For business leaders who have only ever known the corporate world, the art scene can seem poles apart. Most of us engage with art in our personal lives – whether you’re an avid exhibition-goer or have a select few prints on the walls at home. Understanding how business and art can align themselves in a professional context, though, is often a less considered area.
Perhaps there’s still an outdated perception that the art world is a bit fluffy while the business world is made of sterner stuff. But look a little closer, and artists from a broad range of disciplines can teach the business community several valuable lessons when it comes to leadership.
Thinking outside the box
Artists are renowned for their ability to see the unknown, a blank canvas that has yet to be created. This means we must be imaginative and think beyond what’s in front of us to essentially create something from nothing.
Part of this comes down to having the confidence to try new things and explore a different path – the key word being confidence. If someone showed me the different steps required to build a house, I absolutely feel I could do it. Even though I have zero prior knowledge, it’s having the faith in my ability to apply myself and adapt to a new situation. Ask me to put up some shelves at home and I wouldn’t have a clue. But in the context of building something at the gallery, or for my work, I’m absolutely motivated to learn how to do it.
Whether it’s an issue with staffing or coming up with a new client campaign, business leaders must also address this challenge – and stepping outside your comfort zone to look at a problem from a different perspective is often the best way to do this.
An ability to adapt
One of our resident artists at PAPER recently exhibited in Berlin. Her main medium is performance art and she needed an organist as part of the piece. A mishap meant there was only one organist available and, although they’d never previously met, she worked with him to explain what she was trying to do and rearrange the songs with less than an hour until the performance.
Having to cover for an absentee at short notice, missing a train to an important meeting or being put on the spot in a pitch can all be panic-inducing moments. Similarly, having a residency overseas where there’s a language barrier, or encountering issues with a space you’re showing in for the first time, are both examples of artists being thrown into new – and potentially daunting - situations.
While it can be easy to flap, we all know that – whether you’re an artist or an agency MD – people look to you for the answers. They just expect you to make it work. By and large, this is about keeping a cool head and not allowing yourself to be phased; running through different scenarios and thinking logically about how they’ll play out to find the solution.
Question what you’re doing
Whatever industry you work in, it’s extremely easy to become comfortable with the status quo. I teach at the University of Salford and always encourage my students to examine at every stage what it is they’re doing. Why have they chosen that medium to focus on? What impact or emotion are they trying to provoke from the audience?
This is intrinsic to business scenarios as well. It could be something seemingly insignificant – the way you format reporting for clients – or something much bigger around employee structure. You might involve regular feedback from employees and customers, as well as bringing in expertise from other industries to discuss common challenges. Only by continually questioning why you do things in a certain way can you hope to improve and make things better.
Art and business may appear to have little in common but, if the business world is open to the idea of collaborating, it can start to think about new ways of doing things and approach business leadership with a pinch more creativity.
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