. . . pretty much everything from sandwiches to cars. But has anyone taken a serious look at what art & science have in common? And what they have in common with business?
I've worked as a consultant, strategist and marketer for medical and scientific organizations and have been surrounded by science. As a composer and playwright I've worked alongside the directors, designers, actors, musicians and productions teams who bring the art of immersive storytelling to live theatre.
If those two worlds sound like polar opposites they're not. Art & science have a whole lot in common and businesses could learn from the comparison (like how to avoid comparing art & science & sandwich-making). Here's what I've observed about art & science and some of the questions that comparison raises for business. I'd love to hear your thoughts too so please comment!
Whether it's a play, novel, painting, song, paper on medical research, lecture on astrophysics, or a mathematical treatise, both art and science give us new ways to perceive the world around us. They help us recognize how we fit (or don't fit) in the scheme of things.
Does your organization promote that kind of self-awareness and growth?
If you're an employee who only gets performance feedback periodically or your company isn't encouraging you to stretch and innovate, then not so much. But if you're surrounded by intellectually curious co-workers with an unquenchable thirst for innovation, and if you and your company are open to constant critiques (both art and science embrace critiques), then your organization may have a lot in common with art & science.
Both art & science attract people who are highly trained, persistent and capable of the same level of focus that's valued in business leadership and entrepreneurship. Another term for those people is "engaged". Art & science also require the kind of minds that thrive on delayed rewards and focus on the long view. For those to be a priority, you have to be engaged.
Are the people you work with that engaged in what they do?
The perennial Gallup survey on workforce engagement says 87% aren't. BTW it used to be 66%, so disengagement is becoming more and more epidemic. Don't get me wrong, art & science can be grueling. There's a ton of unrewarding thankless grunt work involved, but the end result is so worth it!
Science doesn't live in the basement and art doesn't just belong in a museum. Not anymore. Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson created a worldwide audience for astrophysics. Recording artists like Taylor Swift share their music openly on digital platforms in order to boost attendance at live performances. Art & science need to be shared, deconstructed, reconstructed and shared again.
Does your business encourage shared experiences between its employees and its customers?
I still run into businesses that try to convince customers to want the things they make instead of creating the experiences their customers really want. For me, successful companies are the ones who use the same kind of experiential thinking artists use to create and share something unique, not because the end product is necessarily unique but because the experience surrounding it is. Think Southwest Airlines, Harry's Razors, Instagram and Slack. The actual products in each case are commodities that are offered by other companies but it's the experience sets them apart. Also think about the musical Hamilton. Is it the story that sets it apart? That story's been written in numerous history books. The historical setting? Nope, you might need to watch 1776. How about the use of rap? There was a rap in my first musical Fairways produced in 2006, so been there done that. Is it the costumes, multiracial casting or choreography? None of those factors alone make as big a difference as the artistry with which the story is told and all of the elements that are combined to share it with audiences.
Accidental discoveries can expand our understanding of the world around us and what's possible, but it takes vision to turn a mistake into an insight or a product. When paint is spilled on a canvas (Jackson Pollock), or chemicals are accidentally combined in a lab (origins of plastic and vulcanized rubber) or a discordant note is played (Thelonious Monk who famously said, “You've been making the wrong mistakes.”)
They also happen when someone in a meeting feels totally free to stand up and say "I have a really weird idea" and the people around her listen.
Does your organization encourage accidental innovation?
If it does, you're fortunate to be in a business that can legitimately compare itself to art & science. If not, you may want to read the myth of the slow boiling frog and jump! Now!
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