Artists Help Empower Corporate America
By Harvey Seifter, Arts & Business Council, Inc.
In recent years, there has been a remarkable growth in the use of arts programs
by corporations to meet a wide range of employee training and organizational
development needs. Practically every day, industrial manufacturers hire poets
to empower their employees to engage and express their creativity through their
work; global financial institutions study the inner workings of musical ensembles
to improve their performance; and law firms engage theater artists to strengthen
the presentational skills and improvisational abilities that are critical to
In the U. S. alone, dozens of Fortune 500 corporations and
countless smaller firms employ arts-based learning in participatory workshops,
programs, hands-on consultancies with business units, individual and team coaching,
case studies-in-action, and lecture/demonstrations at leadership conferences.
Events that combine learning with entertainment are also growing rapidly in
popularity. Companies use these various programs to foster creative thinking,
promote the development of new leadership models, and strengthen employee skills
in critical areas such as collaboration, conflict resolution, change management,
presentation/public performance, and intercultural communication. Clearly,
many business leaders have concluded that there are valuable lessons to be
learned from the experiences and insights of artists lessons that can help
their companies to stay profitable in these challenging times. And, despite
generally sluggish economic conditions, there is considerable evidence to
suggest that this trend is growing.
This represents a dramatic shift in the boundaries that traditionally defined
experiences relevant to the business world a shift triggered by profound
technological and social changes that have transformed the culture of business
over the past decade.
From the age of Adam Smith through the dawn of the global marketplace, corporations
built the vast majority of their successes on firm foundations of predictability.
The men and women who ran these companies thought of their organizations as
supremely rational enterprises best guided by relying on the orderly application
of cause-and-effect logic. However, with the advent of information technology
and globalization in the 1990s, and especially in the post-9/11 world, the
economy has moved into a new era. Today, speed, complexity, social interconnectivity
and the multiplicity of interactions generated by the global marketplace have
combined to create a business environment of radical unpredictability.
In our chaotic 21st century business environment, traditional cause-and-effect
links are undermined by simultaneous and contradictory actions that collide
with each other, even as they interact with a vast array of overlapping forces
and conflicting players. These conditions are proving particularly hard on
organizations that are locked into multi-year planning models, rigid decision-making
hierarchies, and monolithic approaches to the marketplace. On the other hand,
companies inventive enough to find their own ways forward, flexible enough
to respond quickly (and competently) to the unexpected, and spontaneous enough
to lead change effectively, are discovering that well-adapted organizational
culture can confer significant competitive advantage.
Recent surveys consistently identify imagination, inspiration,
inventiveness, improvisational ability, collaborative and inter-cultural skills,
adaptability, and presentation as among the most sought-after attributes of
business leadership. These qualities are frequently summed up in a single word
creativity and all over the world, corporations are focused on acquiring the
skills and tools
they need to tap into the creativity of their workers and unleash the creative
potential of their organizations. Inevitably, this quest is leading a growing
number of companies to artists for their organizational learning.
Artists have profound insights into the creative process,
gained from years of hands-on experience, backed by specialized training
and fostered by carefully
honed achievement-enhancing skills. Their knowledge represents a formidable
resource, waiting to be tapped by companies in search of creative solutions
and managers striving to enable, empower and engage their employees' imaginative
and inventive powers.
Harvey Seifter is the President of Seifter
Associates, a full-service international consulting firm based in New York,
with an affiliated office in Berlin. He has enjoyed a distinguished career
at the helm of cultural institutions, and is the author of Leadership Ensemble:
Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World's Only Conductorless Orchestra,
published by Holt/Times Books in 2001. He is a member of the Board of Directors
of Arts & Business Council Inc., and team leader of Creativity Connection,
the Council's arts-based corporate training/organizational learning initiative.
Copyright © 2004 Harvey Seifter - All rights reserved.