Management by Emotions:
The “Artist” Inside Me
by Carlos M. Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Business organizations around the world strive for profitability, growth, and sustainability. Several challenges faced by businesses include the lack of a long-term vision, outsmarting the competition, adapting to market evolutions, balancing quality and growth, sustaining brand equity, building an entrepreneurial culture, forecasting technological breakthroughs, and managing risk in uncertain environments. The normative and rational approach to management emphasizes planning, structure, rationality, decision-making, and risk-taking as cornerstones of goal-setting, quantifying objectives and strategizing in building a realistic nature of business and innovation. Unfortunately, this perspective cripples and nulls the creative options, impact, and soundness of the reflective thinking needed to succeed in this new order. I truly believe that this new thinking should provide organizations with imagination, creative spaces, innovation capacities, visualization of new competitive spaces, and instill a sense of passion and commitment to grant their survival and growth.
Managers play a critical role in this process. Their beliefs, values, and actions impact individuals, relationships, communication, and the inner structure and meaning that organizations project in business environments globally. Their formal training is insufficient to provide these managers with the new skills and competencies such as empathy, sensitivity, diversity of thinking, flexibility, and the ability to create meaningful environments conducive to innovation, creation, value, and new forms of competition. The arts and its essence may be the answer to this gap.
The present essay attempts to illustrate the role of the arts and aesthetics in the life of the organization, and show the role that managers play in the process of “aesthetic knowing”, sense-making, design, and creation of organizational insights to foster sustainable growth. I start by placing the creation of aesthetic experiences as an imperative in organizations.
Creating Aesthetic Experiences in Organizations
Aesthetics is a philosophical view of the nature of beauty, art, and taste. It refers to the creation of beauty and its experiential appreciation, the sentiments that art triggers, and the impact of nature in everyday life. Aesthetics have the property to connect, interact, and influence the relationship of an individual with an object and the relationship between individuals and groups. This is to say that aesthetics has “intent”.
Aesthetics is a form of knowledge created from sensory experiences. It allows us to see, perceive, internalize, and learn in a new way. It focuses on the “why” we know things rather than just what we know (Taylor and Hansen, 2005). Behavior in individuals and groups is a manifestation of their feelings, desires, tastes, talents, and passions (Strati, 2010).
As such experiencing aesthetics has the property of creating, changing ways of doing, and shaping our views about everything around us. These experiences have the property to trigger change from within, in a transformational process of creation, adaptation, regulation, and search for beauty as “fitting in every sense”. Moreover, aesthetic experiences have as purpose to create happiness. As these experiences trigger emotions such as joyful, seduction, and confusion, they build the individual character, equilibrium, and balance of thinking and actions, thoughts and behavior, intent and sustainability in organizations.
Aesthetics has become an organizational dimension by bringing the playfulness of the aesthetic experience to life (Strati, 1992). This approach avoids the traditional structural-functionalist analysis, i.e., managing aesthetics as a symbol, communication code, or as an organizational norm (Strati, 1992). Generally, aesthetics in organizations refers to three dimensions: i) the sensory knowledge of organizational activities, ii) the sensitive-aesthetic evaluation and assessment of organizational work, and iii) the artistic essence of the actions and performance of individuals and groups in organizational routine (Strati, 2010).
If aesthetics searches for beauty, then this becomes a criterium for judgment and it reflects efficiency in organizations. Individuals aspire to live in more sensitive, responsive, emotional, and beautiful organizations. For these reasons, aesthetics becomes the connection between the manager’s mind and the nature of the events in everyday life in organizations. Thus, it allows managers to interpret, express, and make meanings of individuals’ interactions, attitudes, behaviors, and understanding. And, as such, aesthetics should be embedded in the core that provides meaning to “managing” and “leading”.
“Aesthetics provides meaning to “managing” and “leading” and should be at the core of every organization”.
The Arts and The Management of Organizations
According to Weitz (1956), art is an open concept. It cannot be completely constructed and defined; it does not have common properties. However, an object of art induces an aesthetic experience which is emotional in essence. This conceptualization of arts allows us to expand and contract its essence, limit or not its influence, and infuse its impact through our thinking, decisions, and actions. As a consequence, arts stimulate thoughts and emotions. According to (Bohm, 2004), art means “to fit” in an aesthetic and emotional sense but also in a functional sense. He urges us not to create any fragmentation among the aesthetic, emotional, and functional aspects of life. This view has been enriched with an artistic one, the arts that allows for aesthetic inquiries and representations (Mack, 2013) and promotes lateral thinking, use of multiple intelligences, resonance, diversity of thinking, and deep connections (Leavy, 2015). The arts speak about empathy and sensitivity.
As leaders, we touch the lives of our subordinates, colleagues, partners, and others. We impact them and we do this through the emotions we create. These emotions contain the meanings and significance as driving forces within. Once processed, they build archers in the individuals’ minds making them feel safe, secure, and capable. Indeed, managers also build illusions and dreams and design the context that help subordinates elicit these. These dreams become the source of passions, enjoyment, and happiness. At that moment, managers start to “humanize organizations”; they have engaged in the sources of being human: feelings, senses, and emotions.
“As leaders, we impact the lives of our subordinates, colleagues, partners, and others through the emotions we create.
These emotions carry the meanings and significance that drive excellence.”
The Arts Define the “Being” of An Organization
A “human” organization is a living entity. It has a mind, memory, conscience, a spirit, can communicate, have emotions, and is capable of feeling. Regardless of their mission, purpose, or strategic positioning, organizations are built to host the aspirations, ideals, expectations, and dreams of their collaborators, employees, and staff. Organizations must have a spirit that reflects its essence, values, and deepest beliefs and guide their actions, plans, and thinking. Organizations have to be permeable.
Above all, managers should provide value creating spaces where subordinates and others feel special, unique, and at most times, worthy. Most importantly, organizations feed an entrepreneurship spirit that allows us to fail, to be mistaken, to experiment, and to be frustrated. The arts by creating a context of acceptance and diversity of thinking foster value by creating processes in a safe environment. We all are allowed to express how we feel about things. For this, managers need to be present in the moment, to accept counterpoints, contrasts, and divergence from other organization members. Managers learn to appreciate their contributions not allowing participants to give less from them under any circumstance. That is “excellence”.
Successful organizations are capable of dreaming a future, visualizing a novel competitive space, and creating products, services, and new content. Because it is through these dreams that innovation, competitiveness, and growth happen. This is possible through motivating and encouraging creative processes, creating artistic spaces, and blending the arts in the cognitive mindset of its actors and participants. One way to accomplish this is by the creation of happy content within all of us, design dreams that bright by themselves, and fostering level planes where everyone is unique and the same simultaneously. The focus is towards creating the conditions for subordinates to experience the path to their “ideal-self”. By doing so, the arts become the solid rock over which a happy organization and its logic is built. At that moment, managers have started to absorb the sense-making, sensitivity, and design competencies of the artist’s view.
“The arts become the solid rock over which a happy organization and its logic is built.”
The Manager and The Artist
Is it possible to bring together the beliefs and values of the manager within and those of the artist? Is it possible to develop the “artistic thinking” in managers? This is not an easy endeavor since it will require that one embraces the other. But how? My proposal is that the culture of the artist acts as a flowing stream that opens the thinking and permeates the value system of this manager which shapes the organizational product. This organizational product is the wide array of relationships that managers form within the working environment. The relationship is the object of the “art” in organizations and managers should be able to shape them. Managers become “influencers”.
As such, they act as having agency in their working environments since they have the power to act and influence. Agency refers to the rational actions that individuals take leading to social consequences. Managers impact not only the work of others, i.e., subordinates but also their lives as individuals. Having agency means having the power to do something to make something happen, to impact.
The real art becomes the intensified form of experience associated to the making or encountering an object, i.e., relationships. These experiences should be unified and complete as they contain an inherent meaning. Managers create working and professional experiences that embed proper emotions designed from and for subordinates in the relationships and connections they create. These managers have the opportunity to design “emotionalized thinking” as a component of the experience making them more meaningful and relevant. It is the “arts” that pushes managers to develop new skills beyond the analytical thinking and social capacities so they see opportunities for transformation, growth, and an open space where all is possible.
The artistic mindset of managers allows to create beauty in products, to build balance between technology discovery and value creation, to discover innovation spaces, to sharpen the human capital, and to interpret the complexity of everyday events in organizations. For this an elastic mind is needed. The arts provoke a mind of simplicity that enhances the manager’s understanding of an individual, a relationship, a context.
This artistic mindset brings the manager to concentrate on “finding” problems rather than “solving” problems, creating the future rather than living past experiences, and expanding the solution space rather than creating polarities. Artists are more focused on expressing their inner thoughts than towards solving a real-world problem. Artists generate their inner problems based on the emotions they have. Even though the creative process entailed both, following several paths are needed towards identifying what was relevant and significant. Under a holistic view, possible alternative problems open the creative space and later the solution space. This aesthetic approach requires that managers activates their own sensory perceptions and aesthetic judgments to understand the organization problems. As a manager, this requires one to “be open” to others in the organization as artists are open to their art (Taylor, 2013).
Managers have the opportunity to design “emotionalized thinking” as a component
of the experiences, connections, and relationships they create.”
The Aesthetics of Adaptability
One of the demanding skills in managers is their capacity to adapt and generate change. Change is possible only when the “ideal self” is created and nurtured in each actor in the organization and a sense of community freedom is consent. Particularly, the visual arts allow for a different communication language, a unique and rich conversation, one that build self-awareness and allows the identification of new possibilities. Intra-organizational dialogues are possible when managers develop aesthetic sensitivity that allows for greater awareness of the individual, its purpose, aims, and ideals. The arts make real these possibilities, allow for the self to enrich and expand.
Similarly, aesthetic experiences have the ability to integrate and harmonize complexity (Smith, 1996). Managers often conceptualize but with a partial or silo approach; they defragment situations in an attempt to manipulate and achieve behavior. However, the arts allow to connect the ends with the means, searching for richness but simplicity. Therefore, a more holistic and integrated view is possible through the arts. Thus, managers can see the forest in lieu of the trees alone as they build judgments by reason.
The Arts, Managing Uncertainty and Risk-Taking
Strategy is about giving shape to the unknown. Contrary to the traditional strategy making approach embedded in the rationality of plans, goals, and objectives, an aesthetic mind has been developed to manage ambiguity. Its essence favors a “diversity of mind” and a capacity to uncover the unknown, explore further, imagine potential outcomes, and manage uncertainty. For the rational thinker, uncertainty is the distance between expectations and objective reality (as statisticians would describe through a variance or deviation); however, for arts thinkers, uncertainty is fluid and not a state of affairs. Uncertainty requires a tolerance to ambiguity and the desire to flow within.
Perhaps the vision that managers demonstrate counteract the fluidity of the uncertain. Vision restates and reminds organizations what the purpose is ahead. Leaders must create aesthetic experiences that bring the vision to reality through an intuitive process that is proper of an elastic mindset. It is this emotional framework provided by the art that allows managers to interpret subtle clues, signals, and trends. Arts define the “problem solution” spaces in organizations.
The Arts Define The “Possibilities” of The Organization
In several circumstances, managers attempt to build creativity over analytical analysis. As if an inspirational note will emerge from the blocks of linear decision making and thinking. Intuition is forced over the analytical stage creating dislocations in creativity attempts and granting false connections of cause-effect relationships. An arts view endures sustainability as inspirations create spaces where the mind connects multiple paths generated through experience, knowledge, and research. For artists, life experiences and knowledge (associative thinking) trigger their intuition. For managers, the intuition comes from education or formal processes and they do not know how to transfer experiences into intuition. This in contrast with the emotional engagement, intuition, and the capacity to embrace ambiguity that is key to the artist’s thinking. This weakness limits actual possibilities as organizations strive to explore, identify, and create a meaningful future. This is why emotional experiences should signal intuitive ways of path creation for organizations.
The Arts Define The “Evolving” Nature of Organizations
Evolving, learning to know, and aesthetic knowing require the creation and appreciation of experiences rich in feelings, senses, and emotions. As a manager, I know aesthetically because learning and knowing happens through the transformation inside me triggered by my interpretation of those feelings, sensory experiences, and emotions and their impact on the definition of the “self”. At that moment, I start to know through an artistic eye.
Emotions are situational and dynamic experiences, or reactions to events, entities, and personas (Hökkä, 2019). As such, they are an inseparable part of interpreting and making sense of everyday life (Dirkx, 2001). The process of meaning-making — finding meaning to our emotions — is charged with images and these images animate our thoughts and behavior. In essence it is an imaginative process that allows for revelation to others and ourselves as we make sense of everything around us.
The arts help us answer the remaining questions of being and staying alive. The main device to achieve this is the existence of emotions that moves us to deeper levels of sense-making and allows us to evolve. Unfortunately, organizations too often silence the notion of arts, its elements and expressions, in their operations, with negative consequences in their pursuit of sustainable growth and maturity.
“The process of meaning-making; finding meaning to our emotions is
charged of images and these images animate our thoughts and behavior.”
The Model: Aesthetic Knowing – Aesthetic Doing
Based on the previous discussion on the role of aesthetics and arts and the need to incorporate these as driving frameworks that guide managers in managing organizations and the relationships within, I suggest a tentative conceptual model to create aesthetic organizational experiences (see figure 1). Built on the dimensions suggested by Strati (2010), three clear blocks are defined: Sense-making as associative work, sensitivity as design medium, and organizational insights. Sense-making entails the identification and initial processing of the emotional content. This stage requires a high level of correspondence empathy, situational understanding, intrinsic motivations, self value, and emotional search. It involves understanding the actual experiences and interpreting these as managers search for meaning and significance. It provides a good assessment of the experiences as they are created in the organization, their purpose, content, and meaningfulness. By interpreting experiences correctly, managers make meaning of these in a significant manner.
The second stage involves a blend of sensitivity and design. This stage of complexity requires a higher level of understanding and aesthetic reflexivity as managers identify individual and relational needs within experience contexts, situations, and externalities that impact this understanding. Finally, the third stage involves the managers “bring to action” posture. This stage forces promotion of management practices that shape the individual’s self-identity; builds, nurtures, and maintains relationships; enhances the order of things (a sense of order and proper place is identified); and, there is an achievement of coherence similarly to artists placing coherence in a canvas.
How to Do This Better? Develop Aesthetic Competencies in Managers.
As Merritt and DeGraff (1996) propose, leadership is about answering two critical questions: What do I see? and What do I do? To this end, I provide some suggestions to managers on how to unveil their aesthetics competencies as they lead organizations better.
- Be sure your leadership provides an explicit and clear view of a “share sense of purpose” with all actors in the organization. Remind them that the organization is a “living” entity.
- Put special attention to the everyday events in the organization and make “meaning of it” as complete and detailed as possible.
- Complete your view of situations through the lens of “details” and “uniqueness”. Avoid generalizations and external validations.
- Create “spaces” in the everyday dialogue that favor self-expression, openness, diversity of thinking, self-identity, and individual significance of all participants. Understand participants situations at different levels (event, immediate network, dependency, power, hierarchy, and co-existence).
- Identify mechanisms that bring happiness to the individual work environment and awaken passion.
- Acknowledge that individuals’ organizational experiences can be drawn by emotions and feelings. Engage the heart besides the mind in you understanding.
- Show your emotional side. This does not mean that you are weak, indecisive, insecure, or lack of focus. It means empathy, understanding, and the ability to process context, circumstances, ambiguities, and foresight.
- Let emotions flow as needed in the organizational discourse. Remake and change behavior by introducing the “ideal self” being sure it is complete and relevant to the individual.
- Develop your metacognition abilities so you can identify the shallow from the deep, the light from the heavy, the impactful from the irrelevant. These abilities enhance your holistic view, highlight meaningful relationships and associations, interpret new significances, and identify meanings that connect.
- Allow individuals to expand from the “individual’ to the “collectivist”, from the “object” to the “relationship”, from the “ordinary” to the “impactful”, from the “structured” to the “unstructured”, and from the “norm” to the “discovery”. Allow actors to discover, experiment, fail, and express themselves.
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About the Author
Carlos M Rodriguez is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Quantitative Methods and Director of the Center for the Study of Innovation Management, CSIM in the College of Business, Delaware State University, USA. His publications have appeared in the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Business to Business Marketing, Journal of International Marketing, International Marketing Review, Management Decision, Journal of Business and Leadership, and Journal of Higher Education Research & Development among others. Currently, he serves on the editorial board of several journals. His research interests are in the areas of luxury branding and experiences, product design and new product development teams, and relationship marketing. He recently published the book titled Product Design and Innovation: Analytics for Decision Making centered in the design techniques and methodologies vital to the product design process. He is engaged in several international educational, research and academic projects, as well as international professional activities and workshops using several design thinking and art-driven methodologies to develop creative and product design competencies in managers and businesses.