Business as Art by Stanford Business Professor Michael Ray
1 BUSINESS AS ARTThe uncreative life isn’t worth living. Ted Nierenberg Founder Dansk International Designs, Ltd.Creativity is within everyone. That is a redly wild statement. ButI redlythink it’s true. Rene McPherson Former CEO Dana IndustriesImagination is more important than knowledge. Albert EinsteinBusiness is my art. Robert Marcus CEO, Alumax, Inc.For most people, the word creativity is more easily applicable to art than tobusiness. You expect the Picassos of the world to experience creativebreakthroughs, but are less convinced that business people have anything tobe creative about. But a wise man has said, “Art is basically the production oforder out ofchaos,” and isn’t chaos the natural environment of business? In speaking to our class, Wayne Van Dyck, founder of Windfarms, Ltd.and several other enterprises, had this to say: The highest artform is really business. It is an extremely creativeform and can be more creative than all the things we classically think of as creative. In business, the tools with which you’re working are dynamic: capital and people and markets and ideas. (These tools) all have lives of their own. So to take those things and to work with them and reorganize them in new and diferent ways turns out to be a very creativeprocess.
4 ESSENCE Dozens of course speakers and hundreds of MBA and Sloan Manage-ment students and workshop participants have confirmed over and overagain that successful business people approach their problems creatively.They might not verbalize in terms of art, but they express in myriad waysthe same approach that artists do: They become totally immersed in ex-pressing their inner visions, knowing that their chief challenge is to or-ganize familiar materials in a fresh way. They are curious, adventurous,experimental, willing to take risks, and they are absorbed in meeting thechallenges of their working day. But even if the regeneration and sustenance of American business hasbeen due to such creative individuals throughout its history, how does thisrelate to you now? The answer is that you too can contribute creatively, andby developing your own inherent creativity, you can lead a completelyfulfilling and valuable life, both in and outside of business. You can liveyour life as a work of art.The Heuristic Approach The value of developing your inner resources becomes apparent as youlook more deeply into the nature of creativity. Theresa Amabile providesthis scientific definition in her book The Social Psychology of Creativity: A response will be judged as creative to the extent that (a) it is both a novel and appropriate, useful, correct, or valuable response to the task at hand and (b) the task is heuristic rather than algorithmic. The (a) of Amabile’s definition is easy: What you do is creative if it isnew, different, and helpful. Thus, if during a drive or walk or businessmeeting you do anything the least bit unusual that is “appropriate, useful,correct, or valuable,” you are being creative. Even routine activities arelikely to elicit something new: new perceptions, a new mood, a new needof the moment, a new decision or response. Part (b) requires further definitions, however. A heuristic is an incom-plete guideline or rule of thumb that can lead to learning or discovery. Analgorithm is a complete mechanical rule for solving a problem or dealing with a situation. Thus, according to Amabile, if a task is algorithmic, it imposes its own tried-and-true solution. If a task is heuristic, it offers no such clear path. You must create one. But when is a situation in business totally algorithmic? Isn’t it possible that a task becomes algorithmic only when you approach it algorithmically? It is the premise of this book that a heuristic response to problems is the open-sesame to personal creativity in business. Each of the following chapter titles are heuristics, and each chapter provides explanations, actual business experiences, and exercises for living with these credos or heuristics. Since heuristics are rules of thumb or guidelines for discovery, they relate to exploring your creativity as a road
BUSINESS AS ART 5map relates to exploring a new area. Just like a road map, our heuristicsdon’t tell you exactly what to do on yourtrip, when to leave, what vehicle touse, what route to take, or how far to go in what time period. They allowyour own creativity to determine its own path. One student discovered: Creativity isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. With this heuristic approach to business, you can see that creativebehavior is integral to business, because such behavior is useful, resource-ful, correct, valuable, and self-expressive—not different for the sake ofdifference. Creativity in business is a way of life. lt is an ongoing process, not aseries of isolated aberrations. It is a productive attitude developed byindividuals throughout their business lifetimes, not a random good idea thathappens to work. Creativity thrives at all levels and in all phases of business. Beginningclerks, corporation heads and everyone in-between can be creative. Thisincludes data analysts as well as the idea men and women in marketing andadvertising. Our approach also implies that creativity is more individual than organi-zational. Some people live creatively in smokestack industries in theAmerican Midwest. Others stagnate in Silicon Valley. It’s easier to becreative in a company whose policies invite it, of course, but corporatepolicy is not a requirement for individual creative expression.Your Creative Experiences The word “heuristic” has the same Greek root as the exclamation“Eureka!” so often accompanied in comic strips with the flashing lightbulb of a new idea. The Eureka! phenomenon has been a part ofdiscussionson creativity ever since the day Archimedes reportedly ran naked throughthe streets shouting “Eureka!” (I have found it)—having discovered, as hesat in a bath, his principle for identifying a metal’s composition by the waterit displaces. Have you had any Eureka! experiences lately? If we ask our students on the first day of class to rate themselves on acreativity scale, many put themselves below average. For that reason, weconfront them with the task of recalling a time when they had a great idea,one that solved an important problem for them. By merely contemplatingtheir own past experience and hearing the experiences of others, theyrecognize the presence of their own creativity. You can do the same thing with the following exercise. As with all theexercises in this book, just reading the directions and the sample experi-ences can give you a sense of what the outcome will be for you if youcomplete the exercise. In this case, it may be enough for you to just quicklyremember a time when you solved a problem. Or you might try doing this ina meditative way, as follows:
6 ESSENCE Sit comfortably, with your back straight and your hands in your lap.Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your belly. Notice your stomachrising and falling as you breathe from your center, doing easy abdominalbreathing. Now think ofa time when you had a great idea—one that solveda problem or dealt neatly with a situation. It doesn’t have to be a businessidea. If it was briefly important to you, that’s enough. With youreyes closed, breathing from your center, remember how it feltto have that idea. What was the specific problem? How long did youstruggle, and against what? What emotions did you feel? How did yourrational processes go? What was the Eureka! moment like? What were thesurrounding conditions? What happened to you and your idea next? Was itactually used’? How did that come about? Enjoy the memory for as long as you like. When you open your eyes,consider taking the time for further exploration. You might write down thedetails, your feelings, and the upshot of this creative experience. Over the past twenty years or so, thousands of people from all sorts ofacademic and business settings have done this exercise with us. No matterhow uncreative someone believes himself to be, he soon recalls a past idea,and he eventually recalls many. These episodes areevidence ofthe inherentcreativity in each individual. Many of the great ideas, like the following two, are business-related. Bill Camplisson, now director of marketing plans and programs at Ford-Europe, tells of a time when design engineers couldn’t find a cost-effective way to produce, for a new sports car, bucket seats that wouldautomatically adjust to body contours. Months of work seemed wasted onexorbitantly expensive mechanical models. One night Camplisson sat back, exhausted, in one of these seats and started daydreaming ofplayingon the seashore as a child. A big guy steppedon his beach ball, crumpling it.Camplisson (the child) started to cry. His father came running and pushed in the edges of the ball. Eureka! The ball popped out, as round and firm as new. The dream beach ball exploded in Camplisson’s mind. Through its dynamics, the engineers created a cost-effective design for bucket seats that responded to body contours. A second example of a great idea comes from Mary Lou Shockley, nowchief financial officer of the Spectrum Services division of Pacific Telesis.She relates that she had presented to her company, at that time PacificTelephone, an analysis of their poor performance in the timely installationof data services. She was flying back to Los Angeles with her boss, DougFagg, having an end-of-the-day drink, when: It dawned on me that the responsibilityfor the installation of the service was in the hands of only fifteen people in a department of sixteen hundred. Why not set up a club that would meet every two weeks over lunch to discuss the roadblocks to service installation?
BUSINESS AS ART 7 Implementation of this idea required additional ideas and much hardwork, but in six months Southern California’s data service went from theworst to the best in the Bell System. Many of the great ideas involve career changes. It seems that creativityblossoms for many people when they are doing something new, somethingthat is forcing them to grow in all parts of their life. Like a new love orthe renewal of an old one, a career change forces one to look at things infresh ways. Some great ideas are very personal and perhaps trivial to the outsideworld, but they are examples of creativity nonetheless. They give valida-tion to each person’s innercreativity. One man, for instance, was extremely depressed after business andsocial failures and deaths in his family. His great idea recollection wentback to childhood—when he was six years old and was sent with anotherboy to the principal’s office to be disciplined for fighting. By telling theprincipal they were friends (having formed an uneasy alliance in the hallenroute), they avoided punishment. He applied that childhood success tohis adult depression by making friends with himself. As with Camplisson’sbucket-seat breakthrough, the solution came through a daydream. It led tohis getting on with his life in a very positive way.Your Inner Creative Resource Reviewing your great ideas and those of others gives you impressions ofthe creative process. It seems that creativity starts with some problem orneed and moves in various ways through a series of stages, consisting ofinformation-gathering, digestion of the material, incubation or forgettingthe problem, sudden inspiration (when the conditions are idiosyncraticallyright), and, finally, implementation. But the creative process can be distinctive for every person and everyidea. More important than striving to pin down the process is getting someexperience and practice in living with your enormous, almost unfathom-able, inner creative resource. Jim Benham, founder of Capital Preservation Fund as well as of aperforming jazz band, says this about his own creative process: I really do get a lot of good ideas when I play my horn. This type of meditation i’m describing is a very creative process WhenIpractice my . horn, I don’t look at music. 1 don’t read a note. I simply play, I play melodies that come into mind. Iplay scales. I play slow exercises. I’ll be playing my horn and all of a sudden some business thought pops into my head. I’ll go write it down. I don’t know how to explain it, but that’sjust what happens. Where do ideas come from? Benham is not alone in his puzzlement; thesource ofcreativity has been amystery throughout the ages. When you have
8 ESSENCEan idea or when you have an experience of your own potential, what is itthat you are experiencing? What can you expect ifyou were to fully realizeyour potential’? In some sense you can’t describe your inner creative resource in words. Itis the very fact that it is beyond words that makes it so potentially powerfulin your life. So we emphasize experiences in this book—experiences ofcreative people in business and experiences you can have. But let’s giveyou a starter description ofyour true potential. Your inner resource is so immediate and yet timeless, so basic andoverarching, so individual and also universal that we have chosen the word“Essence” to describe it. Our speakers and students, many philosophicaltraditions and even principles of great art cry out with what this creativeresource can mean in business and life. First, your inner creative Essence provides the quality of intuition: adirect knowing without conscious reasoning. Intuition has always been apowerful mainstay of great business, but until fairly recently it has beendenied as a business tool in the era of overdependence on analysis. This isno longer true. Business people now speak of intuition with pride. It isconsidered a mark of management ability. Artists would relate intuition to the art principle ofdesign. And the word “design” describes perfectly what you are doing when you use yourintuition. You see instantly with clarity the design ofa solution, a design foryour life. But intuition alone is not enough either to describe your Essence or tosustain a creative life. A second quality, will, begins to fill in the picture. ltis the part of you that can take responsibility. It is the ground of yourcreative actions. People who are creative in business have a compellingvision or mission, and this exemplifies will. It is most directly related to theart principle ofunity, and it does have that characteristic ofunifying, givingyou a singular purpose to integrate all your creative breakthroughs. The third quality of Essence is joy. This book could have been calledThe Joy of Business because, for all the work and frequent difficulty thatcreativity entails, it always brings a sense ofjoy. When you get a hint ofyour own creativity or potential, you always feel this bright, shimmeringquality ofjoy. It is best related to the art quality ofbalance. When you havebalance within yourself and between all parts of your life, you experiencethe joy of the flow ofcreativity. We often talk about creativity in terms of breakthrough. And to breakthrough a wall of fear and criticism that might stop you, you need a fourthquality, strength. Creative business people take appropriate risks. Theirstrength allows them to do that without even seeing risks as risky. This innerstrength overcomes fear. This Essence quality is most closely related to theart principle of contrast. Just as an artist—a painter or a photographer or achoreographer or a composer—relies on contrast to make a strong point,the creative businessman has the strength to be new and different when new
BUSINESS AS ART 9and different is exactly right. You have this strength within you, waiting tobe tapped. Finally you can draw on a fifth quality of Essence, compassion, tocompletely bring your creativity into the world. This compassion isn’t themushiness of do-gooders. Instead it is loving kindness, first for yourself andthen for others. When you operate from this compassion you nurture yourown ability, recognizing your own creativity and that of others. It causesyou to experience the ultimate Eureka! feeling of “I Am.” Creativebusiness people can implement their creativity so well because they havethat confidence in their own creativity and bring it out in others too.Compassion of this sort is best related to the art principle of harmony, andyou can see how it can create harmony, not only among all the qualities ofEssence but also in your business life. Intuition, will, joy, strength, and compassion—these qualities of Es-sence form your creative base. Consider what your life would be like if youlived every moment with what you can have at your beck and call. Philosophical and psychological traditions often emphasize the enormityof Essence by characterizing these qualities in totalities: infinite intuition(design), complete will (unity), absolute shimmering joy (balance), over-whelming strength (contrast), and boundless compassion (harmony). This vision ofcreativity is far wider anddeeper than mastery ofproblem-solving techniques. It is also far more personal, but at the same timeimpersonal. We look within to find our own individual and universalsource. That source has been called the inner self, the Self, the hiddenmind, the divine spark, the Divine Ego, the Great I Am, God, and Essence.Some say that the very purpose of human existence is to get acquainted withyour own essential qualities and express them in your daily activities.Whether it is the purpose of life or not, it is a fine definition of personalcreativity: living every moment from your Essence.Bringing Art into Your Business Life A question that has occurred to many thoughtful people might be comingto your mind now. If you have this inherent creativity within you, thisEssence with its five magnificent qualities, why hasn’t it appeared moreoften? Why haven’t you been more naturally and consistently creative? The answer is that your creativity has been inhibited by fear, negativepersonal judgment, and the chattering ofyour mind. Your creative Essenceis often blocked by what is called the false personality, the ego or theexternal self. And the key to personal creativity in business is in eliminating theconflict between false personality and Essence. The creativity techniquesfrom the 1950s, such as brainstorming, do little to deal with this basicconflict—a conflict that keeps you from being consistently creative. Tryingto destroy the false personality also has problems, because you c~n damage
I0 ESSENCEor submerge aspects of your persona that are truly valuable to developingyour full potential. Your best approach is to awaken your own Essenceby experiencing it strongly; then you can intelligently overcome yourown false personality as your true self manifests itself more and more inyour life. This strategy builds on the kind of experience we have all had; a deep,personal love for someone. Such love is an experience ofEssence. We knowthat when we’re in love we are not very much affected by fear, negativeinternaljudgments, or the endless chatter of a broken-record mind. Of course it is not possible to fall deeply into love every day before we goto work. At least it’s not possible for most of us. But it is clear thatoutstanding business people are successful because they deeply love whatthey do; they seem to live directly from Essence, without static from a falsepersonality. Only a few people naturally find this kind of love for their work and art intheir life. For the rest of us, the Stanford course and this hook offer ways torepeatedly experience personal creativity. With practice it becomes naturalto replace confusion with will, fear with strength, negative judgment with intuition, and the ceaseless mental chattering with joy and compassion. The heuristics will help you to find your way. In the next four chaptersthey are used, along with exercises and experiences, to give you fouressential tools—almost super-heuristics—that you need to develop inorder to manifest your creativity fully. These tools are: faith in your owncreativity, absence of negative judgment, precise observation, andpenetrating questioning. In fact you had and used these abilities as a child.The next four chapters—the section called Preparation—will help you rediscover them. Of course you can’t have creativity without a problem or issue in your life. When we ask business people what is bothering them, the answers fall almost entirely into five categones: career or purpose in life, time and stress, balancing personal and professional life, issues of money and self-worth, and bringing personal creativity into the business organization. Do they sound familiar to you? They are so pervasive that we now call them the five challenges. They must be met in order for you to have a fully creative life in business. The last five chapters of the book—in the section called Inspiration and Implementation—each concentrate on one of these five challenges. We trust that as you live with the heuristics, develop the essential tools and apply them to the challenges in your life, your true creative potential will manifest more and more in business. You will become an artist in the largest possible sense.