Art as a vehicle for learning to think strategically
“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 this programme, participants explore and undertake a variety of artistic endeavours and relate these activities as prompts, metaphors and tools for learning to think strategically. The program engages participants in creative thinking; on the right side of the brain some might say, by experiencing eight principles of artistic endeavour.
Looking and seeing; the art of challenging limiting beliefs
A question of style; the strategic objective
Negative space and what isn’t there
Light, shade, the blindingly obvious and darkest recesses
Colour, where cold, calculating and warm, fuzzy have their place
The medium; a look at how to create a strategic plan
Perspective and the changing power of detachment
Big picture and ignoring what isn’t needed
- [looking] engage in producing an accurate piece of artistic endeavour and conduct an exercise in challenging self-limiting beliefs
- [style] demonstrate different styles of artistic endeavour and identify different types of strategic objective
- [negative space] demonstrate the ability to observe all elements of a scene and report on the importance of what is not evident
- [light and shade] enrich an image by adding tone and identify which dark recesses of an organisation might shed light on strategic intent
- [colour] describe the relevance and impact of colour and document the rich reserves of staff with different temperaments, knowledge and skills
- describe different art medium and list a variety of planning tools available for different strategic objectives
- [perspective] identify how a different viewpoint changes what is observed and suggest how they might get a better view
- [big picture] select one or more elements of an image on which to focus and assemble or refine the scope of strategic intent
This programme is aimed at individuals who are open to the potential of thinking beyond current practices.
The programme is applicable to all levels within the organisation, particularly:
- team leaders and first line manager
- project and operational managers
- directors and business leaders.
The idea of including the team leader level is to develop a ‘pipeline’ of staff who have learnt to think strategically. This develops the capability to outsmart and out compete those organisations that continue to rely solely on senior business leaders for direction.
The programme consists of eight sessions within which participants will be actively engaged in artistic endeavour. The participants will relate these activities directly and indirectly to aspects of thinking strategically via a selection of real life case studies. The exercises are intended to prepare a participant for the task of strategic planning by creating an environment where they can grow their ability to think strategically.
To engage in the production of an accurate piece of artistic endeavour and conduct an exercise to challenge self-limiting beliefs.
This first principle, the act of looking at something with a view to undertake a creative endeavour has two grounding factors; what is it that we are looking at and are we able to represent it appropriately. Both of these factors are governed by interpretations made by the brain.
Starting with the latter idea of representing an object; a guestimate is that 80% + of the population say they cannot draw; this is a self-limiting belief formed at an early age, likely through an inability to ‘match reality’. Within the programme readers will be guided though an activity that will demonstrate that these and potentially any other limiting belief held by them and others can and should be challenged in the pursuit of developing strategic thinking.
Moving on to interpretation; existing constructs within the brain may cause us to ‘see’ something that the object is not. Common optical illusions can play havoc with our ability to match reality. For the strategist this may be similar to behaviours like confirmation bias which undermine the thought processes that underpin a strategy process. Dealing with these two ‘brain deceptions’ is paramount before moving onto some more creative artistic endeavours.
To demonstrate different styles of artistic endeavour and identify more than a single type of strategic objective.
Different styles of artistic endeavour all have their relevance and fulfil different aesthetic requirements; interior design, commercial and domestic being a relevant example. Internal or external strategies such as the following have different characteristics and are also relevant to the strategist depending on their objective:
- Increase Market Share
- Strengthening Financial Resources
- Physical Resources
- Action Planning
But which style/objective is most appropriate for what?
To demonstrate the ability to observe all elements of a scene and report on the importance of what is not evident.
In order to create an object, it is sometimes appropriate to focus on and draw the background around the object rather than the object itself. For the strategist, this is about becoming aware of what is not evident from analysing data, information and insights.
Light and shade
To enrich an image by regulating or adding tone and identify which dark recesses of an organisation might shed light on strategic intent.
The light and shade principle has two distinct and appropriate aspects relevant to both artistic endeavour and strategic thinking. These are; the view of a scene and the representation of an object.
Viewing a scene on a bright sunny day presents challenges for an artist and more so for a photographer. Highlights blind an observer and shadows may hide important shapes and form; neither provide any detail. Just as an artist has to do; the strategist will need to regulate the brightest and most obvious data, information and insights and investigate further areas of the organisation that are less prevalent at putting forward ideas or suggestions.
From a representational aspect, two dimensional shapes do not necessarily have any form or substance; a circle is a circle, a rectangle is just a rectangle. An artist will add light and shade to these shapes to create the illusion of three dimensional objects. How might a strategist add form to data to provide a more wholesome representation of the organisation.
To describe the relevance and impact of colour and document the rich reserves of staff with different temperaments, knowledge and skills.
Colour is often used by artists to represent emotion; the cold of the blue range of colours and the warmth of the reds and oranges. There will be staff within an organisation who are cold and calculating and others who are warm and friendly. All will provide data, and/or information and/or insights valuable to a strategist.
To describe different art medium and list a variety of planning tools that are available for different strategic objectives.
An artist has a plethora of media from which to choose in order to undertake an artistic endeavour. They will, or at least should choose wisely. Likewise, the strategist has a raft of tried and tested as well as new and innovative tools and instruments which they can use in the strategic analysis and planning process. And yes; mixed media is a valid endeavour.
To identify how a different viewpoint changes what is observed and suggest how they might get a better view.
An artist working in two dimensions uses perspective to represent three dimensional objects. The same object seen from a different distance or elevation will be represented by a different shape. For a strategist, the requirement is to change a viewing position so as to create a different representation of an organisational issue.
To select one or more elements of an image on which to focus and assemble or refine the scope of strategic intent.
An artist has the capability to be selective about what and how they use elements from a scene they see in front of them; removing, including or rearranging the essentials of a composition to suit their purpose. And a strategist must decide which of the unlimited sources of data, information and insight are relevant to and will provide for their strategic intent.
I; Peter J Mayes am a qualified illustrator (GlosCAT 1977), business information systems analyst (UWIC 2000) and long time educator (1981). For as long as I can remember I have been creative and a habitual ideas person. My mind seems permanently in ‘innovation’ mode, almost without thinking; forming new concepts and designs. As an eight year old my artistic abilities were recognised and I recall I did not consider myself to be any more talented that my classmates. As a mature student, part of my studies were management and business; again, my abilities were recognised with a number of distinctions in coursework and exams. For the past 15 years I have been exploring the notion of art as a vehicle for business thinking. My rational stems from a combination of artistic ideas based exploration (divergent thinking) and logic based systems analysis (convergent thinking). As eluded to, I have long held the belief that we all have an aesthetic side and have sought to substantiate this premise in both personal and business endeavours. In 2004 I devised a programme: Anyone can draw; the art of challenging self-limiting beliefs. In 2017, after much deliberation and exploration, I finalised the eight principles that form the basis for the Art in Strategic Thinking concept.
The two key books that have now formed the catalyst for my approach are:
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Betty Edwards.
Learning to Think Strategically. Julia Sloan.
Most recent articles include:
Springborg, Claus (2012) “Perceptual Refinement: Art-based Methods in Managerial Education,
Organizational Aesthetics: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, 116-137.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/oa/vol1/iss1/15
Schein, Edgar H. (2013) “The Role of Art and the Artist,” Organizational Aesthetics: Vol. 2: Iss. 1,
Available at: http://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/oa/vol2/iss1/1
Other books that I have read and that have played a part in the development process include:
Strategic Management. John L Thompson
Exploring Corporate Strategy. Johnson and Scholes
The Mind Map Book. Tony Buzan
Thinking Styles. Fiona Beddoes-Jones
Six Thinking Hats. Edward de Bono
Experiential Learning. David A. Kolb
The Fifth Discipline. Peter Senge