Bringing Arts Into Organizations, Not Just For Leadership Education: Art is about life for us all – Part II

Nowadays we seem to use “globalization” to explain many dramas; some explanations are valid and others are excuses.  I concur with the notion that globalization contributes to the feelings of unease, stress, even chaos, that are coursing through organizations these days; I am however not certain that therefore the art world offers the desired relief.  Certainly, taking a different perspective to begin thinking outside our box is healthy, but as usual, the details are in the how.  Just because it’s now trendy, many organizations are repeating their old, forlorn habits of copying what others are doing without understanding their own philosophy or even the truths of their own situations.  Is that the artist’s way?  Even when an artist finds inspiration in others’ work, she has to incorporate it into her own vision and philosophy to create something that’s hers.  Once again, it’s the whole, the complete system; the creative process is not a discrete process but an integrated process.

As I mentioned before, I love the notion of bringing arts into the organizational world, and not just for leadership.  However, how do you choose what art medium? Whose work? Do organizations only choose well-known artists? And popular art media?  So far, it seems so.  Then, they’d miss a brilliant star like Vincent Von Gogh, they’d dismiss Ludwig van Beethoven as a boor, reject a promiscuous Robert Schubert…and would they have recognized another path breaker in the early days of Picasso?  Would they be the ones that rejected J.K. Rowling’s silly idea of books about a wizard named Harry Potter?  (Comes to think of it, I can’t see von Gogh or Beethoven working with managers, talking to them through some creative ideas!)  As for choices of media, why not check out the quilting community?  That medium utilizes both visual representation as well as math, which is also true of knitting.  It’s so much easier to embrace art once the artists made it, or after they die.  That’s one of the reasons that I think the argument for “arts and leadership” is faddish.  There are plenty of starving artists out there whose creative process could be just as valuable.  Why not support some of them?  I recently met a young “graffiti” artist; I don’t get all of his work, but understanding what he’s trying to do just boggles my mind.  The list of art media and artists is pretty long.

Furthermore, I just don’t know what are the specific aspects of the creative process the organizations/leaders are looking for.  Who gets to choose?  Most of artists I have the privilege of knowing do not work in ‘planning mode;’ ‘evolving mode’ better describes how their future work is suggested by their present.  Listening beyond words is one critical component of such ‘evolution.’

But more importantly, each artist has a dominant skill-set with which to work.  What’s management’s dominant skill-set?  Someone who’s very good at analysis?  Can that manager also handle synthesis adroitly?  If she’s good at listening, can she follow up with actions?  A decisive manager can be an asset, but how does he handle doubt and uncertainty?  What are the average managers’ skills that have to be in the toolkit, without which they can’t be, or shouldn’t be considered for, managers?  In other words, what do managers want to be creative about?  A friend of mine once said, “art is about beauty; without it, life would be ugly.”  But we all know that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, and so how do we assess the “beauty” that’s been created?  Hence my objection to the notion of “reality as it is,” in the previous entry.  How do we gauge one manager’s creative reality over that of others?

When I imagine how a writer works, she would first of all pay attention to humanity, human nature, nuances of human behavior, intricate dynamics, psychological manifestations, etc.  A painter needs to see beyond that which can be described and defined.  A sculptor would see through the surface and grasp how the structure underneath an object really works. Most managers have little time to notice these details.  I think they should, but remember, the stress of globalization doesn’t give them much time to do so!  The profit-oriented companies dictate that humanity has to take a back seat (or no seat at all).  So, I am back to the same question:  What exactly are we looking for in arts to help management, especially against the stress of globalization? 

And if it’s so good for leadership and management, why can’t it be available to the whole organization?  Are we also to believe that in most organizations, especially those medium to big, there wouldn’t be individuals who are deemed more creative than others?  Frankly, I am not even clear how to judge someone’s creativity, but probably it’s akin to the test, “if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck!”

But seriously, if management really wants to pursue outside-of-the-box creative process, why not embrace James March’s “technology of foolishness, (link here)” and build in the organizational structure space and time for employees to “play?”  I’ll wager anything that the people who work on the “floor,” with the customers, or in laboratory space, and/or often face unexpected events, need to be creative.  If they are allowed to, i.e. without being punished when new ideas don’t work out, most of them can be quite creative.  Or, why go searching among the known artists out there for creative process?  Troop down to the local kindergartens, elementary schools (only the 1st or 2nd grades), and just hang out with our next generation for a few hours.   Most of us will be amazed by their enormous creativity, and perhaps begin to reclaim that spirit that once resided in ourselves?!  Furthermore, these young and innocent minds would not try to be pretentious in their games, or justify their rules or lack of them, or spout smart-sounding explanations.  Being creative is all about experiencing the journey. 

I do know one aspect of the artistic process, the art of letting go, that still bedevils me at times.  I do almost exclusively watercolors, and the nature of watercolor has forced me to learn to relax control most of the time.  One of the biggest items in management education is control.  This may not necessarily mean that management can never learn to let go; it’s one of the many life paradoxes to which there are no solutions.  To learn to live with paradoxes is art.  I contend that in the future, the organizations that can live with and work with paradoxes are the ones that can make headway.  And business schools need to learn that management is more about art – the real core of art, where the future is accepted as evolving from today, control is recognized as an illusion, and paradoxes are welcomed as friends – than it is about science.  We shall see.  Till next time, after Thanksgiving weekend,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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