George Lucas says art drives innovation

George Lucas, the film-maker behind such hits as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, shared some uplifting thoughts on artistic passion and technological invention at the World Business Forum in New York on October 6. Tracing his career to its beginnings, he modestly said that it was the pursuit of art, not profit or invention, which fueled the many innovations he can be credited for, from early movie-merchandise strategies to the realistic computer-generated effects pioneered by Lucasfilm and featured in movies such as Jurassic Park.

Art is about communicating emotion via technology, he said. So it fuels creative thinking not only in terms of content, but also execution. It’s been the case since early cave paintings and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes. To achieve stunning effects, an artist often needs to push the boundaries of current technologies, and then discover a new way of doing things. And that very artistic process can lead to tech that can be highly monetized; in other words, innovation.

The takeaway from Lucas’ talk at the World Business Forum? Let employees be creative first to appeal to your audience’s emotions (and “audience” can apply to customers, of course) when devising new products, then worry about how and if a potential invention will be profitable. It worked for Lucas, clearly. He said he was always thinking of the emotional impact of his work since the beginnign of his career, and not how he was going to make millions or build an entertainment empire. Perhaps corporations could learn from artists like Lucas, just as they have been increasingly been learning from designers such as IDEO’s Tim Brown. Call it art-thinking.

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