How Art Helps Bridge the Management Gap
An organization’s survival depends on developing new patterns of management, and business techniques aren’t enough.
A study, “Arts in Management,”  called out managers for needing to bring something extra to the workplace to maintain an efficient team successfully. Business is used to constant change, but pandemics (coronavirus), protests (Black Lives Matter, #Metoo), and new ways of communicating (TikTok) have upended our entire world. This volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (known as VUCA) world we live in intensifies each year.
Now, more than ever, is the time to change the way we approach management and commit to not only evolving with current events but in anticipation of them. So what can we do about it?
We can start by incorporating art into our management practices.
Part of the issue is that MBA and management programs teach policies that focus on the bottom line, not on developing soft skills. Students are told they need to develop soft skills to create connection and meaning with the people and environment around them, whether with clients, colleagues, or other stakeholders. But, if you look at the curriculum of a typical MBA program, you’ll see that the majority of material being taught is focused on hard skills.
On top of this, MBAs and management graduates are taught how to respond through formulaic examples; every scenario has a predetermined solution. But in the real world, things are rarely this simple. It’s easy to learn things in a bubble without understanding the interpersonal links that need to be a part of every management strategy.
In a perfect world, management stands at an intersection between arts, science, and common sense. But in our current world, management is almost completely disconnected from the arts.
However, there are some emerging MBA programs that are trying to reconnect to this idea. NYU’s TIsch School for the Arts offers a MBA/MFA program that aims to “bridge the gap between the ‘creatives’ and the ‘suits.’” The California College of the Arts also offers an MBA program, with the belief that, as an arts school, they are uniquely positioned to teach innovation through questioning, listening, and focusing on human needs in technology.
To further close the gap, managers need to understand the arts and develop, in addition to their execution-oriented business mind, an artist’s mindset. Artists use strategies to manage the struggles of their craft and professional lives that give managers a path to follow in their own field:
Stay in Touch With Emotions
“[The key role of artists] to help the rest of us see more, to broaden our perspectives, and to get in touch with both the internal and external forces that we might not otherwise notice” (Schein)
Managers need interpersonal skills to keep teams running smoothly, and empathy is a crucial part of this. However, because management is taught formulaically, managers are trained to approach the position through a rational lens instead of a human one. Certainly, there are many times that business calls for a rational approach, but it can’t be the only way we view things. Sometimes, we need to allow emotions to enter the situation, especially when connecting with team members and clients.
Because art is centered on human emotion, it is perfect for helping in this arena. Artists are deeply involved with their own emotions, understanding others’ emotions, and creating ways to communicate them externally. Through their chosen medium, they can share a reality in a way that can affect the viewer emotionally or transmit a different point of view.
Is this not also part of what managers aim to do? Managers also need to transmit points of view and impact the people around them, such as teammates or clients. These tasks could use an emotional touch, making the stereotype of emotionless business people an incorrect one.
An arts intervention at Unilever serves as the perfect example. A group of actors observed the company for months and then planned a performance to display the problems and emotions they had seen.
Using an artistic lens opened people’s eyes to new ways of expressing themselves within the company and helped managers see problems that their employees hadn’t openly communicated. Examples like these show how important developing communication methods and building an emotional connection can be in the workplace.
Get Comfortable With Ambiguity
“Ambiguity is an invitation to the freedom of changing perceptions and forms..As ambiguity thus expresses a pertinent condition of society as well as an important value,” (Darso)
Businesses strive to reduce ambiguity and uncertainty, but because the business environment is ruled by them, we must learn to become comfortable with it instead.
One of the problems of giving a course in something like management is that no textbook or case study could cover every situation that arises in managing people. So, students leave without ever encountering how to make decisions in a changing environment. Handling real-world situations require a certain amount of improvisation and flexibility, two traits that artists excel in.
And improvisation is not just for actors! Artists from all disciplines tend to have these traits, given the nature of the art industry. They chase questions that can’t be answered, hoping to uncover something new. In allowing themselves to explore the areas unknown to them, they remain open to new ideas and innovations.
“We are usually just looking forward. An artist can see the whole thing and say: we are here because we made that step then” (TILLT Europe)
TILLT Europe’s study details another example: an arts intervention with a dancer in a medical research company. The company was dealing with rapid reorganizational changes, which were negatively affecting the morale of the employees. Although they all had the skills to overcome this challenge, they were losing motivation and felt frustrated by what was going on within the company.
The dancer decided to offer workshops that taught dance improvisation techniques that encouraged participants to focus on the individual relating to the present moment. Through these techniques, employees felt equipped to see and respond to change instead of being paralyzed.
Even though management can be seen as a science, managers can still learn valuable lessons about adapting from the art world’s ambiguity. Like the dancer, they can encourage improvisation amongst team members to encourage acceptance and readiness for the unknown.
So What Are the Key Takeaways?
“The gap between what can be imagined and what can be accomplished has never been smaller,” (Hamel)
Stay in touch with your emotions, get comfortable with ambiguity, and other lessons from these arts interventions might sound counterintuitive to a business manager. But as we just saw, studies like these prove that a company isn’t spontaneously developed as creative, emotive, and flexible. It is molded into a considerate, human-centered company through the active decision and commitment to put new policies in place that value soft skills. And, oftentimes, the people on the front lines implementing these policies are those in management.
Although there are certain assumptions about how managers should operate (detached, calculating, etc.) it’s never too late to change them. After all, the world is changing around us; why not evolve with it?
Want to learn more about the value of bringing arts into the workplace? Make sure to check our blog for more information.
Want to bring the arts to your own company? Check out our training programs!
 Mayer, Kurt. When Arts Meet Management: New Modes of Interventions for Innovation and Leadership Learning?