The Future of Work: Seeing Business as Art

Posted By on September 10, 2015

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Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art

Andy Warhol

These words have stuck with me since I first started using them to precede a presentation I gave on growth hacking at General Assembly in NYC earlier this year. I’ve often thought that the business world and the art world should share more than walls in offices and make a concerted effort to collide and collaborate. Let’s look at some thinking about art and business.

Arts-based learning

Arts-based learning is an interdisciplinary approach to learning, using the arts as a pathway to explore non-art topics such as leadership and management in business. Artforms include painting, sculpting, theatre improv, storytelling,  poetry and music. The goal of this approach is not to teach people to be artists, but to create immersive learning experiences using artistic processes to help people gain new insights and perspectives about business challenges.

Linda Naiman from Creativity At Work

Executive toys in the 1980s were gimmicks and gizmos on desks. These days they are more like ping pong tables, XBox One consoles, and lego. These are fine but really we can do better.

There are four clear contributions that the arts give to business (courtesy of Creativity At Work and Lotte Darsø, Artful Creation – Learning Tales of Arts-in-Business (2004) ):

  1. Metaphors: Artistic metaphors are tools for generating new types of conversations, for seeking new perspectives and for making mind shifts that can lead to innovation.
  2. Artistic capabilities: Artistic capabilities and competencies vary from communication and presentation to improv, drawing and painting as well as applying intuition.
  3. Artistic events: Ambiguity is deliberately used as inspiration and provocation through events ranging from ‘concerts of ideas’, Forum Theatre, painting processes for team-building, drumming sessions, storytelling, improvisation practice, etc.
  4. Artistic products: This arena involves social innovation and artistic products, including product design as well as new training programs and change processes.

Creative leaders

A good artist, it is often said, is fifty to a hundred years ahead of their time. The artist must depict this new world before all the evidence is in. Leaders must learn the same artistic discipline, they must learn to respond or conceive of something that will move in the same direction in which the world is moving, without waiting for all the evidence to appear on their desks. To wait for all the evidence is to finally recognize it through a competitor’s product.

David Whyte, from The Heart Aroused

Edelman’s CEO, John Clinton spends time producing on his own artwork and he says that gives him an appreciation for the creative process. Clinton completes between five to eight pieces a year. Most of these are commissions and some do make it to galleries.

It has probably been the single most helpful thing in my career. It allows creative people to trust you.

And, let’s be honest, it’s the creative people that are the lifeblood of modern businesses.

Making positive changes in yourself

Whether you are the CEO, COO, VP, Director, or the person building the foundations of the business, it is important to revisit the idea of integrating arts into your life. Here are some example of what you can do:

  • Write short stories – Warren Buffet has described writing as a key way of refining his thoughts (and that is a man who reads and thinks a whole lot), while Richard Branson once said “my most essential possession is a standard-sized school notebook,” which he uses for regular writing, and Bill Gates has described writing as a way to sit down and re-evaluate his thoughts during the day. By taking notes and even writing 500 to 1000 words a day you become more alert, aware, and you will find new avenues in your business. And, you’ll feel happier for it.
  • Dance – When was the last time you danced? If recently, did you do it with abandon and expression? Well, even more formal dancing can yield business benefits and it has been proven to improve brain function in many ways, according to a recent article published in Psychology Today. Dancing and continual practice can help the brain get used to dizziness. Also, by learning dance steps affects cognitive learning through repetition and correcting yourself (and your dance partner as well). Mastering a sequence of dance steps and then repeating them requires a deep level of concentration. It helps synchronize the cerebrum and cerebellum to create superfluidity that could be used to maximize performance across many fields in business.
  • Perform improv – In a Forbes article from 2014 ‘Why Improv Training Is Great Business Training’ Jesse Scinto, talks about Rock Andrews who is a resident at New York’s Magnet Theater. Andrews has taught not only nearly 700 three-hour improv sessions there but also dozens of corporate training courses for companies like Google, Pepsico, and McKinsey. In improv performers don’t know what will happen onstage until they’re up there, and this can be perfect training, especially for high-paces executives. Performers accept whatever the audience suggests, what their scene partners do or say as part of the reality of the scene, and then build on it with their own to create something magical, or downright ridiculous. They must be present in the moment, listening carefully, and contributing freely. These skills turn out to be particularly useful in workplaces that rely on adaptability.One method that I love, and is easy to make happen in your workplace, is PowerPoint Karaoke, also known as Battle Decks.

  • Paint, draw, or sculpt – Some argue that art makes us more human. It helps us to communicate in a different, and more personal language. People who immerse themselves several hours painting or creating something go into a strong state of concentration that allows them to abstract themselves from their surroundings and time becomes nothing (in a way). Making emotions flow through painting, drawing, and/or sculpture helps create harmony between the individual’s heart and mind, which leads them to experiment happiness, love, empathy and peace. All of these help to create better products, services, understand customers more, and businesses where all employees can connect and be more aware.

Back to the master of art and business

So, we started with Andy Warhol and I think we should finish with him. He was a consummate artist that mixed art and business freely. He started being commercial artists, worked with ad agencies, went out as an independent artist, managed The Velvet Underground, he created The Factory which revolutionized art production, he invented the idea of ’15 minutes of fame ‘and today this concept is more essential than ever. I feel he’d love Snapchat and Youtube. He revel in Instagram. He’d likely not like Facebook. Here is a documentary that covers the gamut of his life and work. Enjoy.

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Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.


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