BOOK REVIEW: What business leaders can learn from musicians, poets and artists

Creativity Explained: From Music and Art to Innovation in Business, by David Priilaid

This book is truly different. The premise is that there is much to be learned from the extraordinary creativity of musicians, poets and visual artists, because the creative process is the same.

Author Professor David Priilaid, a business teacher at the University of Cape Town, has assembled an intriguing array of insights into creativity for use by people in business. This is a fresh and different angle, drawn from artists of all kinds from the latter half of the 20th century.

It is easy to accept that the traditional manner of conducting business will not yield creative ideas that can be turned into, or adapted to enhance profitability. “The most constant and irritating thing about creativity in business is its fixation on methods and procedures, and its consequent negation of the importance of heart,” he explains.

Creativity requires “artistic mindsets” and “artistic disciplines”.

Grit and innocence

The artistic mindset takes “grit”; that is, the fighter that knows what is right and keeps at it in the face of both temptation and adversity. Many artists refuse to allow their work to be licenced for commercial endorsements – with American singer-songwriter, and actor Tom Waits (for example) condemning the practice, and Neil Young asserting: “[It] makes me look like a joke.”

Passion is a well-recognised catalyst for good art. Bruce Springsteen is quoted as saying: “When you came to work with me, I had to be assured that you’d bring your heart… That’s why the E Street Band plays steamroller strong and undiminished, forty years in, night after night.”

Further, there is the “child” mindset, which refers to innocence and simplicity, and a willingness to make mistakes. But the child is also authentic. Actor Dustin Hoffman complains, “The minute we get into school, whatever it is that makes us into individuals is knocked out of us.”

The power of fragility

Artists are often associated with depression, madness and addiction. T.S. Eliot thought this affliction to be the “handmaiden of creativity”.

Of these four mindsets, the one that sits least comfortably with the creative spirit we would like in the workplace is clearly this one! But it would be fair to say that mental fragility is acknowledged as strongly connected to creativity, and it does enable the individual to experience what others overlook. Google recruiters look for the ‘odd’ in their candidates, knowing that it often comes with a creative streak.

The disciplines of the artist begin with “proactivity”, the belief that he or she can make a difference. Great art comes from action – with the determination to make do with what you have on hand to address problems and opportunities. It is the creative spirit that separates the artist from the worker.

It is propelled by the need to make it happen, and not lose what may be one’s only chance.

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