Artful Conversation

At the heart of Artful Conversation is Dialogue, meaning dia-"flow of" logos - "meaning". Or, as William Isaacs quotes from ancient cultures, "you talk and talk until the talk starts. And it will start when those in dialogue are listening for both content and for far deeper meaning. Writing about dialogue today on the day of caucuses in Iowa seems appropriate, for dialogue is traditionally sourced as coming from the place for discussion that leads to democracy.
Writing about dialogue in a wiki brings us to another element of wiki--we are a few contributing members, the core, yet we are listening to each other with the wider group in mind. The wiki will become a wiki when it has all members present for this dialogue--to observe the processes of its growth--whether it grows from having more members contributing or having their listening. At the heart of fruitful dialogue is the common creativity, involving appropriation and interpretation od others' ideas and words (this is materialised here through the Creative Commons License under which is licensed all this wiki content, as described here below).

The outcome of such text editing, borrowing, sampling, rearranging, betraying and adapting could be a robbery or a joke. It could also lead to a different kind of text production. Inserted within ordinary text productions, these different textualities can possibly open a new space for reflection in which the thinking sharing process is as important as the result. The risk of such shared production is to produce weak theories, naïves reactions to first sight observations, or obssessive spirals around self appearing themes which no one personnally decided to explore. It challenges the traditionnal powership of the author, the One striving at gathering disseminated observations and ideas in a meaningful single voiced speech.

In an attempt to produce such a "collaborative" text out of our dense and rich conversations, here is a sampling of some two years archieves of our mail conversations, chosen around the theme "is it art or business" and related to topics such as efficiency, imagination, incentives or distinction. Commenting on this draft, editing it, completing it in an open way, leaving outside any proprty feeling or copytright on ideas and speech, could lead us to a dynamic production of a different text, out of which some instantaneous temporary pictures could be taken and broadcasted now and then.

Here it goes:
Is leadership an art ? – sampling of Aacorn mailing-list discussions


Product and brand development teams want what they do to be different, but not unrecognisably so – to have a product/image that is arresting in its newness (originality) yet reassuringly familiar at the same time (imitation) – to be both a copy of what has been before and what is currently available but also to offer innovation and novelty.

Imitation is a way of gathering information. When you observe someone in action, you can perceive a lot, but when you observe yourself while imitating the other you can perceive even more. Paying attention to, or observing your own experience while you imitate is something you can do.
Out of extensive curious imitation or observation original ideas can emerge. This is not something you can do. All you can do, is paying attention and be curious while you imitate, and resist numerous impulses to become mental about what you are doing and where you are going. Like fx:
- Start reducing what you experience to something already known, cutting away the richness of all the "irrelevant details"...
- Start judging whether you like what you experience or not, and thus start thinking about how to get more of the good part and less of the bad part...
- Start focusing on the goals, on what you can get from imitating, and how good you will feel when you get it, for how long you should be imitating before getting to your goal, if there might be a quicker way - a more effective way of imitating....
- etc.
These impulses can be seen as part of the experience you are observing while imitating. Then they wont take you out of the experience - but rather deepen it.
If you can balance in this space for a while, interesting things will start happening. Getting original ideas is one of those things.

A professional actress learns a set of interpretations that are internalized as routines precisely because they seem "natural" within that interpretation of the part, but appear "original" on stage. But arguably, these are in fact "imitations" of the original performance. How do actors become original through imitating themselves?

A goal, a result or a side ffects of art could be the gaining of an ability to "continue operating" when faced with the "risk" of the unknown and complex. Here we might see the artist operating to identify patterns and rhythms that can bring a harmony to an otherwise dissonant and fragmented reality.
Pollock was known for his love for drinking as well as painting, The legend describes his transes under alcohol and loud free jazz music, wildely pouring by chance painting from holed cans, creating his famous "dripping". A scientist has shown how all his paintings are strictly fractals and how their "rythm" follows closely the rythms of clouds, of wind in tree branches, or other natural rythms. Pollock's main job was to put himself in such a state of mind and body that he would be able to grasp and restitue these natural fractal rythms in a painting format.
As patterns and structures increase in scale and complexity, they begin to resemble us -- our psychies, our organizations. Arts-based practices for reflective practice are practices within the arts that help develop greater awareness of one’ self.
There is a major issue in the notion that we are able, in some way, to carry over a definition of "art" into management and organization without actually understanding the definition itself.
The usefulness of the category of beauty, in a transferability to organisational settings, is that it has limited use unless it is taken together with the notion of "sublime" - a far more open and powerful category.
Within the sublime, the absent other - often perceived by the artist alone - remains to be explored within the artist's work. Beauty only matters in as a form of facilitating the presence of the audience in the world of the artist.
The notion of beauty becomes something other than conventional as it attaches to something in the human spirit that occurs around a work of art but is not contained by it.
Entrepreneurs succeed by provoking others to think in new ways, just like artists do. Much contemporary ‘discursive art practice’ seeks to redefine artistic practice through an exploration and/or critical interface with different disciplines and ‘communities’.
The concept of a ‘dialogical aesthetic’ is established to outline some specific conditions for the analysis and criticism of discursive art practice that: “… include a spatial-temporal register, in which the work ‘means’ differently in different locations and times, as opposed to the immanence that is characteristic of modernist formalism” (Grant Kester), and as such: “requires a paradigm shift in our understanding of the work of art; a definition of aesthetic experience that is durational rather than immediate”.
One convincing paradigm shift in our understanding of the work of art leads towards a ‘time-based’ and ‘context depended’ art practice.
Apart form the financial incentives, why do you think artists choose to work with business, organisations and 'leadership'? an artist might want to work with organizations because he could potentially have influence on the organization. Businesses are one of the most dominant forces in our lives and it might be a way to reach people/audience that would otherwise not ever see your art.
Today the understanding of art as techne is mixed up with a more recent understanding of art as a marginalised disinterested (in a Kantian sense) activity at the same time central to but mystified role in society.
Artists dont do this to make us at business schools feel good. Nor to make firms increase productivity. They usually do that to tackle what they feel imporant issues of power or try to contribute to the many problems they also feel comes out of bad organization, aesthetically mute and clumsy systems dominating often WASPy corporations.
In addition to its rather instrumental and manipulative role of incorporation into the capitalist organisation project as a 'new tool' for 'leveraging' efficiency and effectiveness, art must be nurtured in its form as opposition to and critique of the excesses of capitalism.
How much artist and how much manager is Christo? It depends on how you look at it. He is a great artist with fantastic management skills and a great manager with fantastic artistic skills.
The Absolut art interpreations of the bottle was in fact initiated by an offer from Andy Warhol to a manager of the US company that imported Absolut, to interpret their bottle. And not the other way round. There is always reson to ask questions of why we use art in various contexts, and, as important, which art.
In Management people talk about the „hat“ they are wearing in a certain situation or fulfilling a task. E.g. wearing the hat of the leader or the researcher or…, meaning playing a special role.
There is not necessarily a distinction between beeing an artist or manager (unless we need it to confuse people) rather than between acting/playing the role of artist or manager. So, what would be the description of these two „hats“ one person could wear and the distinction between them. Is he an artist or a manager? How do you make the distinction? Are you what you are trained in? Are you what you produce? Are you, how you make decisions? Are you what branch you work in? Are you, what you claim to be? What is more important in the distinction, what you do or how you do something?...
The crucial point in this discussion is whether there exists a point of convergence between the vectors of aesthetics and ethics in the practise of art. This is, I guess, the “Greek connection”. To Aristotle the poiesis does not automatically develop ethical attitudes, the phronesis, the arêté, etc.etc., So the question is rather, whether it is totally off the mark to speak about the beauty and ethical quality of management. There is a tacit gentleman agreement that management can only be judged ethically from outside, formally, post festum. If anything goes, it really goes. This is actually expressed by the etymological and language-game-foundation of the word management, which belongs to the circus. Leadership, however, having old-germanic linguistic roots, means to go in front, and to search for, at the same time.
The question then arises, whether we are able metaphorically, or by analogy, to transfer the way in which the scope of not-knowing peculiar to the artist, a not-knowing always cancelled by the ability to do, practise, effectuate, i. e. and hence inserted into a “practical reflectivity” as a compensation for the lack of theoretical reflectivity, can be applied to leadership. In other words, do there exist ontic dimensions in which the leader is able to learn something from his own practise, which can justify the application of the concept of art to what he does, without yielding to shallow criteria of excellent performance?
Aristotle was very reluctant to grant “techne” an inherent ethical force which made it a contribution to the development of a personal and collective ethos – poetry is a complicated exception here.´This means that if leadership should be an art, it must be the art of re-creating the social dimension, and hence, it implies a new view on politics, focusing on a meso-level of political action with the organisation as the “polis”, where the criteria of the the good and of beautiful create a balance between the individual and the “collective” mind, i.e. between the development of individual and collective norms and values. The concept of “coporate citizensip” has not up till now caught the core of this line of demarcation, not at least because it has not reflected the fact, that the good organisation – in an ethical sense – necessarily must be the beautiful organisation.
So, if leadership should be an art it must be the art of creating “beautiful” social relations.
But how are we to define “beautiful social relations”, and hence, the criterion of a mastership for leadership, for there does not exist a “techne” without, at least, inherent criteria of mastership?
It is obvious that there does not exist any pronounced correlation between artistic accomplishment and ethical perfection, actually the relation is not just challenged in art, but almost totally abandoned today. What the artist learns from his own doing is not more than a sense of material, of form, and, if he is clever enough, the ability to handle the feed-back spiral of style – and perhaps also something about himself as an empirical person? But a leader must, in order to be an artist, be able to draw ethical lessons from his own performance. He is doing the most important thing of all, creating the frameworks of lives, and if he should be able to relate to beauty, this beauty must be chiastically intertwined with the good.
The ethical point of Aristotle is that we do not know what the good is until we practise it, and that we cannot practise the good, without knowing what it is. The “paideia”, the overall normative framework and content of culture nurtured through life-long learning should guarantee the possibility of the solving of this paradox, but to day we have not got a normative culture, or at least only fractions of it. The artist lives inside the paradox of not knowing what he does, until he does it, he explores this paradox, and stays in it deliberately, it is the secret of his practise, but what about the leader?
Art transforms society indirectly, through the market, leadership transforms social relations directly. The art of transforming social relations directly is symbolically demonstrated in the theatre, but the organisation is not a direct theatre. So we actually lack a new language of the beauty of meso-political performance, if it should make sense to speak about leadership as an art.
Couldn’t the lack of such a language be a hint for something -- ?
And defining a language, bringing it into beeing, hence creating it in a sense, is a question of a power. Which sort of power would be needed... to create a language understood by whom?