Lessons from the Arts for Business Management

I picked up an Economist at a book store over the weekend to read about the business/economics perspective on the Middle East happenings, and I found this piece, which has been in my head all week, especially in light of the week’s wacky events.

It reads, in part:

But businesspeople nevertheless have a lot to learn by taking the arts more seriously.

Mr Anderson & co point out that many artists have also been superb entrepreneurs. Tintoretto upended a Venetian arts establishment that was completely controlled by Titian. He did this by identifying a new set of customers (people who were less grand than the grandees who supported Titian) and by changing the way that art was produced (working much faster than other artists and painting frescoes and furniture as well as portraits). Damien Hirst was even more audacious. He not only realised that nouveau-riche collectors would pay extraordinary sums for dead cows and jewel-encrusted skulls. He upturned the art world by selling his work directly through Sotheby’s, an auction house. Whatever they think of his work, businesspeople cannot help admiring a man who parted art-lovers from £70.5m ($126.5m) on the day that Lehman Brothers collapsed.

Studying the arts can help businesspeople communicate more eloquently. Most bosses spend a huge amount of time “messaging” and “reaching out”, yet few are much good at it. Their prose is larded with clichés and garbled with gobbledegook. Half an hour with George Orwell’s “Why I Write” would work wonders. Many of the world’s most successful businesses are triumphs of story-telling more than anything else. Marlboro and Jack Daniels have tapped into the myth of the frontier. Ben & Jerry’s, an ice-cream maker, wraps itself in the tie-dyed robes of the counter-culture. But business schools devote far more energy to teaching people how to produce and position their products rather than how to infuse them with meaning.

Studying the arts can also help companies learn how to manage bright people. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones of the London Business School point out that today’s most productive companies are dominated by what they call “clevers”, who are the devil to manage. They hate being told what to do by managers, whom they regard as dullards. They refuse to submit to performance reviews. In short, they are prima donnas. The arts world has centuries of experience in managing such difficult people. Publishers coax books out of tardy authors. Directors persuade actresses to lock lips with actors they hate. Their tips might be worth hearing.

There’s more great stuff in it, too. Check out the whole thing HERE.