Everything I Needed to Know About Sales I Learned in Art School


The hallways bustled as several hundred art school students hustled to their last studio class of the day. But the day, like most days at University of the Arts, was far from over, and would continue long into the night with an impossible workload to prepare again for tomorrow.

For my next class, I crossed the street, entered an old building and walked into a modest room. It was a small class, but one of the most valuable I would attend. It was called Principles of Art. We spent the semester exploring eight specific concepts: pattern, variety, unity, contrast, movement, harmony, proportion, and balance. These ideas, my professor explained, are the tools used in art and design. Just as necessary as a pencil, paintbrush, or T-square, the principles of art shaped my projects because they shaped my thinking. They organized my ideas before I began a project, while I worked through a project, and how I evaluated it once I had finished.

These principles appealed not just to my creative side – the side that wanted to explore all the ways I could possibly use pattern, variety, and contrast – but also to my logical side, which sought some order among the chaos of creativitiy.

I used those principles every day of my undergraduate life. I never deliberately memorized them, or referred to them in any structured way. But they were a vital part of my tool kit, always in the back of my mind, reminding me how to work with creativity. As I graduated from an art student to a design professional, I carried these principles with me and used them regularly in my work. And, to my surprise, when I returned to school to earn my MBA and began working with large sales organizations, I again found support from these principles. Pattern, variety, unity, contrast, movement, and harmony, it turns out, with a few modifications to their application, pertain beautifully to sales.

Today, the Innovative Sale Principles are associated with six of the eight original Principles of Art I learned more than 25 years ago.

Principle One: Pattern
Pattern refers to our instinct to find related ideas in any given situation. Faced with a problem, our mind begins flipping through our own portfolio of experiences first; finding no suitable solution we may then jump to stories we’ve heard from friends, co-workers, accounts from the news, or examples from the past. We are seeking a match, preferably one that carries an answer we can apply to our current situation.


Principle Two: Variety

Variety describes the dissimilarities or contrast. While Pattern uses similar elements, shapes, colors, textures, and values, Variety prefers a range of these in any single composition. The same idea, naturally, applies to innovative thinking in sales. You are more likely to have the elements of the right solution for your customer if you work with abundance. If, as too many sales organizations do, you stick to just the few tried-and-true solutions, you may never differentiate with a better answer.


Next week: how Unity, Contrast, Movement, and Harmony can lead to innovation in sales.

What do you think? Can principles of art and design teach us something practical?

Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation.  Contact him at mark.donnolo@salesglobe.com.



Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: