I love the months of April and May. I spent this entire past weekend gardening. Raking and mowing. Clipping and mulching. Planting and watering. Early Saturday evening my body was deliciously sore, my jeans thoroughly muddy at the knees, and my soul deeply connected with my surroundings. Gardening is one of my forms of artistry, which for me is about creating through skilled, imaginative activity.
That Saturday evening I felt moved to post an update on Facebook about the satisfaction of my day and how we all need to make time for our own artistry, whatever that may be. But it occurs to me that our artistic expression doesn’t only belong in our weekends and evenings. It’s not something to do only during personal time. Artistry belongs in the workplace.
In her book, “Artistry Unleashed,” Hilary Austen offers a system for applying qualitative thinking to business—any pursuit really. She clarifies that bringing artistic methods to any kind of work is not a matter of rejecting analysis, data, structure, or mastery. Rather she argues that we’re not achieving full potential by relying solely on quantitative means, and that we should consider also incorporating qualitative reasoning into our work.
Artistry is creating through skilled, imaginative activity.
Using my gardening as an example let me explain that I don’t simply mean I’m going to bring plants to the office—although that would be a lovely idea. I mean that I can draw inspiration from my love of gardening and apply my experiences while gardening to my actions at work. For example, gardening concepts such as cultivating, or letting things alone that need to just be, or pruning back the less vibrant structures can shape how I approach leadership, problem-solving, or innovation. Calling on the distinctive interplay of skill and imagination that I express while gardening can inspire my professional endeavors.
Whether we’ve found our artistic ability in gardening, making music, writing poetry, baking, dancing, or any other form of creative expression, all of these forms of creative expression can inspire us in the workplace. We can draw from the intuition we’ve developed through the artistic ability we possess to performing our job. In doing so we shift attention away from executing with competency according to some pre-defined set of rules toward experimenting with our unique way of tackling challenges to fulfill our goals.
Artistry belongs in the workplace because it’s a capacity that addresses many of our organizational needs. If artistry is creating through skilled, imaginative activity, here are five benefits of inviting everyone to express their artistry at work:
1. ENGAGEMENT: Concern about elevating and maintaining employee engagement is all-too familiar. Encouraging artistry in the workplace culture allows your team to actually “be their best.” Specifically, this approach can be a great morale booster for the millennial workforce.
2. LEADERSHIP: The idea that leadership is largely about inspiring others is as common as the sense of frustration that leaders fail to inspire. Demonstrating the use of artistic expression as a leadership practice is refreshing as well as inspiring. It draws the leader toward authenticity and vulnerability, and models out-of-the-box thinking.
3. INNOVATION: Innovation appears in so many organizational values statements, but innovation can’t simply be directed. “Just do it” won’t work. Innovation is the result of collective artistry in service of a strategic objective.
4. COMPETITION: The most important thing separating your company from the rest is the decision to be shamelessly unique. Being unique as a company requires that you operate that way from the inside out, starting with every single team member. Practicing artistry in the workplace is defines your competitive advantage.
5. RESILIENCE: Since change is ever-present, resilience is a muscle every organization needs to strengthen. Artistic expression is the experience of failure and rejection. Regularly practicing artistry is an important method for strengthen resiliency.
I can hear you asking, “But what exactly does it mean to allow artistry into the workplace?”
- It means showing genuine interest in knowing the full range of talents each of your colleagues brings to work.
- It means creating occasions for people to share their unique gifts if they wish.
- It means leaders talk explicitly about the notion of bringing artistry out in the workplace, as well as modeling that themselves.
- It means actually asking everyone to set a goal for themselves of applying their distinct talent to a project or problem-solving effort.
- It means minimizing the strict “how to” rules for various job functions and explicitly asking people to develop their most creative or inventive way to perform tasks.
Inviting people to bring out their artistry in the workplace starts with a mindset. It’s a mindset of believing that to “get the best from” people, you’ll need to let them be more of their whole selves by accessing those talents that enable them to be imaginative and creative. You want that in your workplace, don’t you? Creating through skilled, imaginative, inspired activity.