What artists can teach business

They might eschew corporate garb and talk in fuzzy terms liable to drive a CFO mad. Yet artists have more than a few things to teach business. So claims Hilary Austin, author of Artistry Unleashed: A guide to pursuing great performance in work and life. Starbucks, she says, is an example of “qualitative intelligence” at work. In driving his company’s dramatic turnaround, CEO Howard Schultz acknowledged the presence of “qualitative indicators”, and “this is where we can learn from what artists do,” Austin writes. “We business people have a tolerant fondness for the qualitative; when stumped by the numbers, we appeal to ‘gut feel’. But artists use the qualitative as a honed discipline. Artists are right at home thinking about qualities, then working those qualities into effective solutions when no clear definition of success exists.” Acknowledging and utilising such skills at work requires a major shift in business thinking, yet the artistic world shows it can be done. The seemingly chaotic can produce both financial and creative dividends, as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – the largest arts gathering in the world – demonstrates. Another example: Burning Man in the US state of Nevada. The week-long festival, which recently marked its 25th anniversary, attracts 50,000 participants and as EB Boyd says, its growth numbers in terms of customers and revenue are ones any business could envy. It does it by fostering the right settings – a mix of top-down instruction and horizontal transmission – to enable the desired results. “This is a secret that organisations that successfully harness the imaginations of their creative people have long known: you can’t order creativity,” Boyd says. “You can only create the conditions for it to blossom – mainly by setting certain prescribed boundaries and then giving your creative people a great deal of autonomy to execute as they see fit.”

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