Painting a Conversation: One leader’s reflection on the creative process

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Why Art?

By Scott Lewis
Partner, Tower Stone Group

Recently, I spent a stimulating day with Linda Naiman in a seminar organized by my good friend Loren Carlson and his CEO Roundtable. Linda began with a history of work relating artistic thought to business and then she led our group of 35 CEOs through some experiential learning exercises.

One of the exercises that had a profound impact was a challenge to conduct a non-verbal conversation with a partner, using only water colors on a blank sheet.

Linda chose the member of each pair who would start the “conversation” and I opened with a blue fish hook in the middle of the page. My partner responded with a green “smile” on the left, to which I added three purple supports.

[See image above] As the conversation developed, I became aware of my emotions related to its progress. I found myself reacting to the way he treated my “statements” and I struggled to interpret and respond to his. With the linguistic framework removed, the feelings experienced during the conversation were uncovered.

After about 5 minutes of painting, we laid down our brushes and discussed our intent in each stroke and reactions to our partners’ responses. Someone reported that they had felt “violated” by their partner crossing one of their strokes with his own. Some of us agreed that we had experienced a similar feeling, which might say something about our ability to accept changes to our ideas. My partner expressed his intent to build “on” my ideas, not just “around” them, but I could not shake the feeling that he was “messing with my stuff”.

Scott Lewis Visual Dialogue 2

After the discussion, we did the exercise again.

This time, it seems that we were being more sensitive to each others’ “statements”, adding and reflecting in a more complementary way. In fact, it’s remarkable the lengths to which my partner went not to cross my lines this time. I copied his red coil and he copied my blue “support” structure. It felt good to share those common understandings, but at the cost of losing a big dimension of our creativity! Even though we might have had a more harmonious “conversation”, our vocabulary was much more limited, and I think you can see that in the painting. Perhaps our next effort might have included some “constructive conflict” as we gained trust, but I have a new respect for how easily creativity can be limited by common understandings, vocabulary, or a simple restriction like the desire to respect boundaries.

Published with the kind permission of Scott Lewis. Originally published on Linkedin.

Related: Why Art? Reflections on Art and Leadership at CEO Roundtable Retreat

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