There is a lot of discussion nowadays about creativity, cognitive science, artificial intelligence and ontology (The Theory of Mind). Rightfully so. As computers get smarter and faster, and various types of data become more readily available, the unquestioned impulse of many businesses, institutions and governments is to go the numeric — Big Data — route. Perhaps, though, there might be a few bumps along the way. Primary among them is data robs us of our aliveness, and understanding people in all their aliveness is the basis of prediction, which is the name of the game in both personal and corporate life, especially in these highly complex times.
It’s all too common that business now forgets one simple reality: People do not run on facts or logic. Real life cannot be adequately represented by ones and zeroes. Emotion and belief still rule the roost.
As C.P. Snow, a scientist and a writer, stated in his Rede Lecture (published as a book, The Two Cultures, 1959), the intellectual and creative sphere of life — particularly in Western society — is split into two polar groups (two tribes), each with its own language, belief system and membership codes for inclusion and exclusion. This polarization is a great loss to all of us.
As Wynton Marsalis has noted in Ken Burns’ documentary, Jazz, “Great new ideas can come when something and its opposite get smashed together.” In other words, the clashing of two cultures can and ought to produce creative chances. This is exactly the possibility offered by metaphor. Yet, in most business contexts, due to speed and a now globalized competition, this opportunity has not been realized.
When thinking and feeling have been unrelentingly separated, the result in many cases, is we have “handy men” — expedient, but without wisdom. This abyss can only be filled by imagination, not by analytics. Analytics can explain the past, but the past is the past. Imagination is about what could be. Imagination is about the future. The void can be filled by ARTFUL THINKING.
Bruce Springsteen is a good example of the power of imagination, an imagination fed by his own self-story of a searching boy from the Jersey Shore who was “Born to Run” and caught “Fire” to end up in the “Land of Hope and Dreams.” In the documentary, “Bruce and I,” fans of ‘The Boss’ commonly describe why their love for the rock n roll icon. They offer two related responses: “Bruce understands me.” “Bruce make me feel less alone.” Big Data spread across from end to end of “Thunder Road” can’t come close to doing that.
In his show, “Springsteen On Broadway,” he jokes by saying “I have become exceedingly rich by writing songs about people who work in factories. I’ve never been in a factory. That’s how good I am.” And good he is: Intimately aware of his own self-story and empathetic to such a degree that people can read their own self-stories into his songs. The result being his audiences can see they might have one or two more options than they are presently aware of. They can see their world and the world is a slightly expanded way. That’s artful thinking. That’s the function of art.
Think of the admonition by the poet, David Whyte: “Anything or anyone/that does not bring you alive/is too small for you.
The well-known business consultant, Dr. Roger Martin, in a different voice, reflects a similar thought when he writes in Harvard Business Review,Sept/Oct 2017:
· “Big Data tends to narrow strategic options and hinder innovation.”
· “To make decisions about what could be, managers should devise narratives about possible futures, applying the tools of metaphor and emotion.”
· “The behavior of customers will never be transformed by a product whose design is based on an analysis of their past behavior.
· “Imagination is a very different process from analysis.”
Imagination requires artful thinking. One reason I call it “artful” was prompted by a quote from Willa Cather, a novelist who wrote about American frontier life:
“What is art but a mold to imprison for a moment the elusive element which is life itself — life hurrying past us and running away, to strong to stop, too sweet to lose.”
So we have arrived at LIFE. And business-speak — numeric, linear and coldly logical — isn’t articulate enough to capture the everyday behavior and experience people have living real lives, on the ground, real time.
Business is always trying to remove the “I,” but that is exactly what it needs to capture, in order to apprehend and comprehend people talking, working, playing, enjoying small pleasures, suffering pain and aching hearts, creating families and growing older — all the while doing their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy them. Such a lexicon, removed as it is, from the natural, alive mind, misses what people want more of — more life, more love, more hope, more truth, and more power and more soul. That is the territory that human presence inhabits, even more than the world of consuming products and looking dominant..
Business lingo — particularly, marketing-speak — doesn’t let people express themselves in their own voice. Instead, business abstracts the audience — and itself — out of the body, out of direct experience and out of seeing the possibility of a wider future than is currently conceived. Across the landscape of economic skyscrapers the self is left outside many an office door. This is all in the service of erecting a cover-story that seems to increase predictability and minimize vulnerability. Business is in the business of avoiding the fact that life, at best, is a reverie between sorrow and splendor. Business worships at the alter of “Big Data,” and as a consequence, true aspects of people’s identity and longing are asunder.
In contrast, we — private individuals and business executives — should all learn from the likes of Bernard Lown, MD, cardiologist. He suggests:
· A doctor must rely on the art of human understanding to amplify the insights of medical science.
· The most effective way to reach a diagnosis is for the doctor to become fully engaged with the total human being.
· Practice that art of medicine requires not only expert knowledge of disease, but an appreciation of the intimate details of a patient’s emotional life.
· Medical wisdom is about the capacity to comprehend a clinical problem at its mooring, not in an organ, but in a human being. Intuition and experience are required to grasp the subliminal and integrate ir rapidly and comprehensively.
Business can learn from the wisdom of eminent doctors and artists such as singer-songwriters, musicians, actors, film directors and novelists. Business can learn from artful intelligence.