be nice to go back to the time, when Corona was just a beer. Business is constantly shifting with more connectivity, lower transaction costs, unprecedented automation, and fundamental societal shifts.

All of a sudden, 200 years of management thinking about control and predictability has become almost obsolete. Business models are shifting, your competitor today, may be your ecosystem business partner tomorrow.

Perhaps the art is that, when faced with a puzzling problem, we should do what Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs would do: go for a long walk.