Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Creativity—The Mother of Innovation

Businessmen CC image courtesy of VoxPhoto on Flickr.
As a student of arts administration, I have constantly been inundated with statistics or opinions recommending that arts non-profits emulate business practices. But a piece from the Economist’s Schumpeter blog proposes the opposite—that business can, and should, learn from the arts. Read on to find out why left-brain industries should be looking right.

Art: A Form of Communication
     Aside from pointing out that artists are savvy businesspeople in their own right (whether it’s Titian or Damien Hirst), the column also notes that business is not only numbers game. "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."  Indeed, when I was in college, some of the business majors I knew said they struggled through the few papers they had to do for their humanities requirements. (Meanwhile, as an English and Art History major, I did little BUT write papers.) It surprised me that there was so little writing in the business curriculum—after all, writing is a form of communicating, as is all art. Strategic plans and marketing analyses still require solid communication skills!

Creativity: Not just for right-brainers
     But what businesses can learn from the arts goes beyond a blurring of the hard versus soft skills divide. Last July, Newsweek's coverage of the Creativity Crisis created a stir in business, art, and education circles. The magazine reported that American students are falling behind on the creativity front—even as their collective IQ continues to rise. Kids are getting smarter, but they aren’t learning the skills they need to be creative. As Newsweek discussed, innovation is next to impossible without creativity. And beyond hard skills and soft skills, what is a good business without innovation? In Leadership, a course I took at NYU’s esteemed Stern School of Business, my professor constantly emphasized that differentiation is the key to strategy—and innovation has got to be one of the best differentiators there is.
     Though Newsweek took pains to separate the Creativity Crisis from art education, I would argue that the link is still a strong one—particularly when viewed in light of the National Endowment for the Arts’ recently released report (pdf, 3.8 MB) on art education in the US. The study noted a correlation between a decline in art education for our nation’s students…one I suspect would also correlate with this decline in creativity that Newsweek covered.
     Showing the practical applications of an art education—and especially ones that can translate into a career, in the arts or otherwise—is a great way to demonstrate the myriad ways art education bolsters our nations’ students. Do you have any examples of innovation that you have seen from your students in the art room? They could make a great advocacy anecdote!

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