The Salient Aesthetic

This blog post was written by Alexander Mackenzie, Ninety Days’ leadership consultant and coach.

Neuroscience informs us that when we think visually we use parts of our brain that would otherwise lie dormant.

When we hear of a ‘landslide’ victory, we engage entirely differently from hearing just about a victory. This creative side of our brain needs to be nurtured in order to work to its optimum capacity. It needs visual words as our body needs food. If it is fed with abbreviations and jargon it closes down. 

When we hear a story told well, we are enraptured in its sense of language and our imagination is vivified. Even if the story is not about everyday work, especially if it’s not. An epic tale has lived a long time because the messages within the story speak more profoundly than the bare bones plot. Epics are all about how heroes led against the odds. It is in the biggest challenges that the proof of leadership prevails. It is the fear that makes the hero. The story of Odysseus has the blue print of every leader out there trying to steer an impossible boat home after victory.

The Business of Being Artistic

Art is an aesthetic experience. Business is about making profit and keeping good people in work. Where’s the connection?

The connection lies in the commerce of communication between the two, pragmatic business and an appreciation of the aesthetic. Not only by being a leader using the colourful words of a storyteller to engage and inspire others, but also by coming to a place of positive self regard. The appreciation of art brings a quality of self reflection and wonder that strengthens personal integrity. Through the activity of painting we literally connect to the ‘bigger picture’ of things. 

For example, one way to do this is to work with a group of people to get in touch with their feelings about their company, and then reframe this emotional experience as a landscape. The idea of painting a landscape enables the group to explore their experience of their organization in a free and liberating way. Being prepared to even dare to do this calls for a creativity and courage in the group like they may have never shared before. Sometimes the deepest emotions finally get an expression in a safe, and often curious, way. After such an activity, personal and moving conversations can follow that enable each of the group to relate to themselves, the company and their peers in an engaging and inspiring way. When the conversation then moves to company vision you can expect the discussion to be personal and committed. Working with writing poetry can deepen the social field of a group in a very short time and enormous appreciation becomes part of the ensuing discussion whatever the theme.

A wise leader would do well to be in on such a discussion. Artistic endeavour enables a level of personal engagement beyond the discursive and utilitarian. By its very nature is uses emotional charge, experience of diversity and innovative difference as the basis of shared experience. One of the biggest challenges to team meetings is that there is often no sense of ‘team’. And without this sense of team, group relationships can atrophy and with that no binding purpose can be achieved, no real community of practice, sense of adventure, deeper loyalty or competitive edge be expected.

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This blog post was written by Alexander Mackenzie, Ninety Days’ leadership consultant and coach.