To be successful in business today means more than out-earning your competitors. It means finding ways to earn that your competitors never even considered. It means disruption, and innovation.
When a great leader is working their way up in an industry, their understanding of and perspective on traditional structure and mindset shifting as they develop new insight and experience, innovative can strike relatively easy. They don’t yet demonstrate the presumption of their predecessors, whose own innovative ideations have formed the backbone of the business. So when they see an element of the organisations is in need of change, or discover a niche that is ripe for the taking, they are quick to recognise it and act.
Over time, however, this cutting-edge perspective can be lost. As leaders continue to rise, their experience clouds their visions as it did with their predecessors, making it harder to recognise where innovative is wanted, or needed. It’s not a result of contentment – many of these leaders remain as eager as ever to engage with new ideas – but a downside to disconnecting from the day-to-day activities of a business.
To avoid letting their grip on innovation slip, leaders need to be constantly disrupting their own views and prejudices.
Some choose to hold brainstorming meetings. While communication is integral to the nurturing of new ideas, real innovation can’t be found in an office boardroom filled with peers who share similar experience and attitudes.
Others travel the world, delving into new cultures and philosophies, and the results are the complete opposite. Although such experiences are sure to provide new ideas, unless the entire staff is able to join them, their ability to communicate their newfound understanding can be limited.
What’s needed is a medium through which communication and new experiences can combine. Something that is easy to access, mentally challenging, and that inspires fervent conversation.
What’s needed is for leaders to embrace the world of art.
In a recent article, Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor refers to two programs in the United States that encourage professionals to view art as something that exists not outside their work, but as a supportive tool.
The first is Cops and Docs, an annual event run by the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Participants develop a greater understanding of how their experiences colour their thinking by responding to a range of paintings and sculptures. Discussions focused on theme as well as technical details, so that participants better realised the impact their perception had on the reading of a work, and how it could be read in a different way.
While the intention is different, the goal is the same – to encourage participants to think differently by exploring ideas in art that go beyond their vision of the world.
The second program is The Art of Perception from educator, lawyer, and art historian Amy E. Herman. Once again, it’s police – as well as the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service – who meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at work from history’s master artisans.
Herman asks those involved to talk not just about what they see, but what they don’t see. Being able to point out the latter is a critical skill for people in such impactful and complex professions, but it’s ultimately a necessity for all leaders. Acknowledging blindspots is the only way to avoid tunnel vision, and to overcome them requires creative thinking. Through exploring the ideas that follow, advancements can be made.
Of course, external programs aren’t necessary. Leaders could start a bookclub at the office, invite staff to visit a museum or gallery, or hold movie screenings every month or so.
Whatever the choice, art must play a part in the development of any leader if they want to remain innovative throughout their career. To ignore that is to risk not being able to address the challenges nor embrace the opportunities your business faces, and to find yourself replaced by someone who can.