Sunday, June 5, 2011

Signs of progress in the Arts / Business sector Bridge

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on………………………….”

The Art of Management / Economist Magazine Editorial

I subscribe to the Economist weekly news magazine. Based out of London, it is probably the most widely read and respected weekly news in review periodical in print – and very likely more read in business circles than other general interest periodicals. Each issue contains several op-ed or editorial pieces. One regular feature is a print blog by-lined Schumpter and focuses on the business sector. The February 19th piece trumpeted the value of the arts to business. Here are the highlights of that blog.

“ARTISTS routinely deride businesspeople as money-obsessed bores. Or worse.
Many businesspeople, for their part, assume that artists are a bunch of pretentious wastrels. Bosses may stick a few modernist daubs on their boardroom walls. They may go on corporate jollies to the opera. They may even write the odd cheque to support their wives’ bearded friends. But they seldom take the arts seriously as a source of inspiration.
The bias starts at business school, where “hard” things such as numbers and case studies rule. It is reinforced by everyday experience. Bosses constantly remind their underlings that if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. Quarterly results impress the stockmarket; little else does.
But lately there are welcome signs of a thaw on the business side of the great cultural divide.
Studying the arts can help businesspeople communicate more eloquently. Most bosses spend a huge amount of time “messaging” and “reaching out”, yet few are much good at it. Their prose is larded with clichés and garbled with gobbledegook. Many of the world’s most successful businesses are triumphs of story-telling more than anything else. Marlboro and Jack Daniels have tapped into the myth of the frontier. Ben & Jerry’s, an ice-cream maker, wraps itself in the tie-dyed robes of the counter-culture. But business schools devote far more energy to teaching people how to produce and position their products rather than how to infuse them with meaning.
Studying the arts can also help companies learn how to manage bright people. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones of the London Business School point out that today’s most productive companies are dominated by what they call “clevers”, who are the devil to manage. They hate being told what to do by managers, whom they regard as dullards. They refuse to submit to performance reviews. In short, they are prima donnas. The arts world has centuries of experience in managing such difficult people. Publishers coax books out of tardy authors. Directors persuade actresses to lock lips with actors they hate. Their tips might be worth hearing.
Studying the art world might even hold out the biggest prize of all—helping business become more innovative. Companies are scouring the world for new ideas (Procter and Gamble, for example, uses “crowdsourcing” to collect ideas from the general public). They are also trying to encourage their workers to become less risk averse (unless they are banks, of course). In their quest for creativity, they surely have something to learn from the creative industries.”

This is, I think, a promising starting point in building the long sought after bridges we need to the business sector, and I think the line above about it all starting in business school is the prescient observation. The mere fact that a respected and widely read business commentator authors such an opinion piece heralds recognition of the value of the link between the arts and creativity and creativity and innovation, and is a giant step in our slow churning relationship. If we want more intersections with business and industry (and I think we do – for the doors a working relationship would open in terms of funding, arts education and the imprimatur that the arts and creativity are important to society, to education, to our future) then I think we have to figure out how to get business schools to integrate the form and function of creativity (and the role of the arts) into their curriculums as a core idea (and not as a throw-away afterthought).  It is critical that we make progress on enlisting other people to help make our case rather than continuing to make it for ourselves (particularly people who have the ears of those whom we are trying to influence). 

But how do we get them to do that? First, I think we have to figure out how to link creativity as a teachable (or at least explorable) concept worthy of consideration, research and discussion. And then we have to link the arts to creativity as a definable (if not quantifiable or teachable) skill. Not such an easy task. I think one place to start might be for us to try to zero in on those in the business community who are the very people so highly sought after and admired today – the successful entrepreneurs and idea people – be they engineers, scientists, programmers, designers or whomever and uncover some direct links between some personal stories of successful business innovation and backgrounds in the arts. Even just anecdotal stories about the impact of an arts background and the link thereto to manifested creativity and marketable innovation may well help us to get business people thinking more about the possibility that the arts are one of the paths to nurturing and fostering the ecosystem that spawns innovation.

We have a lot more work in this area, but I think down the line such effort on our part might well yield beneficial outcomes to us. We should certainly spend some time and energy expanding on the notion (and, more importantly, gathering some real world kind of evidence to support the propositions) that communication / storytelling, risk aversion, and creative people management are all facets of the arts that are invaluable to business in their quest to promote innovation – worthy of their pursuit.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.