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The matching culture and economy concept of DSM’s Arthur Simonetti


Both the company and co-creation “When a company exploits the creativity of artists just to raise profits, this quickly becomes a gimmick”. This is what Marketing Director of DSM, Arthur Simonetti, believes. “Cooperation is only successful if it moves in two directions and only if both parties are prepared to learn from each other.” The success of the product launch room which Simonetti developed together with artists started him thinking about the relationship between artists and business. Article by Mariette Huisjes


“Have you already read it? This weekend in the newspaper?” This is the first thing Arthur Simonetti asks after greeting me. “The Department of Waterways and Public Works has created a lounging room and it cost €5 million. Five million!!. I won’t say what our launch room cost, but it was considerably less.” As its Marketing Director Simonetti is responsible for the launch of new products made by the multinational DSM. In addition, such a launch must be an immediate success. DSM sells its semi-manufactured products to a relatively small group of large companies, and it cannot afford to make a mistake. It was only a year ago that the experts concerned met in small meeting rooms to work out a plan. Last year a large room, once the library, became available and Simonetti saw his chance to completely remould the run up to the product launch. Literally and figuratively. Now, the project teams spend a couple of weeks in an inspiring pressure cooker. The results are terrific. The scepticism that first greeted Simonetti’s plan not to employ an architect but a mishmash of would-be artists has now turned to enthusiasm. A second inspirational room is now being constructed and

it seems that the artists have found their niche within the company. Arthur Simonetti is the driving force behind the turnaround. He really believes that artists and business can make an excellent match, provided certain conditions are met. What’s the use of a writer or a dancer to a marketing man? “These days a company has to work in a satiated world. We have hundreds of solutions for every problem in the Western world. Of course, as a company, you want your product to be the one selected but that requires more and more inventiveness. We have to be conspicuous, seek out new frontiers, and do things differently than we did in the past. Moreover, that is where artists can help. Not because they are necessarily more creative than we are. There are a lot of creative and talented people working in a large company like DSM; you do not need to recruit them from outside. However, it can be difficult to tap into this creativity. The special quality possessed by artists is that they have a different outlook than we do. After all business only has one intrinsic motive: making money. Artists do not think this is so important. Passion and

beauty move them. It is their very nature to be curious and inquisitive. So are we, but we have been trained to think analytically, they work using an association of ideas and emotions. Precisely because they are different from us our interaction with them awakens our interest in all kinds of things. Their very presence is disarming and charming providing the new impulses we need. If this artistic collaboration is so productive, why is it not applied on a larger scale? I have often asked that question. This is so much fun. All the people who visit our product launch room are enthusiastic about it; how is it that this kind of cooperation has not yet been widely accepted? That started me thinking about ways in which artists and business can work together. That is how I conceived the matching culture and economy concept. The connection between culture and economy is not new; however, I think the problem is that too often the investment made is one-sided. Either the company’s involvement is considerable but that of the artist is slight, for instance if you engage a sculptor for a team

the artist benefit from building session. Alternatively, the artist’s involvement is considerable, but the company’s is lukewarm, for example, when someone is commissioned to make a work of art. I think that cooperation can only prove its worth provided both parties are prepared to enter a dialogue and are prepared to get to know each other and to learn from each other. Only then does something actually happen, both of you are creating something new. Management guru, C.P. Prahalad calls that co-creation. Just like the project at Unilever with Creamer & Lloyd (see heArt edition no. 1, ed.) who hauled a number of international artists into the firm. This was a good start but still too one-sided. Unilever uses artists to alter its processes. It is mainly a “drain the brain situation”, only the artist’s expertise is being used, there is no dialogue. Moreover, as a consultant is involved it quickly becomes a gimmick. Something only really happens when both parties gain new insights. I am proud that the artists we have worked with have learnt to speak our kind of language and have started their own company. That is when you both profit; that is really great.” What does one need to make co-creation possible? “Artists and business people speak a different language. Therein lies the power of cooperation, but it does mean that you have to build bridges. For instance, at the start of our project with the artists, we were uncertain what the results would be. That is quite difficult to sell to a company normally geared to productivity. Sometimes it costs me a lot of time and effort to understand what an artist wants to say. On the other hand, they find it difficult to understand that we have a lot of rules and regulations. If a wall needs to be painted then they say: “Tell

you what, we’ll just come by this weekend with a paintbrush”. That does not work here. I first have to ask permission. Those worlds are miles apart. Both sides have to be prepared to relate to each other asking themselves what they can contribute. This means, for instance, that co-creation is impossible to do with artists who see the business world just as bags of money, or who by definition feel that the business world is dirty and distressing. People who are essentially interested in each other, and want to learn from each other can carry out co-creation. The second condition to carry out co-creation is that the participants are not afraid to give something away. That is quite abnormal for a company that is used to dealing with intellectual property, yet it must be done. You put your ideas on the table, and you must not become frustrated if something different emerges than you had intended. Nevertheless, the one who does something with your idea also throws it back on the table. You must have a desire to build, together improve on an idea, don’t reject it, but let it grow.” You once said that artists and businesses require interpreters, because they both speak a different language. Is that not a little too formal? Put that way, you must not be too formal. Even so, in each group there must be at least one person who speaks the language of the other. For instance, the artists must have one person among them capable of presenting a report the way business is accustomed to hear. The report can be as good as it gets, but if it does not come across, then it is useless. The company too must have a standard bearer, somebody who can break a lance internally in the company. Somebody who has been around for quite some time has built an internal


Photograph:: Daimon Xanthopoulos

“Artists as such are not more creative, but they

can help people tap into creativity”

“Artists should not see the business community

as a bag of money”

network and enjoys people’s trust. Somebody to whom one can say: “I don’t understand what you are doing, but you’ll get autonomy to complete the project.”


What else are you going to do in this field? “Two things I hope. First of all that we extend the cooperation with artists further into the international arena. After all, DSM is an international company. Secondly, I would like to stimulate the cooperation with artist in such a manner that this form of cooperation becomes an integral part of our approach. It would be nice if in about three years this approach were fixed in the minds of many managers as being a way to improve performance and products. Just sitting around a table during an afternoon you can think of hundreds of projects involving artists, for example, design, innovation, cooperation between people, making products, trade fairs, and so on. Maybe we should set up a central group for arts and business within DSM, just as there is a special department to look after the art collection.” Co-creation between artists and business is still in an embryonic phase. Do you think that it will take off in the future? Nothing brings universal happiness, but this has a lot of potential. It really is alive. For us in the business world it is sometimes difficult to stay focussed. Procedures and processes bind you. Cooperation with artists helps, as it is not threatening. Here we talk a lot about partnerships; we really want to work with clients and other companies. Then our interests are not always identical. Sometimes, it can take years to build up sufficient trust to tell each other the tricks of the trade. There are no conflicting interests when working with artists, as the interests complement each other. We can really

Product launch room at DSM

help each other, a combination of learning, inspiration and fun. This latter point is very valuable; working together with artists is just very nice and pleasant.”

“You can think of at least a hundred projects

where the involvement of artists can help”

X shows the company’s involvement going up from low to high. The y-axle shows the involvement of the artist, going up from low to high. If the involvement of both parties is low (left bottom) then it is a matter of simple transactional cooperation, for instance, businesses buying art. An example where the involvement of the artist is considerable, and the involvement of the company is limited is when the artist receives a commission to paint a picture based on the company. However, when the skills of the artists are engaged and the company shows it is really involved, then a form of cooperation is created such as “team events”, team building activities. Co-creation can only evolve if both parties are really involved.

Four artists who had taken part in the course “Artists in Society” of Kunstenaars&CO helped DSM develop a product launch room: a room where production managers, technologists, marketing people, controllers and people involved in logistics and communications could withdraw for a couple of weeks to draw up a plan for the launch of a new product. The former library was turned into a pressure cooker. The various departments all have their own atmosphere and duties. Thus, there is a brainstorming room, a games area, a cutting and pasting area, a presentation area, a silence room and a real small garden. There is an electrifying atmosphere because the rooms and areas contains not only modern design furniture but also old leather armchairs that belonged to the management, reliquaries from the company’s history and an antique twisting stairway leading up to a virtual sky. The space is frequently used. Whether or not the team leaders can make better decisions is difficult to say, but it is done more quickly than when they met in various little conference rooms.

pany hires a sculptor to teach people to use clay as a kind of teambuilding exercise, then the company is an actual participant being inspired by the artist who in turn remains at a distance. Finally, co-creation means that both parties open their minds to each other’s knowledge and skills. Only then does real innovation come into being.

Buying brain time

The four artists who developed the product launch room at DSM are the dancer, Erik van Duijvenbode, the graphic artist, Nienke Jansen, multimedia artist, Michiel Koelink, and writer, Moniek Spaans. They decided to start their own company after their positive experience at DSM. Their company is called Art&Organisation. They particularly want to work on cocreation projects. Projects that get a company going. An organisation can buy “brain time” from them “in order to think about anything they consider exciting”. For starters, Art&Organisation together with DSM is designing a second inspirational area. This time it is for the Innovation Department in Urmond.


The Matching culture and economic concept In order to get a grip on the relationship between artists and companies Arthur Simonetti developed the “matching culture and economy concept”. It distinguishes between four different types of cooperation depending on the involvement of both participants. The simplest type is where a company buys a work of art. The involvement of both parties is minimal. Should an artist be commissioned to create a work of art, then he must get involved in the company. His involvement is considerable, but that is not the case with the patron. For example, if a com-

Photograph: Peter Boer

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DSM Rotterdam  

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