The Artist Within?

Here we are in January, which is typically the time that many of us take a look at why we are doing what we are doing, and generally assess whether we are on the right track; so I thought it would be a good time to review the original intent of this blog and, hopefully, validate its focus.

Regular GlobeBlog readers may recall the initial GlobeBlog Post in which I stated my desire to depart from a "conventional Management Consulting perspective" that tends to focus almost exclusively on methodologies, tools, and other mostly technical considerations:

"...we have to find a way of focusing on what is essentially human about the problems we are trying to solve, and to the extent that we lose track of the right thing to do for each other as humans, we need to stop the madness of what we are doing and take a different approach. This is my sense of what this Blog...should be about: how do we, as Management Consultants  -- or other consultative professionals -- stay true to what is essentially important to each other as humans?"

I do believe we have tried to do this in this Blog, even when -- at times -- it may have seemed to some readers to be a bit of a stretch to bring all of the topics we have considered back to our work. I would argue that it is the stretch (as we've explored these topics together) that we may have needed.

The Artist Within......?

If we desire to continue this idea of a human focus in thinking about our work, doesn't the idea of looking at what artists do --  and considering how this can be applied to your work and my work -- sound like a good place to visit?  And of course, Harvard Business Review is only too happy to indulge us in this pursuit with an article entitled Aesthetic Intelligence: What Business Can Learn From the Arts.

The authors of this "Case Study" (Harvard Business Review classifies it as a Case Study, but it is long on generalizations and short on specific experiential findings) assert that "As our rapidly-globalizing world has increasingly become ruled by technology, we have regressed in an important way: we have literally lost touch with each other. Our senses have dulled and business has suffered."  The authors ( Constance Goodwin and Rochelle Mucha) research has found that "leading firms" all "covet a culture" where:

  • Team play is a given and everyone has their eye on the same prize;
  • Experimentation is welcomed, not punished; and
  • Pride and playfulness, self-interest and collaboration, and structure and freedom stand side by side.

And we are told that "the good news is that such a culture is not beyond reach: these characteristics describe the culture of many performing arts organizations, providing inspiration for organizations of all types." From here Ms. Goodwin and Ms. Mucha take us through what they believe to be the artistic recipe: "Our research indicates that the fundamental elements of the artistic mindset are Presence, Authenticity and Synthesis." Of course, how this "artistic mindset" provides a compelling example for business seems to get lost in a set of broad brush strokes.

We are told by a musician interviewed for the Case Study that "For the musician, listening is not the work of one sense, but of all the senses: sight, touch, taste, feel, hearing and that indefinable sixth sense, intuition. It is a visceral experience, offering a potent combination of sensibilities...." This may be true, but there is also the technical side of being a musician that requires study, practice, and precise delivery. In an ironic way, Ms. Goodwin and Ms. Mucha's description of Aesthetic Intelligence -- from it's very title to its preachy generalizations -- seems to prove the point of exactly what an "artistic mindset" is not. An artist does not work, as Robert Pirsig pointed out in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in a right-brain-only sort of fashion, where "feeling" is favored over supposed left-brain-only logical thinking. In fact, as Pirsig's protagonist in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance discovers, in many elements of our society an artificial dichotomy has been created between a right-brain (sometimes referred to as the artistic brain) and left brain (sometimes referred to as the scientific brain) way of approaching work. Great artists, as well as great scientists, tend to be adept at embracing both the so-called artistic and the scientific brain to deliver their great works.

Maybe what Ms. Goodwin and Ms. Much meant to say was that there is so much more that can be associated with what it takes to be an exceptional artist, scientist, or business person -- or all of these -- than Aesthetics (and the term Aesthetic Intelligence just seems to be one more well meaning and yet incomplete description), but that this was their first in a series of articles describing the "artistic mindset." If that is what the authors meant to present in their research findings, than I could definitely agree with them.

So where does this leave us on this topic of the "artistic mindset"? I suppose it is just another reminder that we really are all artists, aren't we? Can we embrace this idea and stop with the usual habits of classification and compartmentalization? As Albert Einstein once said said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."  Doesn't this confirm that Artist/Scientist, Artist/Business, and most other expertise dichotomies are a pointless and distracting device? 

Can we just admit that we are often so much more than we allow ourselves to acknowledge?


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