Be an Artist

Republicans Need Artists, Not Economists” is the headline of a recent Op-Ed by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. While her piece focuses on what’s needed to bring good thinking and ideas as well as hope into the current political maelstrom, her wisdom is applicable for anyone leading an organization.

Noonan states: “The thing about artists is that they try to see the real shape of things. They don’t get lost in factoids and facets of problems, they try to see the thing whole. They try to capture reality. They’re creative, intuitive; they make leaps, study human nature.”

Who do you picture when you read these words? I immediately thought of Nelson Mandela. And Richard Branson.

As for the antithesis of the artist Noonan describes…they’re all around us. They’re small thinkers caught in small picture details while missing the major implications of everything they do. Instead of creating and living out a big vision for how we can all move forward together they’re caught in a self-serving quest for their own success, no matter the cost to others. Think Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook problems.

On one level the entire world has become one integrated entity, thanks largely to modern technology. We’re all interdependent on each other whether we like it or not. The best leaders recognize this. As Noonan suggests, they “try to see the thing whole”.  Actually, they have to do more than try. They need to see the thing whole. They need to understand not only the workings of their own organization but also how it fits into the world around it. They need to always consider the greater implications of what their organization does and strive to promote growth and success for everyone they touch.

As many readers know, a few days ago in Philadelphia the police were called about two black men doing nothing but sitting in a Starbucks. The incident, resulting in the men’s unnecessary arrest, exploded within minutes into something threatening the reputation and business Starbucks built up over many years. Perhaps if the Starbucks manager had seen the situation whole she wouldn’t have overreacted, humiliating the men and creating an incident that reverberated negatively across the internet.

If the manager had thought beyond the detail of two black men waiting for a business associate calmly sitting in a Starbucks talking for two minutes (the time it took for her to call the police), had thought about how common this is in Philadelphia and the implications of calling the police…she would have done something different. Like ignored them.

Not only is thinking like an artist the right thing to do, it leads to success. Success is becoming more and more dependent on the experience you provide and the engagement you build.  Seeing the whole canvas guides you to be mindful of how all you do and create affects everyone around you. And the entire world is watching.

Put your narrow interests for yourself and your organization aside and see the greater opportunities.  And most importantly, as Noonan states, “Define and then defend essential principles. Say what you stand for and stand there proudly. See and speak clearly. Be an artist, not an economist.”

And always consider the implications of all you do.


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