The synergy between creativity and business acumen is more crucial than ever. Often, creative individuals and liberal arts majors find themselves immersed in the expressive realms of art, literature, or design, neglecting the practicalities of business.

However, integrating business principles into the skill set of a creative mind can unlock a world of opportunities, teaching you how to start your own creative business, and ensuring sustainable success and broader impact.

We spoke with Adam Collis, professor of practice at Thunderbird School of Global Management and program director of the Sidney Poitier New American Film School at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, on the importance of creative people gaining business principles.

The struggles of a liberal arts major in the business world

As a filmmaker, Collis said the creative process has always come naturally to him.

“When it came to creative matters, such as where to put a camera, what the color palette of the movie should be … those sorts of creative things were just so intuitive to me,” he said.

“But aspects related more to business acumen, such as organizational dynamics, interpersonal professional dynamics, politics, and diplomacy, I just had no familiarity with. And I really was over my head.”

He stated that the lack of business knowledge was a drawback.

“I knew the craft and the art of it, but I didn’t know how to advance my career,” he said.

Collis earned his MBA at UCLA.

The value of business principles for creative individuals

Collis stated that business school can be eye-opening for creatives.

“When you go to business school, there are some really simple concepts you learn that, if you're just a creative, you would have never learned,” he said.

The following are some of the business principles that can benefit the careers of creative people.

Personal sustainability and independence

Understanding financial management and budgeting enables creatives to sustain themselves independently. Learning to manage resources efficiently ensures the longevity of their creative pursuits without solely relying on external support.

Financial literacy, diversification of income streams, resource management, and negotiation skills are among the things needed for business success. 

Monetization of creativity

Business principles empower creatives to transform their passion into a profession. Whether it's selling artwork, freelance writing, or providing design services, understanding pricing, marketing, and negotiation becomes imperative for financial success.

This also covers areas such as production costs, market demand, and the perceived value of creations.

Effective communication

Business knowledge enhances the ability to communicate ideas effectively. Creative individuals can articulate the value proposition of their work, pitch projects to potential collaborators or clients, and navigate professional relationships with confidence.

Collis stated that he had never been taught about value propositions.

“It sounded almost a little untoward,” he said. “But when it was taught to me that a value proposition simply is the value set that the person you're negotiating with will take away from this interaction, it started to make sense. Doesn't everybody need a value proposition when trying to advance anything?”

Navigation of intellectual property

Knowing the basics of copyright, licensing, and property rights safeguards the creative work of individuals. Understanding contracts and negotiating them is also beneficial when collaborating with clients, publishers, or other artists.

This knowledge ensures that artists, writers, and designers can protect their creations and negotiate fair deals.

Entrepreneurial ventures

Many creatives aspire to start their own ventures, whether it's a design studio, publishing company, or an art gallery. Business principles provide the foundation for effective entrepreneurship, covering aspects such as business planning, market research, and strategic decision-making. Building a personal brand and adapting to market changes are also vital skills to learn.

“For a creative person to be able to learn those various business practices, to then be able to be taught how to think strategically and bring those practices into a unified strategy,” Collis said, “that gives them a huge advantage over the many creatives that just don't think in that way and do not have access to those practices.”

Tips for integrating business principles

Here are some ways you can grow your business acumen and apply these lessons to your creative career:

Take relevant courses

Enroll in business-related courses or workshops or get relevant degrees, such as the Master of Leadership and Management: Global Creative Industries (MLM-GCI) at Thunderbird. Many online platforms offer flexible and affordable options, allowing creative individuals to acquire essential business skills at their own pace.

Also look into local workshops and professional development seminars to get comfortable with other business practices.

Network and collaborate

Seminars can also be a good place to network and seek out collaboration. Engaging with professionals from both creative and business backgrounds gives a fuller experience and more ideas to put into practice. 

Collaborative projects provide valuable insights into the intersection of creativity and commerce, fostering a holistic understanding of the industry.

Seek mentorship

Connect with mentors who have successfully merged creativity and business. Their guidance can offer practical advice, share experiences, and help navigate the challenges inherent in balancing artistic pursuits with financial sustainability.

Find mentors in professional organizations or mentorship platforms connected to relevant groups.

Stay informed

Keep abreast of industry trends and business news. Understanding market dynamics, consumer behavior, and emerging technologies ensures that creative individuals can align their work with current demands and opportunities.

Subscribe to industry publications, attend webinars and panels, and read business books on entrepreneurship, marketing, and leadership to continue the growth.

Learn skills to grow your career at Thunderbird

The fusion of creativity and business principles is not just beneficial; it's essential for the holistic development of individuals in the liberal arts and creative fields. As the world continues to place a premium on innovation and adaptability, those equipped with a combination of artistic talent and business acumen will find themselves not only surviving but thriving in an increasingly competitive landscape.

“Creative people will learn a set of business skills and practices that will enable them to advance their creativity, either for themselves or entrepreneurially,” Collis said.

Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University understands the importance of strong leadership and management by offering top degrees, including the Master of Leadership and Management: Global Creative Industries degree.

Learn about additional opportunities to further your leadership education with Thunderbird’s executive education programs.

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