Why Use Arts-Based Learning in Business?

We cannot find all the answers to our challenges in the world of the rational, logical, and scientific. The World Economic Forum reports that the top 10 skills of 2025 include innovation, creativity, critical thinking, leadership, complex problem-solving and ideation.

We live in a world often described as VUCA, characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In today’s rapidly changing environment, relying solely on logic, analysis, and problem-solving skills falls short. Leaders now require a new set of skills to navigate uncertainty, complexity, and disruption effectively.

The arts are a source of value creation for business which is why organizations ask me to work with them. Art-based learning is increasingly being used in many Fortune 500 companies to foster creativity, innovation, leadership, high-performance teamwork, change management and intercultural communication.

Both artists and business leaders share many parallels. They possess a guiding vision, a potent point of view, and the ability to navigate chaos and the unknown, ultimately producing new creations. An artful leader must know how to lead people creatively.

Since great art transcends established norms, it serves as a rich source of wisdom on leadership, empathy, ambiguity, change, courage, and creativity. Thus, learning principles and practices from the world of arts and applying them to business makes perfect sense.

As noted in a Schumpeter blog post on “The Art of Management” (The Economist, Feb 17, 2011), business can learn much from the arts. Studying the arts can enhance communication skills, help manage talented individuals effectively, and foster innovation within companies.

Business has much to learn from the arts… Studying the arts can help business people communicate more eloquently…Studying the arts can also help companies learn how to manage bright people…Studying the art world might even hold out the biggest prize of all—helping business become more innovative. Companies are scouring the world for new ideas. In their quest for creativity, they surely have something to learn from the creative industries.

Art as a role model for business

Art also serves as a role model for business, as stated by Brandweek (1998):

To understand the process of creative genius, it is valid for business people to look at the model of the artist. The business of the artist is to create, navigate opportunity, explore possibilities, and master creative breakthroughs. We need to restore art, the creation of opportunity, to business.

As Carol Hymowitz notes in The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 19, 2003

There are similarities between successful artists and executives in their approaches to their work. Both must be self-confident about making a product that can hold the attention of paying customers. They must be astute in assessing and developing talent, as well as making sure that talent works well together. Executives, however, could learn from artists’ ability to dare to break molds, lead changes in taste, raise funds and be productive while being frugal. Artists also can show how to take criticism but not let it thwart their individuality or stop them from developing their work.

As we witness the evolving relationship between the worlds of arts and business, it becomes clear that art is not merely entertainment or sponsorship. Rather, art serves as a catalyst for change and innovation, pushing boundaries and challenging established norms. As Miha Pogacnik, a concert violinist and cultural ambassador to Slovenia, aptly argues: “The world of arts must be rescued out of the prison of entertainment, and the world of business must be led out of the desert of dullness of meaning!”

In this new relationship, art is a role model for business, since all great art pushes boundaries beyond the established norms. Thus, it can teach us about aesthetics, ambiguity, diversity, chaos, change, courage, and complexity.1

In The Heart of Change, John Kotter states: “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings…The heart of change is in the emotions.”

Tom Peters, argues, “Business isn’t some disembodied bloodless enterprise. Profit is fine — a sign that the customer honors the value of what we do. But “enterprise” (a lovely word) is about heart. About beauty. It’s about art. About people throwing themselves on the line. It’s about passion and the selfless pursuit of an ideal.”2

Arts-based dialogue at BP NYC

Arts-based dialogue at BP NYC

Through art, we can make it safe to ask the deeper questions that lead to the emotional truth about a situation. Art creates a bonding experience that facilitates collaboration and accelerates the ability to get to the heart of a problem. Drawing or painting images illustrates how differently we see things, and helps us appreciate that many points of view contribute to the whole. Images externalize the unconscious and make tacit knowledge visible.

Organizations using arts-based learning for training and development

Arts-based learning has emerged as a viable approach to enhance employee skills in areas such as creativity, innovation, leadership, high-performance teamwork, change management and intercultural communication. Art-based learning is used in many Fortune 500 companies to foster creative thinking and strengthen innovation. US medical schools and police departments use arts-based learning to improve observational skills.

Arts-based learning is increasingly being integrated into graduate-level management education and executive leadership programs, and a growing body of research is being published in academic journals such as the Journal of Business Strategy and Organizational Aesthetics.

Terry McGraw, chairman and CEO of The McGraw Hill Companies, characterizes creativity as a “business imperative,” and puts his companies’ successful experiences with arts-based learning in a broad strategic context of “surfacing creativity” through engagement with the arts.

Creativity is essential because it is at the heart of innovation, and innovation is a growth driver and, therefore, a business imperative. That is why, for several years, The McGraw-Hill companies have been using arts-based learning as a training tool in several key leadership initiatives “The arts have served as a complementary vehicle to more traditional learning approaches. They have helped to change attitudes by letting employees confront their assumptions in a nontraditional and non-intimidating environment.” The results of using arts-based learning and training have been very positive for The McGraw-Hill Companies. Arts-based training is part of an overall strategy and commitment of the corporation to help ‘surface’ creativity.
—Journal of Business Strategy (Seifter, Buswick, 2005)

Learning how to think like an artist means learning how to:

  • Reframe problems in order to generate new perspectives.
  • Observe information to decipher complexity, make meaning and discern emerging futures.
  • Find relationships between unrelated ideas and events.
  • Experiment and play with ideas
  • Look for ideas from the depths of the unconscious
  • Work at the edge of your potential.
  • Take conceptual risks
  • Work within constraints
  • Use all the senses to surface insights

Art-based learning processes can be used to enhance training, coaching, meeting facilitation and mediation. Arts-based processes are particularly effective in complimenting:

  • Artful Leadership
  • Team development
  • Strategic planning
  • Values creation and meaningful work
  • Appreciative Inquiry and leading change
  • Creativity and innovation skills development
  • Leading Change
  • Inspiring, engaging and motivating employees

In conclusion, arts-based learning offers a transformative approach to addressing the challenges of today’s business environment. By harnessing the power of art, organizations can foster creativity, innovation, and meaningful collaboration, ultimately driving positive change and growth.

Ready to transform your organization through arts-based learning? Contact us today to explore how our tailored programs can inspire creativity, foster innovation, and drive positive change.

Selected clients:

CAW clients

You may also be interested in:


Austin, Rob and Lee Devin:.”Why Managing Innovation is Like Theater” HBS Working Knowledge, Sept. 29, 2003
Austin, Rob and Lee Devin. “Four Qualities of Artful Making” HBS Working Knowledge,” Sept. 29, 2003
Darso, Lotte. Artful Creation: Learning-Tales of Arts-in-Business. Samfundslitteratur, Denmark, 2004
Journal of Business Strategy. Special edition on arts-based learning for business. Oct 2005 Volume: 26 Issue: 5. Republished as Arts-based Learning for Business by Harvey Seifter and Ted Buswick (editors).
1 Naiman, Linda.  Orchestrating Collaboration at Work (Wiley 2003)
Naiman, Linda. “Xerox PARC: Collaboration at the Intersection of Art and Science
2 Peters, Tom. www.fastcompany.com/44077/tom-peterss-true-confessions