The arts are emerging as a role model for business and organizations because the arts excel in areas where leaders struggle the most: chaos, diversity, ambiguity, envisioning the future and the ability to dare to break molds. (Wall Street Journal 8/19/03).
Creativity. Innovation. Visionary Leadership. Strategy.
These are the key ingredients in future business growth. Most organizations talk about them, but can't seem to understand HOW to achieve them. They search for answers from experts and books with the same repackaged strategies. Although it's known that a new approach is needed to transform the business. It's uncharted territory. Organizations are hesitant to take risks and explore new solutions unless there's supporting historical data. When traditional organizations get stuck in this mode, it's called the Elephant Pole Syndrome.
Most organizations lean heavily on "left brain thinking", which involves analysis, structure, and reliance upon historical data. Frankly, this has been the easy way to solve problems and make decisions, but with a very high cost to the overall business health . There's little risk and not much room for the creative thought that is needed to deal with today's business challenges.
THE ELEPHANT POLE SYNDROME
Circus elephants are tied to poles as babies so they don't wander off and create damage. They are conditioned to accept that the pole restrains them, so they stop fighting it. As an adult, the much larger elephant could easily uproot the pole, but remains compliant. Unfortunately for him, his thinking has become limited and he never realizes his own power. This has become the case in many organizations today, and it threatens the chances of survival in the future workplace.
If organizations learn to accept and use the whole brain, chances of business survival would dramatically increase. Why don't they just do it?
It's a lot like picking up a paintbrush for the first time and being challenged to create a masterpiece. As you struggle with knowing where to even begin, you are also wrestling with the potential embarassment of making a mistake or failing altogether. You may believe that you don't have an artistic bone in your body.
When people think of art, creativity usually comes to mind. Artists are strategic visionaries who are able to tell the most striking stories through effortless strokes of a paintbrush, free of fear, confident of each color choice, shape, and shadow. These are the map creators we commonly call "right brainers".
ARTISTS AND WHOLE BRAIN THINKING
Art is more than just slapping paint on canvas and hoping for the best.
In truth, art requires whole brain thinking. Creativity, intuitiveness, and vision originates from the right brain, but art requires strategy, critical thinking, structure, and practicality. Most genius artists think through their masterpiece- how to lay it out lin layers, what colors compliment and contrast, how to space the objects, how to sketch it before committing to paint. This comes from the left brain.
Artists have a tendency to work through their worldly problems on canvas (or other mediums like clay and sculptures). Not only is it possible to express oneself through art, it is also possible to use art to build confidence, experiment with risks, and shift perceptions. Artists also develop a commitment and accountability to the picture they paint, knowing that they will have to share the story, provoke emotion with it, and sell it.
HOW TO START BUILDING WHOLE BRAIN THINKING
The following tips are designed to start you on the path to whole brain thinking and creativity:
1. Take stock of your life models and filters.
The #1 reason we don't get good results is due to PERCEPTION. Yes, it's true. This is important to be aware of because we see with our brains- not our eyes. Our brains hold significant beliefs and experiences that filter what we see in the world.
Identify your major life events- good or bad- that have had a major impact on you. Then think about the themes in your life, and the stories you tell yourself-about yourself. For example, if I think I am fat, I am going to see myself as fat in the mirror, and nobody can tell me any different. That perception will act as the filter that you see the world and yourself.
3. Stay away from reliance upon "pattern thinking".
Most of us have a method we use to problem solve, and we repeat it over and over. Our brains like homeostasis,and it freaks out a little bit when we change the way we look at a problem- which is fantastic! This means our brain has to build neurons and make more connections so it can be stronger. When you find yourself thinking the same way, start asking yourself curious questions like: "What would this problem look like if the world was going to end tomorrow?" or "What would be a really bold move to make now?'
4. Allow yoursef to reach failure.
Failure is a stimulant for genius innovation- and this is a brain fact. Our brains don't like to fail because it disrupts energy reserves. The brain then goes into a sort of survival mode and allows you to get a concentrated dose of genius to solve your challenge so it can get back to reserving energy. Albert Einstein is a great example of someone who failed often, and it was only after he was in total despair did he start to invent the very things we take for granted today.
5. Expand your critical thinking skills and creativity through an art experience.
In my own career, I realized that my greatest strategies were developed as I thought through a painting I was working on. Sometimes I reached failure, painted the canvas black to start over, and created some phenomal art piece afterwards. Simultaneously, a work challenge was happening and miraculously got solved at the same time.
Some of the comments from people participating in a facilitated art program (who have never been artists or even used a paintbrush) talk about it as one of the most profound experiences they've ever had. They found themselves telling stories of a sensitive nature, sharing their future state vision, and learning new ways to create strategies while solving very difficult problems that required extreme innovation. It's worth a try. Are you brave enough?
Angela Nuttle is CEO of Corporate OD Strategies, a consulting and coaching firm that creates unique solutions that help organizations move toward the workplace of tomorrow. She offers a program called ARTITUDES that combines art, brain science, and business research. to learn more about ARTITUDES, click here.