Three things artists knew before you did

Artist_at_workHave you ever worked with someone who considers him or herself an artist first and a working professional second? You know, the ones that refer to the pursuit you consider a career as “my day job” or “my side thing?” They’re easy to spot if you haven’t looked. Bleary eyed from late-night gigs. Paint-stained finger nails. Less time to go out with the work crowd for a happy hour (I have an audition tomorrow). They leave work at work. They have a better music collection than yours.

They’re everywhere actually. And believe it or not, their minds are hard-wired to understand things that the blogosphere and FastCompany literature are falling over themselves to get at. And I’m not just talking about how to think more creatively. (Which is an oddly popular theme these days, don’t you think? Seems simple to me: Ask the artists in your company to get more involved. They’ll charge your creative thinking while actually thinking creatively. I’m confused why this has garnered such attention these days.).

No, I’m talking about concepts and ideas that are fundamental to business in general. Here are three that come to mind.

1. Authenticity and originality are what matter.

Only play what you hear. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.  — Chick Corea

It’s a constant struggle in business to not be what what you’re not. Resist the temptation to be all things to all people, to be popular to the middle masses instead of special to the right few.

You don’t have to tell an artist this. All the technique and raw talent in the world don’t matter two wits unless you bring something original to the table in the creative world. On canvas or on a bandstand, nothing is more sad than shit that’s been done. Artists know they can’t hide it in their creative expression (probably a little easier in business), and they’re the first to call another artist out for it. You can bet your artist co-worker has heard it, taken the blow, and learned to deal with it. It’s maybe even caused some pain, the kind only touching the vulnerable can. Searching for your voice in a sea of already-rans is at the same time an artist’s calling and torture chamber.

So yeah. They get the importance of, say, an original and authentic brand. And they can tell you exactly where your company’s brand stands.

2. It’s not about perfection. It’s about doing something.

You may have holes in your shoes, but don’t let the people out front know it. Shine the tops. — Earl Hines

It’s creative expression. Not creative definition. Artists know the feeling (they live it, really) of putting work out there—raw, knowing there’s criticism coming—without it being perfect. They dance without finalizing a certain technique, unsure if they’re going pull off a move at showtime. They improvise with a quartet knowing that they’re a beat away from derailing the harmonic structure that they could have practiced a few more times. They hang a painting for the world, all the time seeing the stroke they missed and the color they couldn’t quite get right. But they know if they don’t execute and get it in front of people, they won’t get any better. And their message never heard.

Kind of like the process of moving something out of the idea and planning stage and in to the market. Shipping. Maybe ask the artist in your company if it’s time to launch the website.

3. Strategy isn’t hard when you realize everything’s connected.

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.  — Charles Mingus

The creative mind is hard-wired to understand strategy, pulling together meaning from seemingly disparate data (symphony, some might call it). In a way, that’s really what creative expression is. A group of emotions, reflected in a complex world, expressed through an artistic medium from a vision of simplicity. A lot like taking several potentially leading corporate competencies, aligning them with market possibilities, and creating a plan of action that is doable in a given market and global context.

Artists aren’t just undaunted by strategy. They seek it out. Need someone to see a clear path forward through a complex set of possible directions? Tap the artist in your company.

Those are three things. And we didn’t even get to creative thinking.