Blog for Management & Consulting – March 2018
Published on Medium – June 2019
Authors: Sandra Boer & Robert Tordoir

Complete freedom: ideal?
Jacco van Uden, professor of Change Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, organized the Art of Leadership program for middle and senior management and wrote an interesting article about the findings for the magazine Waardenwerk titled ‘The back of work’.

Participants were invited to jointly and openly explore how art could shape the practice of management. They got acquainted with various art forms (performing arts, visual arts), spoke with various people involved (artists, designers, teachers, a curator, art historians) and were invited to relate to art practices in various ways (look at, talk about, active participation). The participants made ten interesting discoveries:

1. Full freedom not so ideal
In the eyes of artists, an ‘ideal’ as complete freedom can also lead to non-commitment and they realize that creativity often thrives well in terms of boundaries and deadlines. The participating managers recognize themselves in this.

2. Professional space
The claim of an artist that she makes work ‘that nobody has asked for’ and ‘nobody is looking for’ leads to a detailed exploration of the tension experienced by managers between tasks on the one hand and professional space and freedom on the other.

3. Personal fascination as the foundation for successful cooperation
An artist-designer states that personal fascinations can lay a solid foundation for successful partnerships. Fascination, according to the participants, relates to: critical reflection on assessment frameworks (who ultimately determines whether something is good), commissioning (how much space do I have in adjusting or even returning a task) and the nature of the relationship with colleagues (how do you organize project teams based on shared interests).

4. Brushing, messing around and tinkering as a valuable element
Good art is rarely the outcome of a predictable, controlled process. Art can not exist without a certain embrace of uncertainty and chance. Making art has its own (capricious) logic and rhythm. The encounter with art processes not only leads to critical reflections on one’s own management style, but for a number of participants the practice is noticeably changed as a result of the ‘insights’ that it can pay off to ‘look into uncertainty’, that you have ‘to dare to make a mess’ and that structure can also arise in other than familiar ways.

5. You always need others
Even in the case of the apparently solitary artist, art practice can not be separated from the involvement of other artists, from assistants, from curators, from curators and conservators, from the public, from clients, from reviewers, and so on. The fact that there is a certain collectivity in every work of art turned out to be an insight that invited participants to investigate in their own practice with whom and in what way work is achieved.

6. Division of roles and your own contribution
Coproduction in the arts throws new light on, for example, role distributions, but also on (the sensibility of) wanting to reduce individual contributions to joint work, on how you (the actions of) the other approach or on the own vulnerability in taking initiative.

7. The same words, different meaning
Familiar concepts, concepts that are used in both worlds, are (essentially) used and valued by art professionals differently than by the managers. Clutter, insecurity, coincidence, fascination, not-knowing. Concepts that are regarded in the art world as active ingredients, as drivers of a creative process, as sources from which to use or as an antidote to predictable, uninteresting work.

8. Conflict or insight?
The practice of management is based on principles that seem to conflict with what works in art practice. Wanting to avoid mistakes, striving for smooth, transparent processes, the presumed importance of predictability, the assumption that nothing can get out of trouble – it is in the capillaries of the management practice: in control models, in the delineation of functions and roles, in the expectations of colleagues, in IT systems, in the way of administration, in incentive incentives, and so on.

9. Search for self-evidence
Meeting with different art practices is particularly appreciated for ‘the invitation to reorientation’. Not the big gesture of a radically new view, model or method, but an encouragement to look for the self-evidence in one’s own work through the arts.

10. See again
It is an art to ‘see again’ what is there. Seeking new meaning for what is already there and working with what is already there. New things can arise from that other sense of meaning.

About this blog

In the art world, new methods, ideas and concepts are developed daily that can contribute to the innovation and change power of organizations. Sandra Boer and Robert Tordoir, founders of Art Partner, discover these – often hidden – gems and determine exactly which part of the artistic process is interesting for organizations. They post a monthly blog in Management & Consulting.

Image: De Beeldvormers