I popped down the Tate Modern to see the Hirst exhibition. I guess I’ve always thought I was a bit of a fan. He seems to challenge convention, shock us all and has a different view of life and death.

As you can imagine, the event was absolutely packed. Queues everywhere, particularly for the separate secure area where the diamond encrusted skull was located. Yummy Mummie’s were in abundance carefully explaining to 3 year-old Rupert’s and Tahlia’s the intricacies and thought processes behind Hirst’s ‘What goes up must come down’; which is actually a ping pong ball being held in the air by the airstream from a 1970’s style hand held hairdryer.

Overall it was a real disappointment for me. The exhibits represented were more like the old days where a touring circus would come to town and shock people by presenting ‘The Bearded Lady’ or ‘The Smallest Man in the World’.  It’s a bit like the Emperors New Clothes…. someone told us this was great Art so we all pretend that we like it. Not the McLaren-Stewart family I’m afraid.

That said the exhibition did get me thinking about Hirst’s success. What can we learn from it? I tried to link what he does and how businesses can learn from his success:

  • Differentiation – he provides a service and product that is very selective. Having one of his products is a step up and the only place you can get it is from him. There is nothing the same at another company, you cant go along to Lucian Freud Plc or Picasso Ltd and get the same kind of artwork.

In business we need to recognize this powerful business strategy – it creates interest and allows prices to be higher because the product isn’t available anywhere else.

  • Business Focus – Its not art for the masses, its not all things for all people unlike many companies in my industry who seem intend in covering all bases by covering every available type of insurance for every type of customer. 

Trying to be all things to all people simply creates a drain of resources and prevents an ability to deliver genuine added value products and services

  • High Profile CEO – Hirst is a single point of focus. In business we see this in successful companies – Apple, Facebook, Virgin for example all had high profile CEO’s.

We can learn from this in our businesses. Raise the profile of the CEO (or other key director), make them the ‘face’ of the brand, and make it a special thing for potential customers to get to meet this high profile business person

  • Enthusiastic employees – who work for the unique experience and prestige of working for Damien Hirst Plc. They will tell their friends, their friends will ask all about it, they feel proud and honoured, they feel special that they belong to this unique high profile business.

In business our own special vision, strategy and creation of a prestigious brand will ensure employees will go to the ends of the earth to ensure the business meets its goals.

  • Brand Building & PR – the Hirst brand is huge globally but not just because of the shark. Its big because behind the scenes the PR executives and the strategic planners have been promoting him, putting on shows, arranging press and TV interviews, appearances on shows whilst cleverly creating a sense of ‘you are lucky to get this interview with Damian’.

Doing business without Marketing & PR is like winking at the opposite sex in the dark. You know what you are doing but they have absolutely no idea that you are doing it!

  • Innovation – his innovative products have no equal. They create demand because they are different, he changes the way we thing about Art. This creates demand because its refreshing and different.

In business, innovation is vital. It doesn’t matter if it’s the different way we sell, the different advantages of our product or our different solution to a customer’s problem, innovation helps us stand out from the crowd

There is one drawback to Damien Hirst Plc. The issues of ego and chasing the money seem to have arisen. If you listen to Hirst talking about his work is now almost mocking of the people who have spent a lot of money on his art. Its more than mocking, he has become arrogant and cock-sure. He now boast about how much money he has made.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the company heads into administration in the next couple of years. I suspect Hirst Plc has peaked, that its business model will need urgent strategic change. The only problem is, unlike a normal business, it’s not so easy to simply replace the CEO.


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