Robert Redford urges businesses to embrace risk and take creativity more seriously

Respected actor and director shares his own experiences of reinvention during the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit

Creativity and business are intertwined and one cannot exist without the other, respected US actor and director, Robert Redford, told attendees at this year’s Adobe Summit.

Speaking from his own experience of the importance of artistic endeavour, Redford said creativity is a key part of how we transform and innovate not only as people, but also as organisations and society.

To further illustrate the point, Redford pointed out natural forms such as Planet Earth are created as the result of chaos followed by order. In a corporate environment, he labelled art/creativity the chaos, and business the order that follows it.

“Business has to follow chaos, it can’t come first,” he claimed. “Art is where the ideas start and catch fire. Once that happens, then you can make sense of it.

“Computers and the Internet, for example, have enormous value in our society but what they do is calculate the many ways of seeing something. It’s creativity that conceptualises that; you need that to innovate.”

While readily admitting to having an artistic prejudice, Redford called on more organisations to advocate creativity as a way of evolving and growing, and said art should be included much earlier in the education curriculum. He recalled a teacher from his early childhood who recognised his drawing in class to be an expression of an artistic bent, and actively encouraged it. This led him to pursue what most would recognise today as a highly successful artistic career.

“Creativity has too often been viewed as a trivial pursuit,” Redford added. “Art needs to be given more value; then order can follow it.”

Redford also talked through how he has been able to keep reinventing his own career, and cited instinct, intuition and taking risks as key elements.

“Not taking a risk is a risk; I think taking the risk is what propels you forward,” he said in response to a question from Adobe CMO, Ann Lewnes, on what it takes to reinvent yourself.

“One of the inevitable aspects of life is the role change plays... I’ve always tried to make this a positive thing in life. You should use change to create something new.”

Redford said the Sundance Film Institute and Festival, which he founded in 1981, is an example of a project that has gone through many iterations as it matured, experience several failures along the way. Adobe is a long-standing corporate partner for the independent film festival, which runs in Utah annually and focuses on actively encouraging risk-taking storytellers worldwide.

“There were a lot of roadblocks on the road which you could see as failures, but which I saw them in a positive way,” Redford said. “Some people see failure as a stop point, but I see it as a step along the road and something you use it to your advantage if you can.

“There are many things I’ve tried that didn’t work, but I felt so strongly about them being good ideas that I pursued them and kept pushing through. Either you completely stop, and are institutionalised, or you find out that failure was just a step and not the end result.”

In a similar manner, Redford said success was another component of the journey, but warned against embracing it as the end game.

“I see success as something you shadow box with but don’t embrace,” he said. “If you embrace it, it could stop you from innovating. I don’t like to get too close to it because success can have a dark side too.

“I don’t tend to measure success by awards, as that’s often too political. Awards are an acknowledgment and something I’m grateful for when I receive them, but I then move along.

“If you get too connected to the success you gained, rather than seeing it as a step, it could actually stop you. Sometimes people get so consumed by it, they forget to use that success to propel themselves forward in other new forms.”

- Nadia Cameron attended Adobe Summit as a guest of Adobe.

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