For San Diego businessman turned performance painter Erik Wahl, making art is more than the physical act of taking brush in hand.

Wahl believes that painting, and sharing his creative process with the public through interactive, motivational speeches like the one he’ll deliver Thursday during the General Session Opening of the 35th annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies is a catalyst for next-level innovation.

“I am a storyteller and my artwork is part of my narrative,” says Wahl, an author and entrepreneur who is known for his portraiture of culture icons, as well as for sparking enthusiasm and action in those who have been fortunate enough to catch him during a TED Talk, or during one of his appearances at corporate events for the likes of AT&T, the London School of Business or Ernst & Young.

Last week, while flying to Miami after a three-stop speaking tour in Europe, Wahl took time to answer questions from LifeHealthPro about what attendees can expect from his upcoming appearance at NAILBA 35.

LifeHealthPro: Describe an Erik Wahl keynote address for those who may be unfamiliar with your work and career.Erik Wahl uses on-stage speed-painting to inspire creativity of all kinds. He says one key to successful innovation is learning to accept and move past failure. (Photos provided by The Wahl Group)

Wahl: I am an artist, author and entrepreneur. My presentations are designed to challenge organizations to leverage creativity and embrace authenticity to achieve superior levels of performance.

LHP: How will you tailor your message to appeal to the unique NAILBA audience?

Wahl: Customization is my competitive advantage as an artist as well as a keynote speaker. I love research. I love the grind of rolling up my sleeves to understand and connect with my audience. In addition to a wealth of personal experience researching, studying and speaking to independent and wholesale distributors of life insurance, I have conducted several conference calls with key executives and past presenters of NAILBA to ensure that my message is tailored to meet the current post-election challenges and opportunities in the life insurance industry.

Erik Wahl uses painting to inspire creativity of all kinds. He says one key to success at innovation is learning to accept failure. (Photo provided by The Wahl Group)

Erik Wahl uses on-stage speed-painting to inspire creativity of all kinds. He says one key to successful innovation is learning to accept and move past failure. (Photos provided by The Wahl Group)

LHP: How would you characterize your personal experience with or impressions of life insurance products?

Wahl: Life insurance is the nexus where our money intersects with our life. It is the art and science of providing financial security for our communities. For me personally, it is the peace of mind (of knowing) that has my family’s financial wellbeing already secured. 

LHP: Insurance is an industry that has struggled to innovate. How has innovation helped to boost your own career?

Wahl: Resilience to overcome obstacles and perceived failure is a key driver of innovation.  We must be disciplined to fight the resistance of the status quo. As the business landscape continues to change, institutional complacency is the greatest foe of innovation. Not all of our ideas will work. Many will fail. We must build up a resiliency to setbacks. We must not be afraid to fail. Failure is going to happen.

In business, if we are afraid to fail we will never come up with anything new. Resilience to failure is key to pushing out of our comfort zone and into innovation.

Mario Andretti was quoted as saying, “If you are not a little bit scared, you are not going fast enough.” Translated into my work as an artist and an entrepreneur, ‘If I am not failing, I am probably not pushing the fringes of new ideas hard enough.’ The more I become comfortable, the less I become innovative. Resilience is key to becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.

LHP: Many descriptions of you start with the moniker ‘graffiti artist.’ How do you rectify the graffiti artist’s outlaw spirit with the buttoned-up business world?

Wahl: I am an artist. I am also a writer, a photographer, a film producer, a sculptor and a painter. I have been branded specifically as a street artist or graffiti artist because my signature art is intended to be provocative with a purpose. To shake up the status quo.

The NAILBA 35 General Opening Session begins Thursday at 9:15 a.m. at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas. Wahl will donate the two paintings he creates during his presentation to be auctioned off later in the convention to benefit the NAILBA Charitable Foundation.

Erik Wahl’s book is “Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius.” Learn more at his website, The Art of Vision.

See also: 

3 dos and don’ts for insurance innovation (Part 1)

3 more dos and don’ts for insurance innovation (part 2)

The 20 most creative people in insurance

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