Stephanie Barnes

How a Creative Mindset can be Adopted in our Organizations

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This is an excerpt from the book Knowledge Management Matters, chapter excerpt: Innovation by Age of Artists member Stephanie Barnes.

A creative mindset is comprised of the items that we can learn from da Vinci or Van Gogh as well as the practice of innumerable other artists. All of these items have been summarized and put into a framework developed by Age of Artists, a consultancy, education provider, and research institute based in Germany.

Their framework, pictured elsewhere in this section, works from the outside in towards the middle, using artistic practices and attitudes to transform traditional responses. In the model, the organizational situation appears on the left-hand side, while the artistic practices and attitudes are on the right. Transformational activities, such as leadership, personal development, consulting, coaching and collaboration, separate the two sides and allow the artistic activities to act upon the situations on the left side.

Situations like dealing with a market that are complex, change quickly, that are uncertain, or volatile are all considered. The traditional response in these situations might be to try to simplify things, in the case of complexity; slow them down, in the case of speed; control them, when they are uncertain; or deal with the situation on an exception basis in the case of volatility. However, by using artistic practices and attitudes in a transformational approach we can move our organizations eventually to an alternative response which will provide a more balanced, engaged result. We will have diversity instead of simplicity; a sense of purpose instead of deceleration; autonomy in the place of control; and agility rather than resistance or strength, in the case of volatility.  

Age of Artists Framework 2017 Version


In adapting a creative mindset, and applying artistic practices to an organizational situation, we start by understanding the situation, then we decide which practice we want to start with: perceiving, reflecting, creating, or performing. We can start with any of the activities and move through the others as part of the process of arriving at the response/resolution of a problem for instance.

In arriving at a resolution, we are best served if we adopt artistic attitudes, like curiosity (like asking why five times, or challenging assumptions), being passionate about what we are working on, being confident that there is a solution, and being resilient enough to bounce back when we experience failures or set-backs. It is the persistence that develops through these activities that is the key to finding a solution. It is in this transformational phase that knowledge management activities, like peer assists or communities of practice, to name two, can help. Also, the critical thinking that underlies so much of knowledge management is important here. The awareness of the need to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and look at things differently is one of the reasons why bringing people in from outside can be really helpful, and it is one of the reasons why artist-in-residence programs have been successful.

Artists look at things differently, they have different backgrounds and different expectations than most of the people typically hired into our organizations. Xerox ran an artist-in-residence program for 6 years (five years longer than planned) due to the success of matching artists with the scientists in their research and development facility and the innovations that resulted from this matching.

Age of Artists also works with organizations to facilitate solutions that are not possible using existing thinking. As an example, an SVP of Procurement in an organization they worked with wanted to identify the root causes of process inefficiencies and opportunities in order to create a harmonious work experience for procurement operations employees. Age of Artists used their framework to complete ethnographic on-site research. The research identified five key issues that were affecting the productivity and satisfaction of staff both inside the procurement team and elsewhere in the organization. Age of Artists then worked closely with the executive team to create empathy for the day to day challenges that were impeding business progress and this in turn led to 35 actionable recommendations for the organization.

Another example of a project completed using the sensibilities of artists applied to an organizational problem is the case of an internal department responsible for processes and applications. The organization already had a team of designers in place but was still challenged by low adoption of their solutions. It was difficult for the internal designers to convince senior stakeholders and internal clients to recognize the criticality of this problem. A pilot ethnographic study was conducted which revealed significant hidden issues that were not discovered through the traditional requirements and design process. A decision was made to embed user researchers into the individual departments within the organization. Through examples and early results all members of the organization understood the value of user research and the positive impact it brings to tackling complex tasks. The team developed and rolled out an integrated approach bringing together business, technology, design and research skills to work together collaboratively with improved means of understanding.



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