Zieringer's belief in creative thinking is a big reason why Mercedes-Benz Financial's Americas region headquarters in Farmington Hills, Mich., has partnered for 15 years with nearby Cranbrook Academy of Art to display hundreds of pieces of sculpture and wall art by the school's graduate students.
The art and the artists are meant to inspire employees to look beyond the obvious to solve problems and sell the company's abstract financial products.
More recently, the company began using illustrative art to develop strategies. The illustrations, which are used to provoke employee discussion, have proved effective: In one case, employee discourse arising from a set of project renderings resulted in the company increasing its investment in the project's digital aspects.
"Art stimulates discussion," said Sid Nair, head of strategy for the Americas region. "We've definitely made decisions to invest money in ideas that came out of it. It's still in its infancy, so I can't give you more detail. But from the original creation came a doubling of investment in some of the digital ideas."
Zieringer believes the abstract nature of financial products makes it critical that employees use creative thinking. Mercedes-Benz Financial's Farmington Hills office partnered with Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., for the first "Experiencing Perspectives" art exhibition in 2001. The program, now annual, has expanded to the company's offices in Fort Worth, Texas, and Mississauga, Ontario, which partner with universities in their areas.
Each office exhibits its local artwork for a full year. During that time, it hosts an open house for employees, their families and friends to view the art and speak to some of the artists.
This year's exhibit in Farmington Hills features nearly 100 pieces of artwork from 54 Cranbrook graduate students.
Artist Johnson believes finance professionals in particular can learn from the creative process. She especially sees the value of her marionettes. "When I built these, I had to consider how to make them move," she said. "It's about taking a problem, breaking it down piece by piece, then making it whole."
Mercedes-Benz Financial also has a program with the Detroit Institute of Arts called Visual Thinking Strategies. "We send quite a number of our employees to the DIA," Zieringer said of the program, now 2 years old.
Six months ago, Mercedes-Benz Financial began its effort to use illustrative art to develop strategies. It hired a Detroit-area artist to sit in on brainstorming sessions to absorb the concepts discussed and then give emotion to them through drawings.
The first rendering centered on what the "F&I business of the future in a digital environment" would look like, Nair said.
"We want to make it as comfortable as possible for the consumer to sit on their couch in their living room and go through that experience. How do we show that? We had the artist create a picture that shows our product through the various channels."
The company is taking the same visual approach in strategizing a digital experience for customers aimed at engaging them for life.
One set of drawings shows a customer getting a message on his smartwatch. A close-up of the watch shows a message from Mercedes-Benz Financial Services: "If you're interested in the new GLE, please drive by the dealership. Thanks for being a loyal customer." As the customer walks though the showroom door, a salesperson automatically receives his personal information and is able to greet the customer by name.
Another illustration visualizes an interaction with a customer during the beginning of his ownership cycle -- taking delivery of the car and key. A close-up of his smartwatch shows it has been synced to Mercedes-Benz Financial Services. The illustration "depicts the human interaction but also our vision for timely digital interactions, leveraging emerging technologies," said Melinda Mernovage, the company's media relations manager. She cautioned, though, that the drawings depict desired capabilities. Many technological details still need to be worked out, she said.
Nair said the company will keep illustrating its strategic visions. "We're doing sketches of all the business needs that Mercedes-Benz has. We want to have seamless loyalty for the customer, we want to have seamless information for the customer, and all of these executed through [drawings] so that all the employees know what this is about."