The strategy of art

If you’ve ever ambled through a staid museum with classic paintings on the wall, you probably did not think that behind those aged canvases and ornate frames lie the stories of some pitched strategic battles. Joerg Reckhenrich, Jamie Anderson, and Costas Markides found 21st century wisdom in the competition between two artistic titans. 

"The art of strategy” is a phrase often spoken in business schools, but there’s much to be learned as well from the strategy of art. 

Let’s first talk about the art of strategy. Strategic innovation is the discovery of a fundamentally different strategy or way of competing in an existing industry. Strategic innovation takes place when a company identifies gaps in competitors’ positions via an industry-positioning map, goes after these competitors, and exploits these gaps to grow their own company, the marketplace, or both.

These gaps have been identified as:

  • a new who – emerging customer segments or existing customer segments that other competitors have neglected
  • a new what – emerging customer needs or existing customer needs not served well by other competitors;
  • a new how – ways of promoting, producing, delivering or distributing existing (or new) products/services to existing or new customer segments

Strategic innovators are most successful when they invade existing markets, either by introducing products or services that emphasize radically different value propositions from those emphasized by established competitors, or by adopting radically different value chain configurations from those prevailing in the industry. Not surprisingly, the more innovative the strategy that a new entrant adopts relative to established firms, the higher the probability that the challenger will succeed.

Strategic innovation is not a new concept but has deep historical roots. While the vast majority of research on strategic innovation has focused on firm strategies over the past two decades, we would like to step back several centuries to discuss strategic innovation in the art world of Venice in the 16th century, in which the artist Tintoretto was able to create new market space in a “mature” industry dominated by the grand art master, Titian.

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Simon Severino