Curiosity Rover: the artistic concept of NASA Science Laboratory for Mars

The Abolition of Creativity: An Essay on Artificial and Artistic Intelligence (2/5)

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Publication Leave a Comment

By Dirk Dobiey and Thomas Köplin

The second part of our five-part series. Read the first part here.

Part 2: Efficiency and Variety

Technological progress is often equated with efficiency gains. For example, machines, especially those that get ascribed more and more certain intelligence, can often do things many times more efficiently than humans can. They relieve us of tasks and decisions and thus also reduce the wealth of personal experiences quite casually. In the world of work, this is reflected in a specialization that makes it difficult for us to connect with other areas or to recognize connections. In social media, we talk about echo chambers, which reinforce our point of view and keep irritations away from us. A greater or lesser extent of our experience is curated by algorithms in the manner of a Discover Weekly, as we know it from Spotify, for example. The pursuit of efficiency is deeply rooted in us and easy to understand. Why take detours? Why slow down? Why produce more expensive?

If it takes over it eliminates the extravagant in our thinking and the diversity in our experiences. This loss not only weakens our intuition, which is based on such a diversity and represents an essential basis of our creativity. It also reduces our chance for coincidences and dwarfs our perceptive abilities. We sense that we are restricted by our excessive pursuit of efficiency without being able to oppose this pursuit seriously. Symptomatic for this helplessness is the susceptibility to tips that propagate the deviation from the rule such as: Take a different route to work every day, choose something random from the menu, ask five times in meetings Why – all just a shadow of artistic curiosity and human joy of exploration, which want to fathom things in their depths and still have enough capacity to pick up the essential from the roadside.

In art, curiosity is not restricted but promoted. The artistic attitude is characterized by a curiosity that is not always efficient, but also extravagant. It leaves room for coincidences, which do not provide quick answers but in which one question leads to the next and thus helps to clarify things bit by bit. It is never aimless and yet always dissipated. Even if you pursue a specific topic, everything else is potentially interesting, also if it is only remotely or not at all related. In short, artistic curiosity describes the fundamental willingness to perceive, receive and learn without prejudice. The result of such a pursuit is variety – a variety of questions and answers; a variety of impressions, experiences, and insights; a variety of possibilities – and ultimately a variety of relationships if you understand curiosity as what artist and author Johannes Stüttgen sees in it (as he told us): “My mode of operation is especially characterized by curiosity, because I long to find out what another person actually wants and how this compares to my experiences. Essentially, it is a fabrication of relationships.” Especially in the interplay of humans and machines, it will become even more important promoting such a variety and such a fabrication of relationships. Organisations that want to shape a benefit out of this interaction must make greater use of their gain in efficiency to invest in the perceptions of their employees and the organisational sensorium.


To the next part > Decision and Self-Knowledge

In the next part of our series, we explore the question of why it is helpful and problematic when machines take our decisions from us.


About this Text:

This essay is based on our research over the past four years. What makes our findings true-to-life and applicable is that we have conducted more than 100 interviews with artists of all genres to date, but also with scientists of various disciplines and with numerous business representatives. We report on this in detail in our book “Creative Company” (

Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hendrik Goltzius, after Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem Icarus
Hendrik Goltzius, after Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem - Icarus

The Abolition of Creativity: An Essay on Artificial and Artistic Intelligence (1/5)

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Publication Leave a Comment

By Dirk Dobiey and Thomas Köplin

Part 1: What makes us irreplaceable

The highest hopes for economic growth are linked to technological progress. Technological progress unveils fascinating possibilities. At the same time the upheavals associated with it are partly also highly problematic and their consequences mostly unpredictable. Most far-reaching, or at least most apparent, are the advances we have made in the field of digitisation and so-called Artificial Intelligence. Intelligent machines, connected to us and with each other, will help us to gain new free spaces. They help with decision-making, increase productivity, take away work, make room for new tasks, make life more comfortable, and perhaps also make us better people.

However, their use will also make entire occupations disappear and rob people of their livelihood. The question of what makes people irreplaceable comes to the fore. The question becomes even compelling if you work on helping machines achieve a kind of perception, learning, and action that equals or surpasses that of a human being. Meanwhile, many researchers, including the late Stephen Hawking, point out that the creation of artificial intelligence could easily become our last invention. Everything works towards understanding, copying, and changing the perceptible nature. We try to redesign and surpass our world and ourselves according to their example and far beyond.

Nevertheless, Bill Briggs, Chief Technology Officer at Deloitte, believes that we will continue to be superior to machines in everything that requires creativity and human interaction. For him, there are two things technology cannot replace: firstly, the preservation of humanity. Secondly, the work on wicked problems which are complex problems, that cannot be precisely defined, that have more than one possible solution and where, nevertheless, every decision and every action has noticeable effects. [1] The search for life on Mars is such a wicked problem. Global challenges such as climate change or migration are wicked problems or consist of even more such problems. Moreover, our organisations are also facing complex problems triggered by competitive pressure and progress in a globally connected, digital world. When simple, linear problems are increasingly automated, people should be able to focus more on solving social issues and complex tasks. However, we need to train more skills that have played less of a role so far. They include the ability to perceive, reflect, design, deal with uncertainty and ambiguity – all abilities that are at home in the artistic field.

Eric Schmidt – and that he already said it 15 years ago is remarkable – says, “You need to let the artists explore and create the next great thing, which they will do reliably if you permit it. “[2] But even as such demands are getting more prominent these days, we find that technological progress is usually unintentional but increasingly vehement in suppressing creativity.


To the next part > Efficiency and Variety

In the next part of our series “Efficiency and Variety”, we explore the question of how to escape the ground for creativity through our drive for efficiency.


About this Text:

This essay is based on our research over the past four years. What makes our findings true-to-life and applicable is that we have conducted more than 100 interviews with artists of all genres to date, but also with scientists of various disciplines and with numerous business representatives.

We report on this in detail in our book “Creative Company” (



[1]Briggs, Bill; Exponentials: Tech Trends 2014, online available under, last checked on Oktober 8. 2018.

[2]Schmidt, Eric (2003). Foreword. In: Robert Daniel D. Austin, & Lee Devin. Artful making: What managers need to know about how artists work. FT Press.

Image source:

Wolfgang Ullrich

“I admire the courage to make decisions where the consequences are not foreseeable”: Interview with the art historian and author Wolfgang Ullrich

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Interview Leave a Comment

In his life, Wolfgang Ullrich has worked intensively on art and its significance for our society and is able to combine his expertise with compelling analyses of contemporary social phenomena. You could just see a critic in him, but master of reflection is more likely to fit – a quality that he also appreciates with his fellow men. 

We talked to him about our present society and how fruitful it is to think business and art together. “Generally, it seems to me that our society is perhaps the most differentiated and ambitious society so far. In many areas, we have experienced democratization, with many people also having the economic basis to reflect on issues. At other times it was not that easy. I keep observing in conversations with others, I quickly find a field in which they are versed quite well. It is not only about factual knowledge, but also about reflection, experience and sensitivity. Thus, quite a few things have happened in the last few decades, but perhaps this development is still under-appreciated”, he explains.

At the same time Ullrich sees a certain degree of arrogance of some people, which can arise from the possibility to design your own life individually and meaningfully. “Today you can express things that were not possible in the past, because it was largely determined what was considered as real and good life. Therefore, it is also fantastic that you can live in a highly individualized society. For me it becomes problematic at the point where people think that they can judge about others who have less opportunities to have a meaningful life. This happens because values ​​are often equated with morality and virtue. Then you believe quickly you are already a particularly moral or virtuous person just because you live by values. But you only were lucky, that you have talents as well as money and the time to make your own life meaningful.” A certain humility as a basic condition in the pursuit of your own happiness is something that can be observed in many artists. They know they have to pursue what is necessary with determination, courage and perseverance and have a personal position. But they also know that they have to overcome their own ego to create something new. Having your own values while at the same time being able to transcend them may seem contradictory. And it is. At best, however, it leads to subordinate your ego to a higher purpose, such as a piece of work, instead of making the individual way of life a common virtue.

Generally, Ullrich believes it is an excellent idea to enable such meaningfulness also through the companies in which we work. He supports the idea that artistic patterns of action could play a key role here: “As far as I have gained experience with entrepreneurs, I would say that I admire the courage to make decisions where the consequences are not clear. For example, you would not only get yourself into a tricky situation, but maybe even dismiss employees. The characteristics or inclinations of artists that you mentioned and have found (note: perceiving, reflecting, creating playfully and performing), are certainly also very useful for entrepreneurs or other people who want to succeed. “

Ullrich also emphasizes that the link between business and the arts should be reflected. Of course, there are still differences that should not be ignored, he states: “All that is looked for is similarities, which, for example, designate the entrepreneur as a conductor. It would also be effective to highlight differences. One should therefore ask the question, what it means that the entrepreneur is responsible for so many employees and most artists are usually not. Take, for example, the famous speech by Jürgen Ponto from the early 1970s in which he extensively and unilaterally invoked the analogies between artists and managers. I don’t mean that what he said is wrong, but you cannot say that they are so similar, and that every entrepreneur is also an artist and that every artist is an entrepreneur. There are still differences that we shouldn’t blur. “

In addition, entrepreneurs and artists differ mainly in terms of the audience and the product that they offer: “The dependencies are generally greater for an entrepreneur. But you don’t have to describe that negatively. If an entrepreneur has a social sense, he certainly uses it to the benefit of the customers. But for me, an entrepreneur needs this skill, but an artist does not. Of course, both “products” testify to this difference, and I also think it’s important that there are both kind of products in the world. There must be products that are precisely tailored to the needs of the customer, but there must also be products that are created according to the requirements of the producer. You need both, and most of all you need things that you might not understand or dislike at first. Only then do you deal with it. I would like to uphold this difference. “

Ultimately, for Ullrich the creativity and the serious interest are crucial with which entrepreneurs as well as artists can meet their audience. “Through his creative style, an entrepreneur can also establish a relationship with the customer. Nevertheless, you can also manipulate the customer a little in his wishes. Just last week I had a conversation with a very successful media entrepreneur. He told me that he went to every toilet on highways to listen what people are talking about. That is another reason why he has become successful. His belief is that you always need to listen to people and go wherever you find out about their worries and desires. “

Read the full interview here (German Only).

Interview by Dirk Dobiéy
Blog by Benjamin Stromberg
Translation by Benjamin Stromberg
Picture: Wolfgang Ullrich and Open Source

Timo Meynhardt

The freedom to reach for the stars: Interview with Timo Meynhardt about the common good in economy and society

Benjamin Stromberg Insights Leave a Comment

When talking about the common good, few people associate it with its economic relevance. Not so the German psychologist and business economist Timo Meynhardt. After finishing his academic studies and working for several years in consulting, he is currently conducting research with a focus on the common good and its importance to our understanding of business. He is doing this work in his role as Managing Director of the Center for Leadership and Values ​​in Society at the University of St. Gallen. Additionally, since October 2015, Timo Meynhardt is the Arend Oetker Chair in Business Psychology and Leadership at the HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management. Yet the ideological narrowness “in which a small group links particular interests to the common good and thus make it appear as if it were the common good”, is alien to Meynhardt. For Meynhardt “the common good is what the individual or the group needs as a breeding ground to develop, the same way that a plant that is not in a fertile soil, will not thrive. And as a social being the human needs a conducive social context to develop. This can be called common good”, explains Meynhardt. Moreover, he distinguishes between two central dimensions of the common good: “Without the common good there is no freedom. In my view the question of common good and the liberal question cannot be separated: Who wants freedom must say common good. The common good as a condition for the possibility of successful life is thus the psychological-functional facet. Another facet is the history of ideas. Common good here is a regulative idea in the meaning of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. We cannot achieve this, but it acts like a polar star, which helps us to reflect our actions and to orient ourselves.”

Both facets of the common good underline its essential importance for the organisation of our society, our organisations, and even our lives. Meynhardt explains, “currently the idea of common good is becoming popular again because its connotation is new, different, and fresh. And I don’t think that’s because of ethics. Instead, I believe that the increasing complexity of the modern world is forcing us to find a stable polar star. When everything changes, we look for something that is stable and that is the orientation towards the common good. One could also state that if complexity is the challenge, the common good is the answer.”

For companies, that means they should add a superordinate value to the monetary added value. Frequently, people talk about purpose here. “Making money remains important, but the dimension of meaning comes along in a powerful way. We think that the common good represents an attractive connotation of meaning”, Meynhardt summarises. “In companies that we visit they see the dangers, but also the opportunities of the focus on common good. Today, we can show that as soon as a CEO begins to focus on the common good, it has immediate motivational effects on employees – always when it is meant to be honest. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Fink talk about purpose, it is not always credible, yet we are increasingly seeing how capitalism activates its own legitimizing resources and perhaps uses them to make something of it entrepreneurially. “

Ultimately, Meynhardt’s understanding of the common good is less about a moral norm, but more about contemporary action to ensure sustainability. To be able to survive economically in a complex world, for him common good is not a nice-to-have but a basic condition. Companies would now increasingly recognise this: “Companies are implementing this because the complexity and pace of change calls for a guiding star, a superordinate idea. To organise their business model, managers argue less morally but more functionally.” When asked whether the common good will ultimately decide on the chances of survival of companies, he concludes: “Absolutely. That’s the reason for being, the license to operate. Profit is a means to an end, whereas the purpose is different and must be something else. “

In order to strike such a new path, “each individual contributes with his or her individuality, but there is also something that characterises these relationships beyond which I call a quality of system. This system quality is the common good. In the meantime, we can also show by studies that experiencing the common good gives strength and confidence to the individual, “explains Meynhardt. “In doing so, the mindset is crucial. You have to develop such a mindset for yourself. This is also about thinking about things together rather than separately. A systemic way of thinking is very important, but not the only criterion. It is also important to recognise contradictions as contradictions.” This makes it clear that business and the common good are not contradictions but describe the creative space that enables executives to secure the sustainability of their organizations.

Read the full interview here (German Only).

Interview by Dirk Dobiéy & Rodrigo Morales
Blog by Benjamin Stromberg & Dirk Dobiéy
Translation by Benjamin Stromberg
Picture and Video Source: Timo Meynhardt and Open Source

Martin Kohlstedt

Contradiction as a Drive – Interview with Pianist Martin Kohlstedt

Dirk Dobiéy Insights Leave a Comment

The pianist Martin Kohlstedt is artist and entrepreneur, musician, and at the same time boss of his own record label employing more than ten people. This was not anticipated, because he only started playing the piano at the age of twelve, however,  the native Thuringian has published three solo albums and performs at international festivals. In our conversation, he tells us how he balances the contradictory purposes of artistic freedom, musical-industrial necessity, and business administration concerns into a harmonious overall context.

The Artist

On stage Martin Kohlstedt experiments and lets his pieces react with one another. He dissolves them and creates something new every time. “My music is based on a very intuitive approach. In the beginning, it is more or less a game of boredom until it becomes a piece that flows on its own”. Hearing this statement, it is not difficult to imagine the twelve-year-old Martin playing for the first time on a detuned piano in his parents’ living room. Today, for Martin Kohlstedt, the concert and the discourse with the audience is the catalyst for creating something new. “I cannot sit down at home and pretend to do something new and make something out of it. Instead, I take it into the context of the audience in which this energy is also noticeable. There I can find a counterpart and resonance body. At home, doubt is too strong. The audience gives you a very high security. I also notice if a piece is working or not. The concert is the main essence of my work. Live I rather discuss the music. The moment an audience is there, I look at my own pieces from above and feed them electronically, making them bigger, smaller, break them, maybe I just reinforce them. It’s a completely different perspective. My live concert is a long way from the album. And so, I constantly develop my music on stage and keep it under negotiation, until I work out new things again which I then record on an album. The process takes place in reverse. That’s what sets me apart from many other artists. It’s not like I’m making an album, go on tour with this album, and then make new sketches for a year. What I do live is the actual process. The discourse is there, chaos is there.” For Martin Kohlstedt, this chaos is always a search for the creative potential of his own subconscious. “The subconscious has the potential to create a vocabulary,” he says. “It feels like a higher authority than your own human decision-making ability, to squeeze things into formats, lengths, or sets. One begins to adapt the music for the format. It’s also a creative process, of course, but the real artistic thing is this drilling and translating the deepest fears. Therein I see the greatest artistic potential. You become energetic, your hands get sweaty and you have the feeling that you should not continue. You are with yourself in a world that sometimes is not soothing. “And yet the artist sees no other way for himself. “The most authentic moment is the most public and I believe that I am the most myself in those 90 minutes. What I do at home – calculating and constructing – is always wrong. “

The Producer

After the tour, the pianist becomes the producer. A selection process begins and what he calls “conscious creative work”, in contrast to his stage experiences. “This is a long time of consideration and choice. I have this huge bank of live recordings from half a year on tour. Then I start to listen to all these ideas, collect them and put them in order, put them on shelves. I wonder what the essence of what I tried to improvise on stage is. If I like something, I go to the piano and trace it back to its origin, and at that moment it is also mostly the newly-conceived work which then gets the permission of my head to grow now. Then I start recording, and that’s also the beginning of a certain label thinking. I notice how I change. Based on the live sound, the final statement or other factors, I judge if a piece makes it to the album. These pieces will then be further developed. You have to decide what length is the right one for the album, how many pieces should be on the album when the statement is made. The creative process moves to the background because it’s about making choices for a product.” A product which, and this circumstance doesn’t make his job any easier, is he himself.

The Entrepreneur

As free as Martin Kohlstedt acts on stage, as straightforward and stringent he is when it comes to leading his company, “because surprise could take away my freedom, at least from an organizational point of view. I like being reliably prepared to the point that I can be free. It is also very difficult for me to delegate tasks. Certain things I keep very close to me. In administration, I am almost obsessed with control and in the arts, I let go. There is a strong ambivalence between the improvisation in the performance itself and the organization of the surroundings.” Entrepreneurship, for Martin Kohlstedt, means creating a stable foundation on which artistic freedom can unfold. “Freedom is a central concept for me. After all, that is one of the reasons why you start your own business. All this is still a niche, but it has to be, so it can continue to be free. I could have gone to a big label two years ago and my attitude would have developed accordingly. But this freedom is what I permanently strive for. At the same time, however, one is subject to certain structures in the prison of the music business. But the idea of ​​freedom triggers everything, all of the energy springs from it.” It is very helpful to Kohlstedt the entrepreneur that 13 very close, trusted people, and friends ‘on eye level’ belong to his label.

“I want to continue to work that way. And because it’s so complex to communicate, I cannot hire anyone for it. This means that I need a team that has known me for a long time, with whom I grew up, a family, … “. The 13 people are the team, are the company”. When a release comes, these people really care about the album as a product. All of a sudden there is a different headline, and PR agencies need just that. I’m just the guy at the piano and the team makes sure that the album sells and that I get performances. […] Because the emotional attachment is higher than the economic one, it causes me to mediate between these 13 people. My job is mainly to communicate permanently. I have to hold the team. “

Forming a team, leading a company, recognizing the conditions of the market and representing them in one’s actions, artistically developing self-esteem and self-confidence, developing creative potential, making decisions and overcoming fears – there is a whole lot that we encounter in conversation with Martin Kohlstedt. It’s good to know that his life is not a straight line. “On the one hand I want to allow myself to keep things simple but then notice how the left half of the brain turns on and still wants to gain control. This dispute between right and left brain is my source of energy. That’s why the contradiction is likely to be a big incentive as well as the doubt. “Balancing opposites, meandering between the poles to get a little closer to his ultimately unattainable ideal of freedom.” The pursuit of freedom is always there, but in the end, all of these other conditions are contradictory. The goal is unattainable.” To strive for perfection with all available means. Even though one’s own experience teaches that by nature this is not possible at all? Perhaps this is also one of the central insights that make a concert by Martin Kohlstedt a very personal experience and a communal ceremony for the audience.

Read the full interview here (German Only).

Interview by Dirk Dobiéy and Katja Stenzel, Blog by Dirk Dobiéy, Translation Rodrigo Morales, Stephanie Barnes
Picture and Video Source: Martin Kohlstedt and Open Source

Hélène Picard

It is also a way to communicate with other people – Interview with Painter and Sculptor Hélène Picard

Dirk Dobiéy Insights, Interview Leave a Comment

“My work is mainly about emotions” answered Hélène Picard, when asked about her inspirations. The French Painter and Sculptor, who studied visual and Fine Arts at Beaux-Arts Paris, materializes in her artworks her way of feeling and perceiving people, atmosphere of an environment, etc. “Whatever I see, I can receive very strongly and deeply […] Even if you see a landscape. For me a landscape represents some inner emotions. It is a way of constructing a bridge between both, the external elements and what we have inside of us”.

Her path to becoming the artist she is today has not been easy as she underwent a 3-year crisis about balancing financial needs and self-expression: “I was so obsessed by living from my art, selling paintings, making money, that I arrived at a certain point where I was doing paintings only for selling them, and not for my satisfaction or for searching and finding, such as finding new ways of expression”.

To some extent, it is her need to put out to the world what she perceives that helped to overcome this difficult period, and decide once and for all that “[she] couldn’t be anything else than an artist: Surely, because it is a question of self-expression, and having too much inside of me. In another way, it is also a way to communicate with other people. Not with words, but with colors in my case.”

Hélène Picard – La blouse dorée

When it comes to expressing herself creatively, Picard explains that if the process is complex, it is partly due to our heritage: “If you try to create something, you create it from something that already exists as you are not the only one in the world. You have some references and some inspirations about it”. From her perspective, what makes an artwork unique lies in reality in how the artist will shape it: “You have inspirations, but the shape at the end is unique”.

This quest for uniqueness is a key component of any creative process, but Picard explains that it can also be a source of anxiety especially during exhibitions, as it means confronting herself with the fear of being rejected by the audience, and expose herself to negative feedback on her artworks. Over time, this anxiety weakens: “once you gain some recognition of what you did, this is different. You feel more comfortable”. As we discuss, a parallel with situations in business settings unveils. Often, employees are holding back when it comes to sharing ideas, especially if those are not in-line with the majority, due to the fear of seeing their ideas being rejected. This behavior impacts any workplace negatively in the long-run due to the depletion of novel or out-of-the box ideas.

As a result, when talking about how organizations could maintain the motivation of their employees and keep job satisfaction up, one of the key components is to create an environment where employees are encouraged to try and go beyond their boundaries: “You could see that if you allow people to express themselves, and you convince them to just try it […] It leads to great engagement”. On another level, it comes down to employees’ own-self esteem, self-confidence, and their ability to acknowledge self-progression: “if you want to be satisfied with yourself, you have to trust yourself and to be confident in your capabilities. You have to acknowledge that you do good things, even though some people might not see it that way, that you do what you can and you try to improve. Every day, we do a few very small steps, which are not a lot, but it is still very important to notice them. This is a way of being satisfied with your work.”

Please read the full interview here.

Interview and Blog post by Julia Kierdorf and Thomas Castéran
Picture Source: Hélène Picard

Vanessa Notley

“I like not knowing, I like being surprised” – Interview with Sculptor Vanessa Notley

Dirk Dobiéy Insights, Interview Leave a Comment

“You got to have time in your life when you doubt what you are doing.” One thing that Vanessa Notley did not doubt is the fact that she wanted to be an artist from her early years. For the rest, the Scottish Drawer and Sculptor based in Sètes (Southern France), constantly looks at challenging herself and doubting what she does.

It all started when facing the choice as a teenager to go either to University or Art College. Notley chose the former as she thought that University would be more challenging for her. It’s only later, when she actually became an artist, that she figured it out: “[Becoming an Artist] was actually more difficult [than going to University] and it was even more satisfying. Being a student and going to academia […] wasn’t something that I had to confront myself with, whereas being an artist means always looking for difficulties.”

The Scottish artist explains how searching for answers and being uncertain keeps her engaged in her work: “Everybody gets bored, and the only thing I don’t get bored with is this! […] I like sort of having that troubled feeling: “How can I do this?” If I did not have that, if I were just a teacher, I don’t think I would have that difficulty and I like that difficulty. I like not knowing, I like being surprised.”

Vanessa Notley – Indiscret

Although she considers that her working and thought processes remain the same along the years, starting off with drawings, notes and cutting elements that will later come together to represent her vision, Notley notes that “there is always a discovery” that emerges from the repetition in her work and process. “I need to spend a lot of time almost doing the same gesture. By doing that, I learn so many new things every single time. I also get more aware of the touch, of the qualities the material has, but also the visual qualities, and the sound that it makes. The time that I spend doing this, also awakes a reason for it to exist.”

From her perspective, the real contrast between Art and Business lies in the fact that there is an obligation “to have a result at the end of the day” in Business. As she puts it, “in the end, art is a concrete result, but there is a lot of time, where there isn’t anything”.

That is where Notley emphasizes the importance of doubt and uncertainty along the process: “I think doubt is important. You got to have time in your life when you doubt what you are doing. That bit of uncertainty. There is a time where you don’t do anything, physically or tangibly. Things are being worked out, but there is no concrete result”.

Vanessa Notley – Chateau Bosc

Such stages are critical for her and are well integrated into her working process leading to her artworks, whereas it is difficult to conceptualize a company allocating time and resources without certainty on end results. If some companies successfully implemented a side-project culture, where their employees can allocate a bit of their time to think or develop side ideas, this practice is not widespread: “It would be incredible to think that you could actually have a business environment where people would be able to just “see what happens”.

Please read the full interview with Vanessa Notley here.

Interview and Blog Post by Thomas Castéran and Julia Kierdorf

Picture Source: Vanessa Notley



Bernd Rosslenbroich

Act Autonomously to Create Playfully. – Interview with Evolutionary Biologist Bernd Rosslenbroich

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Bernd Rosslenbroich is the head of the Institution for Evolutionary Biology at the private university, Witten/Herdecke. In his book “On the Origin of Autonomy”, Rosslenbroich considers the big changes where evolution is not only the adaption of environmental conditions, but an interaction and exchange between organism and environment.

This point of view promised to be an especially fascinating talk, because Rosslenbroich considers playful procedures to be an important component for flexibility  and autonomy. To him it is consistent and obvious that higher developed organisms begin to play: “An evolutionary research that concentrates on adaption can hardly explain such a circumstance as evolution because playing doesn’t have any evolutionary value. At this point we can only observe the games humans play and find that they play excessively and children play markedly more so. If that thought is being continued, a certain creativity is made visible. Flexible acts are being practised and not a precise behaviour, a variety of behavioral possibilities are being rehearsed.

Flexibility itself is being learned and that’s creativity. This characterises the human eminently. We have degrees of freedom that we train while playing. That’s why the game is very valuable in our society and especially for our children. “What characterizes children and their play is mainly curiosity and the urge to try new things. A natural process that perhaps grown-ups would call an experiment or trial and error. Because in the end the experiment is a playful way to explore or create something new.”

Accordingly, Rosslenbroich understands experimentation as taking up and pursuing the biological possibilities to improve the ability to perform culturally. Still we shouldn’t mix culture and biology in an unacceptable way, and “draw it down into a cheap biologism.” But yet our biological organization gives the humans their requirements. “Here I mean the variety of the behavioral possibilities, including the movement abilities to then capture it culturally, to transform it and to carry it on into something independent.”

It’s those two pages: biology and culture that are related. In this context another aspect is quite important to Rosslenbroich: “the coherence between brain and body is much stronger than we think. The brain doesn’t only direct the body, but their cohesion creates our behavioural possibilities. If the highly flexible gets summarized, the game gains meaning, especially the cohesion of brain, game, and body. (…) If we want to plan intellectual games then we need these premises which cannot only be learned intellectually but also due to movement. Figuratively that’s why we say that we have to ‘play something through’. If we take this topic of development seriously, we have to say that mental creativity emerges due to movement games.”  

The biologist also thinks that within evolution, autonomy increases steadily. Like other scientists, he rejects mere deterministic attempts of explanation: “for a long time I had the suspicion that genes could be handled much more flexibly. The neurological determinism would be determined in our neurons because of the molecular processes is interpreted and not true. (…) A determinism is also being constructed, we are adapted to the situation of the Ice Age. Because of what? Evolution has gone on since then, we are people capable of culture, why should we be limited to something backward? All those determinisms can be dissolved with the idea of autonomy”, he explained. He sees the connection between autonomy and adaptation as follows: “autonomy here means, that organisms can develop more and more independence and can control themselves better and better. So development is sort of a dialogue between organism and environment and an alternation between autonomy and passive adaptation. Every organism therefore forms a different degree of autonomy. Normally, a distinct autonomy can be ascertained within flexible and intelligent organisms because they have a stronger exchange with their environment. Therefore, they develop a much more intense perception.”

We don’t have difficulties recognizing parallels between the statements of the biologist and the artistic creative process, because it’s exactly those perceptions that make the difference in (playful) creative processes. Admittedly Rosslenbroich would never expand his perceptions under scientific standards onto the organisational context. But he can also see some parallels: he knows strict hierarchies and power games as classic suppression instruments of autonomy in scientific organizational structures. In his time as a researcher in the United States, he experienced collaboration in scientific institutions completely differently, it was a “cooperation on the same level, while in Germany there exists still more of a hierarchy, that can block many things.” A positive way also for the economy could look like this: “I imagine various individuals in a company that possess autonomy, the individuals now stand there with their own personal autonomy, but are also included in company affairs. The question occurs if employees are able to live a certain amount of autonomy or if they have to fit into the regulations of the institution completely. Also you can’t only be autonomous. If that would happen everybody would do whatever they wanted and that doesn’t work either. A little adaptation is necessary. That’s exactly what we see in biology. Living only works between autonomy and adaptation. It’s all about balance. Living can only have a relative autonomy. Now, is a firm able to use the relative autonomy of its employees or does it expect the complete adjustment? Of course, there are several individual differences, but surely it would be mostly suggestive if the different autonomies could be acted out to a certain extent. A certain respect for the autonomy of the other is important too. Psychology nowadays knows that people suffer under heteronomy that is too strong and can even get sick. I assume, that this will even increase, because people more and more develop personal autonomy. The modern world of work will have to deal with that, but not as a burden, but as a potential.”

What Rosslenbroich says about the organism and for the individual could, one supposes, therefore apply for whole groups as well: The more complex challenges are, and the more dynamic an environment that develops, the more autonomy is desirable. Without  room for maneuvering, on the other hand, the individual and the entire organization are under pressure. “If I imagine a firm, that from one year to another only appreciates the increasing sales figures and therefore doesn’t have any playful relation to these numbers they would probably not figure out that it won’t continue like that forever. In biology we see that a steady increase leads to a tumor. So, if one focuses on sales figures only, one will lose the sight of the results. Developing a playful relationship and being able to let loose, to even observe it from a higher perspective, one could maybe even be more successful in the long term. To a biologist it sounds very weird, if it’s talked about as a steady increase and that holds for the whole economy. I would really like to get that explained from an economist once, why our economy is meant for steady increase only. Steady increase leads to a tumor, to a collision. And we are already heading towards a collision, if one looks at the ecological catastrophe, that is actually happening at the moment and is very severe. Climate change and environmental pollution should be considered in the financials as well, otherwise it’s heading to a collision. To get a playful relation towards the increase and to believe in something else would be a nice concept for once.”

Please access the full interview here (German only).

Interview: Dirk Dobiéy
Blog Post: Adina Asbeck
Picture Source: Bernd Rosslenbroich

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.