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The need for relentlessness

For over three decades Marina Abramovic has been exciting and provoking us with her unique forms of performance art. Whether that be taking pills to induce comatose state; flagellating herself with a cat of nine tails whip or inviting an audience to mark her body with 72 objects of different kinds, we can safely call Abramovic a creative force, an innovator consistently challenging and breaking through boundaries.

She also knows how to commit to something. Her ‘The Artist Is Present’ exhibition at MoMA included her sitting still for 736 hours. 736 hours. With a few hours sleep here and there of course, but to sit, motionless, day after day for over three months constitutes a psychological commitment to a vision that few could fulfill.

The fusion of that level of innovation and commitment is feels very relevant to our work in the Lab right now. The creative bursts and fireworks that are so all-encompassing and energising eventually need to give way to an entirely different quality; one of relentless pursuit of a set vision. 

It would be a mistake to assume that this an entirely natural transition for a human being to make. Sure, Abramovic has a stamina and psyche that tends toward the monumental, but in training would-be artists Abramovic makes it clear that practice is necessary in all things. She asks artists to undertake certain zen-inducing activities, like separating out 10,000 grains of rice of different colours to see if they can maintain their focus on a mundane task.

In other words, it takes practice and focus and commitment that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to an artistic temperament. And we shouldn’t suppose that it does with entrepreneurs either. 

A key challenge I see in some of the organisations and innovators we are supporting is that they are overwhelmed by an ardent belief that if they don’t pursue every new opportunity; keep their options open, attempt to operate on a number of different fronts or projects simultaneously, that this will reduce their chances of success. And there is a compelling logic to that; how do I know if this opportunity or that opportunity will be the one that catapults my idea into the mainstream?  Well, unless you commit to one, you won’t know.

Author

Helen Goulden

Helen Goulden

Helen Goulden

Executive Director, Innovation Lab

Helen was an Executive Director at Nesta and lead our Innovation Lab. The Lab’s mission is to support and scale innovation for the public good; working with partners to run innovatio...

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