Artful Making

A Work•Play•Experience book review

I’ve been writing about parallels between theatre and business for a while now, and of course I am not alone. When “Artful Making” fell into my lap a few months ago, I was immediately curious. Aha, says I. A book by a Professor of Business and a Professor of Theatre, subtitled “What Managers Should Know About How Artists Work”. Right up my street.

It’s clear that the parallels between – for example – a software company working towards product release and a theatre company heading for opening night go deeper than the dangers of divas distaining decaff as the deadline draws nigh. Profs Austin & Devin emphasise several aspects of “artful” (it’s mostly theatre, as it happens) work processes that are of interest to managers – especially managers in the knowledge industry or where innovation is in the foreground.

In the Profs’ words: “Artful managers begin a project with some idea of the outcomes they desire, but without controlling preconceptions. They set up a low-cost, iterative process that facilitates exploratory production (aka rehearsal – Ed.) . They coach their performers on a journey that they themselves cannot take, using earned trust to influence the focus of the group. They believe that good ideas will emerge from an impeccable process, and they moderate a complex, multi-layered interaction in which many elements converge over time, though they never lock in on exact replication. Artful processes elicit innovation in every iteration, hence they are never perfectly consistent. They are, nevertheless, reliable and precise when it comes to the requirements that must be met.” (Artful making pg 161)

As you can see, Austin and Devin know that art-work is often seen by “real” business people as lax and freewheeling, are they are at pains to emphasise that this approach to work is actually disciplined, reliable, financially responsible and able to produce extremely precise results. They also press home that an artful making approach is not always appropriate, especially where production requires serious capital investment in advance.

Besides a bunch of enlightening parallels, perhaps the most useful contribution made by this book lies in offering a different wordset to talk about business process in the knowledge industry and elsewhere. The language used to describe many business processes is drawn from industry and the last century – and it often fits poorly. In Artful Making, Austin and Devin offer an alternative metaphor and model for conceiving business processes, and one that is more fitting to many service industries than the current vocabulary.

It’s a serious book – the final score is Graphs 4, Pictures 0 – but there are sufficient anecdotes and case studies to provide variety for luvvy-airheads like me, and the writing style is light and easy so the pages keep turning.

I recommend Artful Making highly to anyone working in, or interested in, new business fields, the knowledge industry or service design.

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1 comment:

kat said...

I wrote a beautifully-formatted comment for this. You can thank blogger for not accepting my html.

Short version: sounds interesting, pictures or lack thereof are not an indicator of seriousness, even if the book suggests shiny new words, that doesn't mean you should replace "vocabulary" or "lexicon" with "wordset", and as someone who has worked in and is involved with the "knowledge industry", I'd just like to mention that many of us consider that the misnomer of the century. It's all in the mind, you know.

Now that I've nagged enough, maybe one or two of Adam's faithful regular readers could delurk (HELLO! May I assume that comments are enabled for a reason?) and explain their reticence concerning comments? Is it the lack of formatting options, or something else?

kat, "knowledge administrator"; "information technician". (I kid you not.)

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