Recapturing arts is vital in a STEM-focused world

by Stacey Mason (masononleadership@gmail.com) 193 views 

We are inundated with data. So the first business question we typically ask is a hard science question: “What am I looking at here?” And to answer that question requires a STEM thinker (a data science approach). But the deeper question about what it means attempts to make sense of the data, and that takes more of a STEAM thinker (where the A stands for Art) to answer.

STEM education refers to science, technology, engineering and math. STEAM simply makes room for Art in that educational mix. Thought leaders such as Daniel Pink have boldly stated “the MFA is the new MBA,” furthering the movement to recapture the value of the arts in a STEM-focused world.

Pink’s pivotal book (“A Whole New Mind”) suggested that forces in the world economy will shift society from left-brain thinking (linear, logical, analytical) to right-brain thinking (intuitive, creative, holistic) as the dominant thought pattern. In retrospect, that is precisely where we’ve landed today. Think about the relevance of storytelling, our desire for product design, a resurgent demand for all things handcrafted, or how individuals are searching for greater meaning in their lives.

No longer are the arts being undervalued; quite the opposite. And this merging of art thinking with STEM thinking is driving some unique business (integrated thinking) propositions.

Case in point — the marriage of business imperatives with Applied Improvisation* techniques. The art of improvisation capitalizes on the creative process to help reframe how businesses interpret — and therefore leverage — their capabilities. (*Explaining Applied Improvisation to the business world: There are principles and techniques – mindsets – that are used in improvisational theater that make it successful and very compelling to watch. Those same principles and techniques (mindsets) can be applied in non-theater settings to better understand human behavior, team dynamics, core leadership competencies and business acumen.)

The benefits of Applied Improvisation are far ranging, with the following merely a small sampling of how businesses are merging art with science. Using Applied Improvisation techniques helps businesses in the following ways.
• Increase divergent problem solving skills.
As the scene develops, and you have no idea what you will do next, you become much better at divergent problem solving (when there are multiple right answers). Often times in business we get stuck looking for the one answer, when in fact there are several best answers;

• Drive creativity and innovation.
Innovation does best in environments where ideas simply flow. There are moments of absolute brilliance that you stumble upon while you’re busy making theater out of thin air. Embrace serendipity.

• Understand exposure to risk.
There is no failure in improvisation, there’s just stuff that didn’t go the way you thought it would. And that is brilliant! Once the fear of failure is removed, so is the pressure. The stage provides a free pass to make mistakes with no repercussions.

• Develop reframing skills.
Improvisation is the bridge. It allows for conversations about what is learned from the doing of the improvisation. Reframing is a foundational skill because it is learning in one context that has application in other, potentially unrelated, contexts. In essence, learning drives learning.

• Challenge comfort zones.
People have comfort zones, and so do businesses. By pushing through the unknown, the awkward vulnerability, and the fear of failure, you develop greater muscle around agility and thinking faster on your feet. You become less fatigued by the constant demands of change.

• Drive team collaboration.
The improviser’s goal is to make their scene partner look like a genius. Every choice made on stage is for the betterment of the scene. It is selfless. Each actor begins to understand where and how they add value. They learn how to play to their strengths as well as the teams. And businesses are only as strong as their teams.

Art, science and business all seamlessly blended for the betterment of individuals, teams and organizations. And to that I say, “full STEAM ahead!”

Ancora Imparo … (Still, I am learning)
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Editor’s note: Stacey Mason is the owner of Mason On Leadership, a leadership consultancy in Bentonville that focuses on behavioral assessments and executive coaching. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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