Let’s just bottom-line this, shall we? An arts background can give you a serious competitive advantage as a business leader.
After receiving my BA in English Literature from the University of Memphis, and after years of working in the theatre and film industries, I found myself wanting to jump into the corporate world. Yes, it’s shocking, I know. I was starting a family and needed more stability. I used my persuasive skills to my advantage and landed a job as a recruiter, and I became fascinated with the ins and outs of watching the leaders around me run their business.
My poor colleagues – every chance I got, I was asking questions. “How do I calculate my profit margin?” and “What are the keys to being a good negotiator?” and “How does the current economic landscape affect my business?” Realizing how annoying that was, I decided it was time for me to take matters into my own hands and go back to school. I took a deep breath and embarked on a 16-month Executive MBA program at Millsaps College.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I had a serious advantage. I had a few skills up my sleeve that could help me. It’s true, I didn’t actually know what an income statement consisted of (yet), but I knew that once I did, I could be a rare kind of business leader – one with an arts background. Here’s what I found out:
- The 2004 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland offered a workshop entitled “If an Artist Ran Your Business.” It quickly sold out with people begging to get in the door. Attendees included the likes of music producer Quincy Jones, actor Chris Tucker, and film producer Shekhar Kapur, to name a few.
- Harvard Business School professor, Robert Austin, collaborated with well-known theatre director Lee Devin to author the book “Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work.”
- Denmark opened the world’s first business-school-based Center for Art and Leadership and now its graduates are among the most sought after candidates in the European job market.
- Several major corporations, including global aerospace companies and aircraft manufacturers are hiring poet David Whyte to speak to and train their senior executives.
What do artists have? What added value can they bring to your company? Four things: team-based collaboration skills, improvisation skills. Inspired-based leadership, and excellent presentation and social skills.
Actors, dancers and musicians have been collaborating on a level that many managers do not. They see the big picture and how important every performer is on stage. They know they cannot accomplish what they need to without everyone successfully playing their part, and because of that, they lift each other up to achieve their goal.
Also, artists can use their improvisation skills to problem-solve on cue. Sequential planning is very important, but more and more, companies are seeing the advantage to a spontaneous approach to problem solving. Business leaders are pressured to constantly come up with new ideas, and typically, artists can conjure up creative ideas, and they can do so successfully even with a deadline looming in front of them.
And who better to inspire and motivate your colleagues than artists? Artists know how to set a positive tone. They can read people and properly motivate them toward a common goal. And they do so with a sincerity and authenticity that most managers lack. Even the best business professionals need to be motivated properly to do their best, and studies are showing that a good solution to this is collaborating with local artists.
Last, but certainly not least, artists were born presenters with excellent social skills. Trying to prepare for a presentation? Not sure where to start or even if you are going to be able to get in front of people? Talk to the artist in your organization for tips on how to prepare. They can tell you what to wear, how to use your voice, and how to grab the audience’s attention and keep it.
Chances are, as a business professional, you have been stumped trying to solve a problem with a tight deadline, or trying to come up with ways to successfully collaborate with your team, or even stressing about an upcoming presentation. If you don’t have any artists in your organization to lean on for help, you just might be behind the times.