29 Jan 1997

Organisational artistry

From: JC Howell

An artist seeks to gain conceptual mastery, not just technical mastery. In fact, technical mastery may not be desired, just technical competence.

Once conceptual mastery has been achieved, those concepts go on to become a part of that person's essence. They process these concepts without conscious effort. They begin to create and innovate. They express their innermost ideas and ideals through this medium. They also continue to grow and develop in that area ... because they have to. This continues regardless of the vocational context they encounter.

We usually think of an artist as one who draws, or sculpts, or plays music. I think the term artist can also be applied to managers, technicians, professionals, secretaries and office managers.

What do you think? Am I out in left field here? Is there room in the typical organization for artistry? In a Learning Organization? Is artistry desirable?

Max DePree wrote a book called “Leadership is an Art” and “Leadership Jazz.” Both are excellent books, although I prefer Jazz.

I think the higher we go up the management ladder, the more conceptual “things” become. We will find less and less hard and fast rules. So we need to “improvise.” A lot. Just like a typical artist, organisational leaders adapts and “improvises” their knowledge to manage whatever comes their way.

Successful artists, in general, are those who can express their improvisation / creativity well. In organisation, leaders who fails, generally, are those who cannot “improvise/innovate” creatively enough and/or fast enough.

Much like a Jazz musician, an “organisational artist” need to know enough of the basics to be able to “improvise/innovate.” The talented ones can reach mastery without much effort, while others may struggle through years of mixed success, which people usually label “practice” in art world, or “experience” in organisations. Which why it is hard, bec you either need to be talented or experienced or both to be “successful” in this age.

(Notice I use quotes for the word “improvise.” That is because I hope the readers would not interpret it narrowly, but creatively to suit the more applicable expression for your organisation.)

“Organisational artists.” I like that idea.