Giovanni Schiuma is relatively thin, with a sharp face framed by wavy hair that jiggles and jounces when he gesticulates. He speaks in a hoarse whisper, his Italian enunciation crisp. He is director of the Innovation Insights Hub at the University of the Arts in London, has penned close to 180 essays, articles and books, and is regarded by many to be the guru on art’s interesting relationship with business.
I first heard about Schiuma when scratching around for information on African innovation, coming across one of his 2011 blog posts, which referred to the arts-based renaissance of organizations: “As organizations are challenged to cope with complexity… their survival and prosperity will depend from the capacity of transforming themselves into… creative organizations, where the rational and engineering dimensions are merged with the emotive and artistic characteristics.” Some might read that and grin in wonder: how can anyone be this committed to a cause so intangible? Schumia is committed, for sure, but he is also an encyclopedia on the topic. His theories on art and its permanent place in the strategy and operations of any company can be gruelling to those uninterested in the idea, but he has a point. Thanks to the global economic meltdown companies need to shift their paradigm. Schumia believes that business needs to develop the capacity to be imaginative. Innovation is the key to survival. Courage, not caution, leads to creativity.
We sat down with him to get some quick pointers on why business needs art to survive the future.
- Let’s get right to it. Why does business need creativity to survive?
Business needs to absorb change better, to also generate change and keep that competitive edge. But to do that it needs to pay attention to a new dimension: emotion. It is now, more than ever, important that management engage with the emotions of employees, learn what will make them more passionate about what they do. Managing people’s emotions and passions correctly teaches org-
anizations to get creative, absorb stress better and cultivate resilience. To have people emotionally engaged in what they do will bring about excellence.
- Creativity leads to innovation. But how do you go about instilling better creativity in linear-minded individuals?
Art is there to get people out of their comfort zone. In any organization people create comfort zones – use the same practices, processes and technologies. People don’t like change. But, art is a good way to experiment with change inside an organization, to provoke creativity and critical thinking, this helps individuals change their approach, their paradigm, in a way, and remove them from linear-thinking toward a lateral approach.
- What about management?
Good point. Art in business also helps change management mindset. Executives are somehow stuck in the old, scientific approach to management. They believe that they can manage an organization like a machine, but an organization is a living system, and needs to be managed accordingly. Art introduces management innovation – more imagination and creativity generates new ideas and a whole new innovation process.
- ‘Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.’ What does that quote mean to you in relation to art driving business innovation?
Yes, for creativity to be an operating dimension, individuals need to be in touch with themselves, with their ‘inner creative’. When employees are not in touch with their emotions; distanced from their feelings, they don’t put the best of themselves into what they do. Individuals need support in giving their best, only then will they be able to reach into themselves and find the ideas. By letting them experiment, they’ll innovate.
- And does having varied artwork in business surroundings help keep the innovative juices flowing?
Yes, most certainly. Installing art, or hosting exhibitions on the premises, can work on the number of levels. Sometimes art can be seen as a metaphor or an analogy for stimulating lateral thinking concerning internal company situations, such as, change management. The other way is to use art to create experiences, to build a new atmosphere to release innovative behavior in employees. Companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft like to transform their organizations into art galleries, to create artistic experiences, bringing in artists – in the form of residents, whose work rotate through their offices a few times a year – or hiring artists as creative directors to lead ‘innovation teams’.
- But not everyone is creative. How do you get minds to come around to the idea?
I believe that everyone is potentially creative. We become creative when we’re put into the right environment. In order to be creative we need to get involved. That is where art becomes the tool for organizations, because the traditional managerial models learned at business school don’t help executives create that creative atmosphere, art does.
Think about it, art can move business and its people to another level – by offering up new skill sets, opening minds to new avenues of business that companies may not have seen before. Art helps boost creative self-confidence.
- What does that creative self-confidence lead to?
It leads to an open view. What I mean is, work pressure leads to employees and managers sticking to tunnel vision in time of crisis. Creativity teaches us to step back – look at the whole picture. That is the power of a stimulating environment, and artwork helps open these avenues of thought.