Arts And Crafts

More than one person around me lately has said that something was part art and part science. Many examples of art intersecting with science exist around us. Art is crucial in helping us understand our scientific legacy, and science is well served by applying an artistic lens. Together, art and science help us interpret, study, and explore the world around us.

I watched Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, based upon the memoir of the same name by John Callahan. In the movie, John is attending an art class where the professor says, “All art has craft. All craft has art. But craft seeks full perfection. And art seeks full expression. That’s why… the craftsman’s job is every time always the same. Repeat every time. That’s why we don’t have two Mona Lisa. And Mona Lisa, by the way, one can say is a controlled accident.”

Do you know how you can tell if there is an engineer in the room? They will tell you. I’m an engineer, so it is easy for me to see things from a “craft” viewpoint. I am drawn to the perfection, repeatability, and process that is represented in the scientific way. I also love art. I love the way art communicates a vast array of experience, emotion, thought, and belief.

When we say that something is as much art as it is science (craft), what I think we are saying is that we need a somewhat controlled environment to find the magic, the accident, that is the best solution. It is only within the boundaries, or constraints, of craft that true creativity or art comes to life.

Surveys indicate that managers tend to consider restrictions and a lack of resources as the main obstacles to innovation. Harvard Business Review analyzed 145 empirical studies on the effects of constraints on creativity and innovation and found “individuals, teams, and organizations alike benefit from a healthy dose of constraints. It is only when the constraints become too high that they stifle creativity and innovation.”

As leaders we should embrace constraints as critical to helping us get both the art and the science in a solution. Constraints can take at least three forms.

  • Limited Inputs: Things like time, human capital, availability of materials, and funds tend to motivate us to be more resourceful.
  • Specific Processes: This could include governmental rules, certification-imposed guidelines, management approaches, or even rules for brainstorming.
  • Output Requirements: Product or service specifications, ROI minimums, cost, size, or other limitations on the acceptable outcome drive creativity to produce a compliant solution.

Realistically, if our teams are struggling with innovation and creativity, we need to take a look at our constraints. Constraints which are outside our control should be viewed as creative challenges. Then, constraints that are under our control can be used to ensure focus and direction. We must acknowledge that for limitations to be embraced, we must have an environment of open communication, collaboration, and supportive leadership.

We need artistic engineers and scientific artists. We all benefit when each person in our community expands the modes they use to view each other, our opportunities, and the world. Sometimes we need full perfection and sometimes we need full expression, but most of the time we need some of both. Taking an “art and science” approach to the people and possibilities around us gives us the best chance of that controlled accident that becomes success, and it is The Kimray Way.