Can Managers Be Artists?

Eli Broad, famous billionaire and philanthropist said on “60 Minutes last week, “civilizations are not remembered by their business people or bankers or lawyers, they are remembered by the arts.” Can’t managers be artists too? The bit reminded me of Seth Godin’s book Linchpin. Seth says we can all be more like artists at work. Here’s how he defines art on his website:

My definition of art contains three elements:

    1. Art is made by a human being.
    2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
    3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.

They don’t teach this in business school, and it is not easy for me to think of management as art. As a manager, I tend to work almost exclusively with my logical left-brain. While sound reasoning is important for a manager, I am beginning to feel that the best managers know how to reach people on an emotional level. Logic rarely impacts people or motivates them to change.

I spoke to a group of salespeople a few weeks ago about the financial benefit of increasing their sales. You know the speech. Increase the amount of your average sale a little and it adds up to a big chunk of money at the end of the year. It is a logically sound, yet down right boring and ineffective approach to impacting change.

When I think about the art that has resonated with me I think about music. My favorite band of all time is Pearl Jam. I remember listening to their first album Ten when I was a little kid and loving songs like “Alive,” “Oceans,” and “Release.” What do these songs have in common? Why did they impact me?  These are songs where the artist appeals to the audience on an emotional level. How can I get my work to resonate with my audience?

I’ve never been much of an artist. I can’t paint or sing or play an instrument. I struggle to write these 400 word blog posts each week and I certainly struggle with looking at work on an emotional level. Maybe I need to try harder.

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2 thoughts on “Can Managers Be Artists?

  1. John,

    Very interesting post, as always. A few thoughts to share, if I might …

    1. I think you missed a key definition of “art” in your three points — that is, art as an expression of self.
    2. For myself, I definitely view management as much more “art” than “science.” Logic is very important, of course — but using your “logic” should lead you to examine and determine what is important to a person in a given situation, and that “something” is usually of an emotional rather than a strictly logical nature (i.e, what are their wants and needs in this situation?).

    Bringing points one and two together, I would offer this … the best blog writing (and speech-making, and engaging people in general, in any environment) is often story-telling — particularly story-telling that reveals something of yourself to the audience and/or a story that they can identify with from their own experience. (Ronald Reagan, known as “The Great Communicator,” was a master at this).

    If you show people (your blog readers and your sales team) something important about yourself by telling them a story about your experience, it is much more likely to resonate with your audience than a logical but dry recitation of facts and figures.

    I’d encourage you to give yourself more credit than you are in this regard. In my reading of your blog these past few months, I think you’ve shared a lot about yourself and your journey as a manager (including in this very post,though you may not realize it), and it has been very effective. Do the same with your team, and I’m sure that you’ll be equally effective.

    Just a word of encouragement. Thanks for sharing what you have, and I look forward to reading more in the future!

    Michael Brisciana

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