A special edition of the Journal of Business Strategy
The growing use of arts-based learning reflects a dramatic shift in the boundaries that previously defined the limits of experience deemed relevant to the business world.
This shift has been triggered by profound technological and social changes that transformed the culture of business over the past decade by favoring companies inventive enough to find their own ways forward, flexible enough to respond quickly (and competently) to the unexpected, and spontaneous enough to lead change effectively.
Guest edited by Harvey Seifter and Ted Buswick
Arts-based learning for business: Creatively Intelligent companies
For about 20 combined years, a large part of our professional energies and personal passions have been engaged by the use of artistic skills, processes and experiences as learning tools: in complex global corporations, small and medium-sized businesses, professional associations, universities, historical and cultural centers, government agencies, leadership academies, and non-profit organizations.
In 2005, we edited a special issue of this journal (Vol. 26 No. 5) in which we documented the emergence of arts-based learning for business as a field of practice and traced this trend to the confluence of two explosive forces in the 1990s – the increasingly rapid rate of change in the business environment, which often outstripped the capacity of traditionally-managed organizations to adapt effectively; and an exponential increase in the complexity and social interconnectivity of the global marketplace.
The result was a demand for new organizational models and learning tools to help knowledge workers better cope with radical unpredictability, adapt to change, surface creativity, and innovate. We also cited specific examples of companies using arts-based applied skills training in areas such as teambuilding, executive presence, and intercultural communications; and reported on the growing awareness among senior business leaders of the benefits to their companies from these new forms of arts-business partnerships.
At that time, because creativity and innovation were becoming business concerns of paramount importance, arts-based learning was increasingly the subject of worldwide attention, a large and growing bibliography, and even television documentaries. To offer just two examples of the growing interest: in 2004 Harvard Business Review cited Dan Pink’s idea that The MFA is the New MBA as one of its breakthrough ideas of the year while in Japan, at roughly the same time, NHK identified arts-based learning in business as one of the ten most important emergent trends of the twenty-first century.
In the past five years, as business success has become ever more closely linked to the development of creatively intelligent companies and leaders, the field of arts-based learning has continued to evolve dynamically, experiencing four major trends. The first three, which inform much of the writing contained in this new special issue, are extraordinarily promising. The fourth presents a serious challenge to those of us who champion the practical use of artistic skills, processes, and experiences in business. We will come back to that trend – and how we may begin to work together to reverse it – in our closing paragraphs.
The first and most striking of the trends we have observed has been an accelerated growth of interest in our field, to a point that today arts-based learning in the workplace is no longer a little known or fringe phenomenon. Indeed, it has been experienced by hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of people, and incorporated into organizational development programs at a majority of the Fortune 500. Arts-based approaches have also been integrated into the curricula of many of the world’s most prestigious business schools, and arts-based tools are being used in employee training programs by a growing number of local, regional, and national governments in North America and Europe.
A current global overview is offered in Nick Nissley’s article, “Arts-based learning at work,” in which he surveys leaders in business, training, and academia about the relevance of arts-based learning and weaves the responses into a clarion statement supporting arts-based learning’s role in strategy, creativity, and leadership.
This issue also offers examples of how arts-based learning has been applied successfully in leading companies and organizations, including InterContinental Hotels, GlaxoSmithKline, Target, IKEA, Samsung, Bang & Olufsen, IBM, Kepner Tregoe, and LexisNexis.
Download a PDF of Nick Nissley’s article “Arts-based learning at work: economic downturns, innovation upturns, and the eminent practicality of arts in business”
Thanks to the editors of this special report for permission to publish these excerpts. Originally published as Journal of Business Strategy (2005, Vol.26, No.5)
Resources for arts-based learning for business
As a pioneer in arts-based learning I am pleased that business is starting to takes the arts seriously, as a catalyst for creativity, innovation, team and leadership development. These links will lead you to more information on developing these 21st century thinking skills.
- Artful Leadership Skills Development for Creativity and Innovation
- Strategic Conversations, Visual Thinking & Arts-based Dialogue