Sylvain Bureau, "Art Thinking in Business"


A professor of entrepreneurship in Paris who discovered a way to use art to help business people think more creatively, Sylvain Bureau met his unlikely collaborator at a wedding. The product of this chance encounter, Art Thinking, has gained acceptance in boardrooms around the world. My sound engineer Raul Rosa really liked this episode. I did too.

Highlights include:

  • ESCP Europe, where Sylvain Bureau teaches, is the first business school. It was founded two centuries ago. The founder was Jean Baptiste Say of the eponymous economic law.

  • J.B. Say really believed in entrepreneurship. The foundation named after him now employs twenty academics in the field of entrepreneurship in several European cities.

  • Sylvain Burau was trying to get out of the “Velvet-Lined Rut” of tenured academia in much the same way that Howard Stevenson was when he left a tenured position at Harvard Business School to go into business.

  • At a wedding celebration Sylvain Bureau met an artist named Pierre Tectin. Since French wedding festivities are famously long, Pierre and Sylvain had a long conversation from which ensued the idea of Art Thinking.

  • They apply a technique created by Guy Debord whereby small groups of people wander or drift, (the method is actually called “drift”) through an unfamiliar landscape, usually urban, allowing themselves to be drawn by the terrain and the chance encounters they make there.

  • Art Thinking is a method to create the improbable with certainty. The goal is not to find a solution, the goal is to question our questions.

  • Sylvain see the need for this approach arising from the need to find new solutions to the constraints we face both in terms of the environment and in terms of the encroachment into human work by machines.

  • Creating the improbable allows humans to enhance the value of what machines can do.

  • Sal speculates about the connections between drift and the neuroscience of human vision, whereby low-resolution images of the world around us are created and stored in our brains.

  • Art Thinking is more about unlearning certain patterns of thought that locks the business person in certain unproductive modes.

  • The Art Thinking workshops are very demanding and challenging but invariably result in the creation of something valuable.

  • This strong experience that produces an unexpected object opens participants up to possibilities they had not previously considered.

  • The e-commerce site implemented Art Thinking in its personnel department and found that their new practices had resulted in more openness to new providers.

  • Another instance is the creation of an event that highlighted the work of street food vendors and led to the creation of a new catering company called Mamie Foodie.

  • Sylvain wrote a book called “Free Your Pitch” to help people improve their pitch decks. The aim is to free you from the habits that lead to boring pitch decks. It won’t make you into Steve Jobs but it will make your deck at least good. The methods in the book have been used by EY and Canon for internal presentations.

  • Sylvain compares the entrepreneurial environment in Europe and the US. He sees huge shifts.

  • Japan is using France as an example to follow in boosting entrepreneurship quickly.

  • Sylvain emphasizes the need for increasing people’s ability to be creative so that they may contribute more productively in a work environment being increasingly automated.

Startup Parade

  • Glowee is a startup that grew out of Sylvain’s work. It makes lighting based on biological lighting sources.

  • Dashlane Password Manager is another company founded by a former student. It has been well received in America. They made a successful jump from Europe to the US.

  • Stonly is a tool for creating highly effective user guides.

  • Anti-Café is co-working space where you pay by the hour. “Where Everything Is Free Except Time”.

  • In conclusion Sylvain advises founders to take into account the human element in their work. “The Fuzzy and The Techie”.