Medium 9781576753026

The Art of Business

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Stan Davis is author of the bestselling books BLUR (more than 250,000 copies sold), 2020 Vision (more than 100,000 copies sold), and Future Perfect (more than 100,000 copies sold)
Shows how bringing an artistic sensibility to business can improve business performance and increase personal work satisfaction
Includes detailed, practical advice for implementing the ideas in the book, as well as a wealth of real-world examples
The arts are important to many people in their personal lives, but they don't see any way of incorporating art into their work and business. In this groundbreaking book, visionary business authors Stan Davis and David McIntosh argue that not only is this possible, but that applying an artistic sensibility to business will actually improve business performance.
Traditionally, business focuses only on the economic flow of inputs (resources, raw materials), outputs (products and services) and processes that help get you from one to the other (research and development, production, distribution). Davis and McIntosh show that there's an artistic flow that operates the same way, but with different particulars. Inputs here include things like emotion, imagination and intuition; and outputs include things like beauty, meaning, excitement and enjoyment. To bridge these aesthetic inputs and outputs, the authors show how to apply creative processes from the arts to business, and how to connect with customers the way great performers connect with audiences.
Through real-world examples and practical advice, The Art of Business shows how applying this concept of artistic flow enables you to come up with more creative solutions to problems, develop better new products, and provide your customers with the kinds of emotionally and aesthetically satisfying experiences they've come to expect in this high contact, mulimedia age. It gives you an additional--rather than alternative--approach to the established economic model of how things get done. And it will make your own work experience infinitely more satisfying.

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10 Chapters

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Chapter One The Artistic Flow of Business

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On stage was a six-foot-square sheet of black paper with about eight buckets of paint on the floor in front. We were in Boston’s Museum of Science, after dinner, at a business conference. The artist came out, chatted with the audience for a few minutes about what he was going to do, and then began to paint.

He used his hands as brushes, thrusting and cupping them into various buckets, then flinging, spattering, and smearing the paints onto the canvas. The colors, Day-Glo orange, lively chartreuse, electric blue, and the like, made a vivid contrast with the black sheet. Tony Bennett sang on the sound track. The artist spoke to the audience as he created, telling them that he needed their enthusiasm and involvement for inspiration. The room began to pulsate gently with foot tapping, some encouraging call-outs, and general enjoyment.

Within a couple of minutes you began to see that he was painting a portrait and by coloring the negative spaces, not the hair but the background arc around the hair. Around three songs or fifteen minutes later, he finished with a flourish of splatter for good measure, and there it was—a very alive-looking portrait of Tony Bennett in midsong.

 

Chapter Two Dualities

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Do you walk to school, or do you carry your lunch?” “Is it colder in the winter or in the mountains?” These are dualities, not dichotomies. Not so much “either/or” as “Yes, and …”

A true dichotomy is an either/or thing. Dead or alive. Black or white. But if you take a closer look, a seeming dichotomy often reveals a gray area between the two extremes. There’s a difference, for example, between young and old, but there’s generally no single birthday when a person goes from being young to being old. The categories of young and old blur into one another, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not.

Would-be dichotomies can also trip people up when they pair two ideas that seem at odds but are actually independent of one another. High quality and low cost, for instance, aren’t opposites; something can be one, or the other, or both. Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy was successful as both film and movie, both art and entertainment, both cinematic triumph and box-office blockbuster.

In most cases, we are better off seeing the duality obscured by the dichotomy. A duality is a pair of ideas that seem mutually exclusive but aren’t. Military intelligence. Mass customization. Aesthetic strategy.

 

Chapter Three The Elements of Artistic Flow

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In Stephen Sondheim’s song “Anyone Can Whistle,” the singer wonders why she can do difficult things like tango and read Greek but can’t whistle, why “what’s hard is simple, what’s natural comes hard.” Like the tango and Greek, economics is hard, but after years in business the economic flow seems relatively clear and simple to most of us. Artistic flow, on the other hand, even though it includes natural things like emotions, imagination, beauty, and meaning, comes hard to people in the business world.

Moving from inputs to outputs is not the only type of flow. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described flow as “a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.”1 We are engaged, confronting challenges we have the resources to meet, fulfilling our desires, mastering our own fate. A basketball player is “in the zone” when he is playing at the top of his game and everything he does has a kind of magic. Flow is the sense we get when doing something hard feels simple, when we feel in control of our actions.

 

Chapter Four Artistic Inputs in Business

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Artistic inputs operate very differently from economic ones. Inputs like land, labor, and capital can be applied in variable amounts, trading off an increase of one for a decrease of another. Artistic inputs like imagination and emotion don’t work incrementally. They push things forward in leaps and surprises. They don’t obey the laws of calculus, which makes them less likely to show up in an economist’s model.

Imagination is an artistic resource, and so is emotion. Intelligence, more particularly artistic intelligence, is a critical raw material, and so is experience. Sure, more things go into making art and working artistically, but looking at these four inputs will give you a good picture of what resources you have at hand and how you can start delivering the artistic outputs your customers want.

Unlike economic inputs, which are objective and easy to measure, artistic inputs are intangible. They are skills that help us see connections. They are ways of thinking that help us organize all the possibilities in front of us. Not quite paradoxes, they are more like dualities, bristling with artistic tension.

 

Chapter Five Tell Your Story, Write Your Poem, Sing Your Song

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In the last chapter we focused on artistic resources or inputs that complement economic ones and enrich the standard elements of running a business. Emotion, imagination, artistic intelligence, and experience contribute significantly to carrying out regular business tasks. In this chapter we’re going to look at some specific ways to put these qualities into action. Our purpose is to be suggestive rather than complete, to show how real artistic acts can be applied to real business problems. We’ve chosen three artistic acts—storytelling, poetry, and song—that can be creatively applied in business settings.

When Louis Gerstner took over as CEO at IBM in the early 1990s, the company was sinking like a stone. One of the first decisions he made was to continue offering System/390, the company’s mainframe servers, which, together with software that ran on them, represented over 90 percent of IBM’s profits. In his autobiography, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?,1 Gerstner describes one of his first meetings:

 

Chapter Six Artistic Processes in Business

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Between inputs and outputs are the processes that get us from one end of the flow to the other. The economic processes are R&D, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing. The artistic processes create something, produce and present it, and then connect with the audience: “create produce connect.” Our purpose in this chapter is to comment on artistic elements in each process and show how they can enrich these business basics.

The creative process, in art and in business, is where the breakthroughs happen, but they don’t happen by magic. As choreographer Twyla Tharp describes in The Creative Habit, there is a discipline to creativity.1 A series of activities almost always happen in order. Creativity isn’t so much a flash of genius as it is the duality of managed inspiration.

Producing a work, getting it ready for its audience, is a matter of practice and rehearsal. It requires both preparing the piece and preparing the performer. Some people’s presence makes their sales pitches sing and their presentations compel. This type of genius doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of hard work and careful preparation. Producing electrifying work is a matter of practiced presence.

 

Chapter Seven Find the Artistic in Everything You Do

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Everything has an aesthetic and can be undertaken with artistry. Or, more precisely, everything can have an aesthetic if we choose to give it one, and that includes everything in business and in our work. We’re accustomed to sensing an aesthetic when painters capture landscapes, musicians play harmonies, and actors create memorable characters. We’re less used to sensing artistry when dentists fill cavities, assembly lines run perfectly, and salespeople satisfy customers. It’s there to be had in routine and useful activities, though it takes conscious effort.

Adding an aesthetic to our business activities brings elements like beauty and balance, meaning and enjoyment to them, and all business activities would benefit from such qualities. We can build artistic qualities into the work we do and the products and services we create. The more artful we make the processes, the richer are the outputs. To demonstrate this in a variety of economic contexts, we will discuss adding artistry to six different aspects of business: the value chain, marketing, technology, finance, organization, and careers.

 

Chapter Eight Artistic Outputs in Business

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In business, some desired outcomes are more appropriately described as artistic than economic. The four we discuss all have a dual nature, embracing and blending seeming opposites. Beauty gets its power from being simultaneously stimulating and calming. Excitement is most compelling when we get safe thrills. Enjoyment comes, paradoxically, from finding freshness in a familiar context. And meaning is strongest when we manage to personalize what’s universal. In each case, the outcome’s duality enhances its power.

In this chapter we will look at outputs of artistic processes and how they enhance the value of economic goods and services. Seeing how their strength comes from the dualities underlying them, you will be in a better position to understand people’s deep desires and satisfy their emotional needs. Employing these artistic outputs, you will have powerful tools for business, work, and life.

Great works of art naturally fulfill our desires for beauty, excitement, enjoyment, and meaning. These same artistic outputs can enhance the value even of ordinary products and services as much as economic outputs can. Their contribution should not be minimized, ignored, or overlooked, even when the object evoking these qualities is commonplace or utilitarian.

 

Chapter Nine Do Your Customers Send You Energy?

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Business flows from inputs, through processes, to outputs. In the magic of metaphors, it also loops back. When the entire flow works optimally, customers are more than passive receivers of outputs; as we said earlier, they also send energy back up the flow to providers. Customers energize well-run businesses regularly.

The clothing designer who gets his ideas from trendsetting teenagers, the fast-food chain that responds to customers’ desires for healthier fare, and the accounting firm that honors their obligations to the investment community and not just their clients—these are examples of businesses energized by their true and ultimate customers.

In this chapter, we look at a few industries that produce their best work when they get their energy from their customers. Architecture and interior design are fields that blend artistic and economic flow in almost everything they do. When they do it right, both artistic and economic flows send energy back from customers up to the providers. Sometimes it happens, and other times not. In music, symphony orchestras and opera companies attract many of the same listeners, but opera companies have found it easier to evolve and connect to their still-growing audiences. As they become more responsive to their customers’ needs for artistic outputs like beauty and enjoyment, these fields will do a better job at creating meaning that will outlive them and their customers.

 

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