Why Killing the Arts is Killing Business

20 06 2011

A conversation with a client today made me think about the impact creativity has on a successful business. We are in a climate where budgets are carefully being watched. Our educational system is under review and programs are being reduced or cut out of the curriculum all together. One of the biggest targets for the axe over the years has been the arts. After all, what do music, theater, and art have to do with creating successful people anyway.

Programs we often define as extra-curricular can often make the biggest impact on who we become and how we innovate. Things like playing an instrument, painting, or acting tap into a different part of our mind that allows us to think of new possibilities, find new solutions and think “outside the box.” What refreshed my memory on this was a discussion I had with a client about something he was passionate about in his youth.

This person had a talent for painting. This person was even lucky enough to have parents that were encouraging and supported the interests she had. Often the paintings were used for gifts to friends and family who were admirers of the work. This love for art continued on through high school until the rational mind set in. After all, very few people make a living painting. So the choice was made to move into a “safer” career.

It is common for us to look at the arts as unnecessary. And that belief might change if people would see what I see. There are organizations full of very capable people who are incapable of finding creative solutions to complex problems. These are well educated, intelligent people. Yet throughout their lives, we have learned the creativity right out of them.

History, math and science are all important and it is channeling the creative side of our minds that allows us to use what is learned through our analytical side. Without tapping into our creative side, we may find ourselves being good at going through the motions, but struggle finding new solutions when the problem changes.

Now some may think that this is to build a case for keeping the arts in school. And while I think we should, we have a real challenge with getting funding for education. For the foreseeable future, I do not see that changing. Funding for the arts is going to require a major paradigm shift in public thought as we place value on graduating students that can compete in math and science with places like Asia or India.

So the challenge is this: How can we understand the value the arts have on those who will not grow up to be professional musicians, painters, or actors? Above all, how can we re-engage people into creativity in the workplace? Over the years we have been a nation of innovation. To continue that trend, we must continue to exercise the creative muscle.

While it sounds great to say embrace the arts and make it part of our learning, I don’t expect that to happen. Unlike certain groups, I will also not throw out a problem and then complain how it is someone else’s fault and they should fix it. I will also not demand government tax more from anyone in an effort to haphazardly justify incorporating the arts into schools without some plan. I do however, propose a couple solutions.

First of all, embrace the arts in your own way. Find something you enjoy doing and do it whether you think you are good at it or not. Give yourself 30 minutes a day to play. Make it a habit. If you enjoy photography, take pictures with your camera phone. Virtually every cell phone has one. Grab an number 2 pencil from your desk and draw a picture on a napkin over lunch. Write a short story. The beauty of this is in its simplicity. Work with what you got. It may teach you to do the same in business.

Second, encourage others in the arts. Specifically your children. When you are young the laws of physics and reality do not apply. Our thinking is boundless because we “don’t know any better”. Along the way as we learn we teach the creativity out of ourselves. Instead, spend 30 minutes with your children reading, coloring, drawing, making up stories, or whatever else it is they want to do. Not only will you benefit from tapping into their creative mind, you will strengthen that relationship with your children as well. No children? Participate in organized groups and associations in your community. Give some time and give some talent. If you don’t think you have what it takes, become the student.

Third, as business leaders, provide creative channels for people. If there are people who like to sing, encourage them to create a choir group. If they like to paint, or they like photography, create a group that supports the hobby. Devote a little time each day for people to be a little right brained for a while. It will help re-energize people and possibly help them find new ways to address the challenges your business is facing.

None of these ideas involves significant time. Nor do they ask us to carve billions out of our reduced tax dollars. They are simple solutions that anyone can do at any time with limited resources. Who knows, if we can take some simple ideas and solve complex problems here, what else would we be capable of doing when we apply it elsewhere?








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