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What business can learn from Picasso

Erin Gibbs //May 9, 2014//

What business can learn from Picasso

Erin Gibbs //May 9, 2014//

In 1897, at only age 15, Pablo Picasso painted his large scale and award-winning work “Science and Charity,” which offers a glimpse into 19th century medicine. This work is the last of Picasso’s classical and “expected” approach before becoming his true self and the Picasso whom most people recognize and remember, with such paintings as “Three Musicians,” painted years later in 1921.


“Science and Charity”

“He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can’t.

This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” – Pablo Picasso

“Science and Charity” is of particular interest, because I relate to both its theme and significance. The delicate scene of doctor and patient captures the moment when Picasso evaluates his future, and decides to go a new, unique direction. He becomes an entrepreneur.

In “Science and Charity,” the female patient is deathly ill – suggested by her expression and the lifeless hand held softly by her physician. A nun in traditional habit stands at the bedside with a child and offers water, or perhaps medicine. The concern and intensity of the doctor in contrast with the worry and fatigue of the patient, while he takes her pulse, embodies the journey they take together toward her recovery or her end. He is the science. The nun is the charity. And through art, Picasso captures the balance between them – life ending (the patient) and life beginning (the child). And in fact, Picasso’s father modeled for the physician image – so he even brought in his own family to the story.

Despite its success and the support and accolade of his family (especially his father), Picasso he realized he could use his gift, his skill and his vision to do something greater. He challenged traditional schools of art, and created a genre more memorable, meaningful and defining than possibly expected.  

“Three Musicians” – Pablo Picasso

No doubt there was a great deal of confusion surrounding Picasso’s change in style and approach.  It’s the same whenever someone decides to “do it differently.” In our business of health care, that is exactly what we are trying to do:  Make health care look and feel different – better, actually.  

Patients have choices now, from what hospital to what brand of device they want implanted. We all acknowledge “Dr. Google” – as health information (reliable or not) is readily available, and our patients often come in well researched in the details of their health situation.  Our brand of health care must be more appealing, with better value and better outcomes.

Running a modern medical business is a challenge, and we often joke among ourselves that medicine as a business is 20 years behind most other industries. What has changed – for all industries – is the complete access to information.

The Internet eliminated barriers to health information and changed how we practice in ways not seen before. Today, we must make medicine look and feel different through a business-oriented, customer service-driven model. Better outcomes and better experiences are how medical practices stand apart.

Since customers (patients) have a choice, we must conduct our care and our business better than anyone else in order to earn their trust and business. And to earn the business and “fill our seats,” we must market, advertise and relationship-build for a deep base of referrals.

Change is uncomfortable and sometimes hard to look at—no different than looking at the gravely ill woman in “Science and Charity” and then seeing the jarring shapes of the new cubist style in “Three Musicians.” Being the creative genius he was, Picasso explored art through many styles and textures, never settling on anything as perfect.

We are not Picasso. In all of human history there will only be one. But we can learn from him. Through art and other symbols, all business people can recognize the call to change or the point of awakening when it is time to do it better, to do it differently, to disrupt and accept the risk of stepping outside the expected.

It’s striking that the imagery and story told in “Science and Charity” is no different than the image and intent of physicians today to be compassionate, reassuring, confident, scientific, concerned and oriented toward healing. The physician’s intense focus on the data (the timepiece and taking the patient’s pulse) offers calm to the nun and child, so they can focus on the emotional and spiritual needs of the patient.

There is no doubt, and no arguing that in our industry – the practice of medicine – patient care is humbling. And whereas the breadth of the health care industry is vast, political, riddled with interests from insurance companies, government and private industry – the management and delivery of medical care (our slice of it) can be significantly improved and made more personal.

Take another look at the beauty that surrounds you, as there are hidden ideas for all of us. Through “Science and Charity,” Picasso left a message people can continue to revisit and draw inspiration from: Change is good.

No matter your industry, find your inner Picasso:

  • Be your true self and make something beautiful of your future.
  • Create change
  • Even if your work is award winning, it can be improved, rethought and redone.
  • There is no perfection, just the constant reach for it.
  • Don’t give up.