I’d like to make a bet that sometime in the next five years, indigenous indian innovation will become hot in fashion, food, contemporary art, and, most important, business culture. Just as we now see IIT-trained Indians from Mumbai and other parts of India holding positions as chief financial officers and chief information officers throughout US companies, I expect to see Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo, Apache and other Native Americans holding chief creative officer positions in the years ahead.
It’s not such a far-out idea. When it comes to innovation and creativity, there is a huge pool of Indian talent that can be tapped by corporations. On a recent trip to the annual Indian Market in Sante Fe, I saw amazing innovations in metallurgy by some of the best silversmiths in the world. Materials play a huge role in Indian art and materials are the hottest thing today in design. I saw breakthrough work in textiles, painting, glass and pottery. Building on tradition, these Indians are among the best contempory artists in the world. Their work belongs in the Museum of Modern Art, not just the Museum of Natural History.
Most important, the discourse surrounding Native American art is all about creativity and innovation. That’s what artists talk about all the time. For example, the work of Charles Loloma, Wes Willy and Sonwai have the look and feel of modern architectural—more like Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gerhy than old-fashioned jewelry.
And yet this modern art has an authenticity to it. Much of it involves telling a story, a traditional story about people and their struggles or journeys or their joys that is emotionally compelling. It’s the kind of authenticity and narrative that companies are trying to build into their products and services these days.
Back in the 80’s I believe, Xerox PARC, that famous innovation center, paired up artists and engineers and researchers to generate creativity. Today the site, we-make-money-not-art shows how new artists can inform the creation of high tech products and services.
Designers are fond of making an annaul trek to Milan to see the latest in trends and ideas. Corporate execs are fond of taking learning journeys to benchmark the best innovation practices. Both designers and managers should start thinking of tapping a new source of creative thinking and energy—the Navajo, Hope, Zuni, Pueblo, Haida, Ogala and other Indians who’ve been around for many centuries but who are doing some of the most innovative work today.
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