Some time ago on a flight to Silicon Valley, I removed three paperbacks from my brief case to peruse on the long flight. (Yes, I do have a Kindle and an iPad but I enjoy reading books the old fashioned way). A book of poetry, The Paris Review (a quarterly magazine on the arts that is bound like a book), and a third a story about Victor Muniz an artist whose work had been featured in a documentary I had recently seen called “Wasteland”.
The gentleman sitting next to me on glancing at the books asked if I was a writer or an artist. When I told him what I did for a living he looked again at my reading material and asked “what has art go to do with your job?”
My initial answer was not much but that I loved reading, movies and going to museums.
A few days later thinking about his question, I decided art has everything to do with many aspects of work, particularly in spurring innovation.
I define innovation as “fresh insightful connections”. For more please check out…https://rishadt.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/becoming-innovative/
Art truly serves as a catalyst to innovation in at least four ways. Each of these feed fresh thinking, insights or the ability to see connections. First, artists transform beauty out of materials or words or a point of view by connecting things in new combinations to illustrate the reality of being human. Second, art particularly the written arts allows you to be in the mind of somebody else, allowing you to feel and understand from a different perspective and therefore gain insights. Third, art teaches you to see or shows you how to see in fresh new ways. And finally, the arts can be used to help communicate and make a point better than stating it directly.
To illustrate this I will use how I learned something new or had a thesis underlined by three “artistic incidents” over the past week.
1. Photos that ask you to see differently: This week Chicago had one of its pleasanter days and I decided to walk over to the Art Institute of Chicago at lunch time. The walk through Millenium park is beautiful and as a member of the Art Institute I try to get in a lunch visit monthly and spend time in a new exhibit or favorite gallery. On this day there was an exhibit of photography in the Modern Wing by a Los Angles artist named Uta Barth.
Ms Barth leverages photography in a novel way to get you to both see what you may not have seen but as importantly to make you forget what you are looking at but be aware of the resultant feeling.
Her work which can be simple as conveying the feeling of light on a curtain or a shadow on a kitchen wall is inspired by a line from Robert Irwin which goes…“Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees”.
My takeaway was to a heightened sense of awareness to everything we see or miss seeing around us. While this clarity may lead to a more sensitive life, it can also open us to the phrase or snippet or number that can be the seed of an idea. Often it is in the crevices and niches of a flow of data and verbiage that the pearl lies.And by seeing without putting things into containers and pre-concieved notions we see anew.
2. How Poetry helped inform me about what is personal and how to think about privacy and how people use social media :David Orr is a poetry critic for the New York Times who has recently published a book called “Beautiful and Pointless”. In the opening chapter titled “the personal” he seeks to show how “private” and “personal” are two very different things.
David provides a list of sentences:
Bob Smith was born on November 9, 1971.
Bob Smith’s favorite password is “nutmeg456”
Bob Smith’s Social Security number is 987-65-4320
Bob Smith has a foot fetish.
As a child, Bob Smith had an imaginary friend named Mr Pigwort.
Whenever Bob Smith hears the sound of a high wind, it makes him think of his wife, who died ten years earlier, and he hears her voice faintly calling, as if from a great distance.
He notes that the first three sentences contain deeply private information but they don’t seem personal like the last three.
Mr Orr then states:
“The point here is that our conception of “the personal” has to do more than the data of our lives, no matter how sensitive. It has to do with how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we imagine others see us, how they actually see us, and the potential embarrasment, joy, and shame that occur at the intersection of these different perspectives”
More insight and wisdom about how people may relate to social media in that sentence than all the conferences and privacy seminars that are filled with braying experts!
3. How a 50 year old French classic reminded me about leadership: This Memorial weekend it rained a great deal and I took advantage of being indoors by re-watching two of my favorite films by Francois Truffaut. One of these was “The 400 Blows” which gave birth to “new wave” film making and is a story about a young boy in a hostile world.
There are many amazing scenes in the movie including its classic ending freeze frame. One scene that is both hilarious and telling is one where students have to follow a gym teacher on a run along the streets of Paris. Furiously blowing a whistle, running ahead of all his students, and oblivious to them the teacher does not realize that all his followers are peeling away from him.How many times do leaders bark out orders and run ahead to storm the hill without bringing their teams along with them ? Either emotionally by “following but not really following” or physically by leaving and finding other jobs some of the most talented folks leave the pack. Do leaders recognize that in their urgency to move ahead and win at all costs they risk losing the people they most need? Check out the short segment…
My original answer to my flight companion continues to be true. I watch movies, read books including poetry and go to musuems because i love doing so and find it fun and fullfilling. But while it makes life better, I also believe it makes my work life stronger.
I encourage folks to embrace the arts because not only does it remind us that it is life we are living but it can make work so much more meaningful.