Economist Thinks Business Can Learn From Art

March 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

I know that sounds like an Onion headline, but a recent Economist magazine blog post, the art of management, makes some interesting assertions in the service of rhetoric:

  • Artists routinely deride businesspeople as money-obsessed bores
  • Businesspeople assume that artists are a bunch of pretentious wastrels

The truth of either is perhaps not the point. The key take-away of the article for me is that there is a tremendous gap in understanding of the creative process and its potential. There are a few folks that seem to be trying to close that gap. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, a design consultancy, is one. He has a fairly interesting book, Change by Design, that identifies both examples and processes of design thinking? Is that the same as creative thinking? Is art thinking different? The economist singles out Hilary Austen and her book Artistry Unleashed, which identifies the idea of qualitative intelligence. I’ve not yet read the book, but the notion seems to be that there are different kinds of intelligences which seems potentially useful (if imprecise) especially if we can access them at will.

But the revealing aspect of the story for me is how much the blogger seems to miss the point. He (she? all of the Economist is byline-free) focuses on obvious things: Studying the arts can help businesspeople communicate more eloquently. Studying the arts can help companies learn how to manage bright people. Studying the arts can evidently make some better entrepreneurs (Tintoretto, Damien Hurst, and J.K. Rowling are held up as examples). Sure, and if I could just figure out why someone moved my cheese… But fundamentally we are talking about a deeper and bigger opportunity to integrate or combine:

  • differently modes of thought (which could be called iterative versus linear)
  • different kinds of process: experimentation and prototyping?
  • and very different approaches to inputs (kinds of goals, for example) and outcomes

It may be simplistic to call it a gap but the question of how, whether, and when to bridge it is worth asking.


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