Why becoming an artist will help you lead


Companies are using arts practice to influence mindsets and culture, and to equip their leaders with invaluable business tools, writes Martin Gent

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You might wonder why organizations are working with the arts, strategically and with their people. The answer is that artistic practice has an effect on the mind, body and soul of individuals and organizations. It encourages people and businesses to be mentally and organizationally agile (see box, right), qualities that can – and must – be embedded and exploited long after the arts have left the building.

Many people regard arts practice as a soft task, whose only application is to improve so-called ‘soft skills’. But the process of ‘making’ with the arts is a robust, hardcore investigation and development tool that involves risk, mess, emotional engagement, the unknown, embodiment and a deep connection to ideas.

In our work with clients, we look to set up and embrace the environment and behaviours of rehearsal and studio spaces. These are the arenas in which we experiment with ideas. The arts are powerful transformative tools that play an important and ongoing practical and alchemical role for individuals, societies and organizations.

Tools of the trade

Arts practice with teams and individuals can have a huge impact, as it requires experiential working – actively, physically, doing and making together. Using different arts tools and methodologies can change fundamentally the way we work together, problem solve and think strategically. Many of us are unused to, or not practised in, working in this way so this can help develop new, latent dormant tools and methodologies.

It is important, when working creatively, that we do not ‘chunk it down’ into just a process… it kills it! Working in a creative way unlocks the conscious and unconscious on many different levels. But we can highlight five key tools and sensibilities that can help us in the current climate.


Tool 1 – Creative confidence

Working creativity requires us to teeter on the edge – to strike a balance between being in – and out of – control. In this leadership space, one might describe the dynamic as “holding on just enough to guide what’s happening without squeezing the life out of it” (The Choreographer’s Handbook – Jonathan Burrows, 2010). In an artistic environment, we look to develop our capacity and skills so that they become more fluid and flexible to new ideas and change, and to step forward when these ideas emerge, rather than retreating into our protective shells.

Tool 2 – Unshackled thinking

The creation of something new is rarely accomplished by the intellect, but by letting the mind play. To develop this sense of creative play, we must forget the endgame and lose our fear of being wrong, becoming less self-conscious. We must be prepared to trust the journey – attempt to bypass and distract the intellect. New ideas and notions will surface when unhindered by judgment and habit. Arts allow our intuition to have a more powerful role.

Tool 3 – Comfortable discomfort

Complexity isn’t generally liked by the human mind. Our natural state is to crave simplicity and clarity. Yet complexity is not only a fact of business life, it can be a powerful catalyst for the generation of ideas. Arts practice enhances our ability to be open and comfortable with the risk and discomfort inherent in working creatively. This allows us to enjoy complexity, and to release our tendency to want to control everything. In this loosened mental state, we are more confident about letting things appear. We can allow what is there in the moment to inform us. It is here that we gain new insights.

Tool 4 – Improvisation power

Ad-hoc action does not necessarily come naturally to businesspeople, who mostly work in a heavily planned, corporate environments. Yet great things often happen almost by accident, as a reaction to an experience or random elements appearing, rather than a strategy designed to anticipate it. Arts practice encourages us to improvise, experiment, try out and observe. Improvisation in arts practice – be it physical, material or verbal – is a fundamental making tool, and can be exported successfully to business. The key is to become fully present and more comfortable with the new; to improvise with these new elements, to see them as drivers of innovation, new perspectives, and solutions. Embracing failure or accident inherent in the creative process and making, is often a tool of innovation, helping reveal a new and unforeseen story. We must be sufficiently present and open to see this new scenario, and agile enough to respond.

Tool 5 – Freedom permit

When we talk about arts practice, we are talking about ‘devised’ work: original work that emerges from, and is generated by, a group of people collaborating. This way of making enables people to be physically and practically creative in the sharing and shaping of original work, new ideas and new solutions. Devised working encourages freedom for all those involved to discover, and supports intuition, imagination, spontaneity, thinking and a building of ideas.


Martin Gent is an artist, director, consultant and performer who works with businesses on developing performance and effecting organizational change. He is head of solution centre, Agile Business at Better Business, an international boutique consulting firm dedicated to next generation business. He works on many art projects in the UK and internationally and lectures at a number of universities and colleges