Business Needs More Art


The tagline in the latest daily email (which is well worth subscribing to) from Hugh MacLeod is: Business needs more art.  I believe that he is absolutely correct.

In his terrific new book How Music Works, David Byrne starts to explain why:

A study done by the Curb Center at Vanderbilt University… found that arts majors developed more creative proble-solving skills than students from alost any other area of study. Risk taking, dealing with ambiguities, discovering patterns, and the use of analogy and metaphor are skills that are not just of practical use for artists and musicians. For example, 80 percent of arts students at Vanderbilt say that expressing creativity is part of their courses, while only 3 percent of biology majors and about 13 percent of engineers and business majors do. Creative problem solving is not taught in those other disciplines, but it is an essential survival skill. If one believes, as I do, that creative problem solving can be learned, and is something that can be applied across all disciplines, then we’re chopping our children’s legs off if we slash the budgets for classes in the arts and humanities. There’s no way these kids will be able to compete in hte world in which they are growing up.

Check out those skills: risk taking, dealing with ambiguities, discovering patterns, and the use of analogy and metaphor. That’s a pretty important list. In fact, I’ve argued before that building a tolerance for ambiguity is the single most important skill in management.

So, yeah, business definitely needs more art.

When I think about art and artists, I am constantly fascinated by how the artistic process is often driven by an obsession with solving a particular type of problem.  Jeffrey Davis frames this nicely in a post called The Problem-Solving Paradox:

Creativity is imagination applied to making situations better – more effective, enriched, beautiful, meaningful, humane. Better.

Creativity is imagination applied to enriching life.

To improve a situation, you have to track what’s problematic and apply your imagination to improving or solving it.

This is what we human beings are biologically and spiritually driven to do.

So, a work life rich with problems is a gold mine for creativity.

The other thing about this is that artists experiment, all the time. Experimenting, and making mistakes, is the only way to get better.

Joe McCarthy put it nicely in a comment here a while back:

And just to bring it full circle, while I agree that getting it right requires learning and skill, I believe that learning and skill often arise primarily through making lots of mistakes (i.e., being wrong alot … but with an open mind).

So, yes, business absolutely needs more art.

Let’s go make some.

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Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “Business Needs More Art

  1. While I agree with the idea that business would do well to engage more with art and artists to develop a more creative side I feel it might be more pertinent for both art and business to recognise science as providing more than R&D and that science is perfectly poised to deliver insights into creativity, patterns, nature and the relationship between them. Then again, I’m biased.

    • Thanks for the comment Daniel – I absolutely agree with you, and that’s something that I’ve discussed a few times here as well. Part of the issue here is that all three domains, art, science & business, tend to operate within their own silos without much regard for what’s going on in the other areas.

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