British artist Damien Hirst has his fans and his critics. What can’t be argued is his ability to differentiate himself and his work through a well-conceived strategy that has jolted the business world of art. While his art works such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” featuring a shark in a tank of formaldehyde, have caused great debate on what is or is not art, he has transformed a century-old business model.  He bypassed the art world’s conventional distribution channels (dealers and gallery owners) and directly partnered with Sotheby’s auction house. Sotheby’s then sold more than 200 pieces of his work, earning Hirst more than 110 million pounds from the auction.

The three main elements of the business model are the “What,” “Who,” and “How.” In Hirst’s case, he trashed the traditional artist’s business model and replaced it with the following one:

What: Use of biological elements; while animals (alive and dead) had been exhibited in museums, aquariums, etc, not in art galleries (ie Shark Sculpture).

Who: Consumers with wealth versus dealers, curators and gallery owners.

How: He became own curator (person in charge of art, museum collection).

So, the next time your colleagues begin complaining that the business is in a rut and “there’s nothing new under the sun,” show them Hirst’s art work. Then show them his financial results from changing a once static business model. Then get to work changing yours.

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