Art in Strategic Thinking Revisited.

Since I first posted about the program I am developing I have been involved in a lot of research, reading, analysis and development. As a result, I have revisited the original material I wrote on Art in Strategic Thinking and updated it as follows:

Introduction

“So what does participation and experience in the artistic endeavours bring to the development of strategic thinking? It has nothing to do with artistic talent per se; the aim is not to achieve fame and fortune as an artistic master but, rather, to develop the attributes and critical reflective processes necessary for strategic thinking. An arts experience ‘opens the doors of perception,’ as poet William Blake wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”
(Learning to Think Strategically. p233. Julia Sloan. 2006)

In order to open the doors of perception, I am suggesting an experiential learning program where participants are introduced to the concept that artistic endeavour and the aesthetic mind are as important as the scientific theories of leadership and management and the logic of rational thinking. Participants are invited to explore and undertake a variety of artistic endeavours and relate these activities as prompts, metaphors and tools for learning to think strategically.

Background

Since I was 8 years old I have held the belief that everyone (limiting physical and mental disabilities acknowledged) has a degree of artistic ability. However, within western society at least, this artistic ability becomes subservient to the scientific rationale of absolutism at the expense of a heuristic approach embedded within an aesthetic mindset. Put simply; it is my view that ‘Anyone can draw’ but the critics need to keep quiet.

In 2003 I happened upon ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’(2001), by Dr Betty Edwards which became the foundation for a personal development course; ‘Anyone can draw, the art of challenging self-limiting beliefs’. The course is not about developing techniques or skills; it is about implanting a notion that a participant may well be able to draw. When delivering this program, I was asked on a number of occasions whether the premise could be implemented in business. This set me on a journey to explore whether artistic endeavour could provide enlightenment within the rationalistic endeavour of managing and leading an organisation. In 2017 I finished formulating the principles of the business program ‘The Art in Strategic Thinking’ (AiST), and set about searching for and analysing any relevant material that might support the proposition. It turns out that the subject of aesthetics within the organisation is of mounting interest in today’s (2018) age of increasing uncertainty

In the past three or so decades there has been a growing movement looking at the relationship with and the implementation of aesthetics within management and organisation. From early material such as Degot’s ‘Portrait of the Manager as an Artist’ (1987) through John Dobson; The Art of Management and the Aesthetic Manager (1999), Strati’s; Organisation and Aesthetics (1999), on to Chytry’s ‘Organisational Aesthetics: The Artful Firm and the Aesthetic Moment in Organization and Management Theory (2008) and Groot, Weggeman and van Aken; Aesthetic Experiences of Professionals in Organisations, to name just a few, we have a body of works that explore and explain that the leadership and management of organisations is a whole lot more than the learning and implementation of rationalistic and scientific theories and models espoused by the traditional business school. Indeed the report on a study by Page et al (2008) at the UWE, cites the traditional approach to ‘higher’ learning as didactic and explores the emotional aspects of a student centred approach and learning from critical reflection on experience.

The material I have discovered and read; whilst not (explicitly) proving the principles of the program I have developed, the writings of Dr Betty Edwards and Julia Sloan, does lend credence to the idea that this sort of program has a place in leadership and management training by encouraging perception through the use of the visual sense. Again, the program is not an art course and does not attempt to teach technique. The program engages participants in creative thinking; activating the aesthetic mindset, by experiencing eight principles of artistic endeavour and applying these principles to strategic intent.

The eight artistic principles

Looking and seeing; the art of challenging limiting beliefs

A question of style; the different strategic objectives

Negative space and what isn’t there

Light and shade, the blindingly obvious and darkest recesses

Colour, where cold, calculating and warm, fuzzy have their place

Perspective and the changing power of detachment

The medium; a look at tools to create a strategic plan

Big picture and ignoring what isn’t needed

Outcomes

The program is conducted over two days and at the end participants will have:

  • engaged in producing an accurate piece of artistic endeavour as an exercise in challenging self-limiting beliefs
  • curated different styles of artistic endeavour in a number of different ways and related these to different types of strategic objective
  • demonstrated the ability to observe all elements of a scene and reported on the importance of accounting for what is not evident
  • enriched an image by adding tone and identified which dark recesses of an organisation might shed light on or assist in supporting strategic intent
  • described the relevance and impact of colour and documented the rich reserves of staff with different temperaments, behaviours, knowledge and skills
  • described different art medium and related these to the variety of analysis and planning instruments and tools available for different strategic objectives
  • identified how a different viewpoint changes what is observed and suggested how they might get a better view of their strategic direction
  • selected one or more elements of an image on which to focus and assembled or disassemble the scope of strategic intent

By actively engaging in the eight sessions participants will have added to their ability to think strategically. As strategists, they will have considered and practised a variety of creative and innovative endeavours. They will have been prompted to think differently. And as with any endeavour, whether aesthetic or logic, the seeding of the experience in their mindset is intended to prompt them to practice which will be the key to making the new way of thinking, the normal way of thinking strategically.