Can We Learn Business Secrets From Artists?

For our ON-Business column, our Business Innovation Strategist and Artistic Director Daniela Pavan distills tips on creativity and success in times of COVID-19.

For years people in creative roles were kind of left out of serious business conversations, which instead used to take place only among the upper management in boardrooms. More recently, it looks like Creativity is knocking at the door of those rooms and has gained the right to sit at the decision-making tables as a driver of innovation. The creative spark that used to be just an aesthetic abstraction and somehow light and breezy concept, is now an important leadership quality that is dramatically transforming the way we do business.

By Daniela Pavan

The challenging scenario created by the pandemic emergency is giving creativity an even more crucial role in our lives. We’ve been through so many changes during the past months: we changed the way we work, the way we interact with each other, the way we shop. Change looks always scary, and facing change can throw us in a state of chaos. In times of crisis like these, who should we turn to, and learn from? My answer is: from creative minds, from artists. You may remember Darwin’s evolution theory about “the survival of the fittest”. It’s not the strongest or the smartest one who survives but the one who can adapt more quickly to change and to new contexts. The ability to adapt to change combined with resilience (the quality of recovering quickly from failure and adversity, and using the opportunity for your personal development,) seems to be the best match to navigate this unprecedented scenario. A set of skills that are part of artists and creatives’ natural attitude. 

Darwin

The Creative Pois-On #CreativityWillSaveUs video and podcast series wants to demonstrate this exactly. We started the project to give voice to prominent figures from the world of art, culture, and entertainment during the COVID-19 emergency, inviting them to come together to reflect on the central value that art brings to humanity during the harsh quarantine times. We have been blessed by so many great contributions from artists from all over the world: 50+ artists for 10 episodes plus a special one celebrating Pride Day. Following these artists and watching them from a privileged point of view, we realized that even between their differences in terms of disciplines and artistic attitudes, they all have two fundemantal traits in common: resilience and adaptability. In fact, they all managed to keep their creative spark alive and produce arts against all of the odds. Even the performing artists who have seen their venues abruptly shut down, basically overnight.

#CreativityWillSaveUs – Follow our Series on our Official Youtube Channel Creative Pois-On

So now the question is, how can we learn to be ourselves, as resilient and flexible? Here are some of the reflections that our series #CreativityWillSaveUs inspired me:

1 Change the narrative: when something bad or unpredictable happens, many of us spend a lot of time in a “rumination mood”, reliving the event over and over in our heads. This way we don’t allow ourselves to move forward. What I learned from our artists is the importance and the courage to change a story by building a new one. How? By writing, singing, playing music, painting, acting, there are infinite creative ways that we could all explore. The goal is to be brave enough to face our deepest thoughts and feelings, and not to necessarily produce a memoir-like masterpiece, courage as a first step is already a big accomplishment. And precisely about this topic, I found out that there is a study from 1988 that demonstrates how a sample of people who embarked in an Expressive Writing program for four days was healthier six weeks later and happier up to three months later if compared to some others whose task was to write about some more random topics. This is valid, in my opinion, for any form of art because it forces us to deeply analyze each one of our ideas and allows us to see things from new perspectives. I personally enjoy changing my narratives through acting and dancing, because they both allow me to explore the story from different angles.

2 Practice Meditation: you may already know that usually, our most painful thoughts revolve around our past and our future. We may regret things that went wrong or we are anxious about the things that will happen or not happen to us. Practicing mindfulness and meditation keeps us centered and concentrated on the present. being, the now. You may think that our main concerns are attached to the present time we are living. You might have this sensation, even though really, our lives are made of a series of circumstances that often we can’t control. Therefore meditation can help us stay focused on what we can control, accept what we can’t control and think more clearly about our next steps. The past months have been very painful for me as well, on a personal level. I want to suggest a practice that I like to do: mindful breathing. I usually get very anxious because I am always projecting my thoughts into the future of what might happen. This exercise can be done for 5 or 7 minutes a day, or every time you feel under stress. Find a comfortable position. You can be seated on a chair or on the floor, on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight, with your hands rested comfortably. Allow yourself to relax and become aware of your body seated, the sensations that it experiences, the connection with the floor or the chair. Remove any tightness or tension. Simply breathe. Feel the natural flow of breath, while inhaling and exhaling. Notice how you feel while you breathe. See if you can feel the sensations of your breath, one breath at a time. Now as you do this, your mind may start to wander and think about different things. It’s very natural, so no worries. When this happens, gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.

IKIGAI
Photo by Mayank Baranwal on Unsplash

3 Find your Ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese word that means purpose in life. We can say that Ikigai is the secret ingredient for happiness. Ikigai is about finding fulfillment, happiness, and balance in life. Many of us think that our job, family, and passions are different solos, like separate aspects of life. The Ikigai philosophy instead puts the accent on a fundamental truth: nothing in life is a solo… but everything is connected… as we always say here at Creative Pois-On. So yes, according to the Ikigai, it is possible to be true to what you love, live a fulfilled life, and make a positive impact on the life of others. So let’s dive in, what’s the definition of Ikigai. The Ikigai is the intersection between what you love, what the world needs, what you can get paid for, and what you are good at. Take a few minutes to write down some keywords, concepts, and ideas that come up to your mind for each of the four categories above and for overlapping areas. Think about how these elements may relate to each other. And then, leave space in your mind to whatever element, word, category, may naturally emerge by bringing these four elements together. So when you have this centerpiece clear in your mind found it, think about what is the first very simple step you can immediately take, and that it could be a practical expression of this centerpiece, which is your Ikigai. Are you curious to try? Artists, creative minds as well as successful businessmen all over the world, have in common the fact that they have found their Ikigai, that they are crystal clear about their purpose in life. That is what keeps them motivated, resilient but also flexible and perseverant.

Now it’s up to you. Ready to take your first step? 

Learn more about Creative Pois-On Business Services HERE.

About Daniela Pavan

THE STORYTELLER WHO CONNECTS THE DOTS OF CREATIVITY, INNOVATION, AND BUSINESS

Daniela Pavan

Born and raised in Italy, Daniela Pavan is now based in NYC. This is one of the reasons why she is blessed with both Italian artistic passion and NYC’s unique edge. With 20 years of experience working in the world of digital, design and communication with big companies, agencies as well as small start-ups, Daniela has also a strong collaboration with the University of Venice (Italy) where she won a grant for a research focused on understanding if and how creativity and design can be drivers for innovation. Co-Founder, Artistic Director, Creativity Curator, and Business Mind of Creative Pois-On.  She is also our resident “bridge builder” as she is fluent in both business and creativity! Our creatives would be lost without her! Follow her Creative Bridge episodes on the Creative Pois-On Podcast.

Replace Fear With Curiosity – A Shadow Story

Tips on Business & Creativity During the Lockdown by Our Artistic Director Daniela Pavan

Stay Home. Save Lives. This is the mantra of the moment. And it’s a very good one to have in mind to overcome the current situation that we are going through. These weeks, we are all supposed to be in quarantine, and for sure we are all wondering how long this will last, how can we overcome the current difficulties that we are facing, and what kind of future is awaiting us.

Being quarantined may bring a lot of anxiety and for sure it is a very unusual situation to go through. However, as Steven Spielberg once said, let’s “replace fear with curiosity”. Let’s use this time that we have now to learn new skills and prepare ourselves for all the opportunities that will be available after the Corona Virus emergency. Dancer Twyla Tharp said that “creativity is not just for artists,” and I couldn’t agree more. Also, she stated that creativity, “it’s for business people looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”

Creativity

Isolation and quarantine are great opportunities to prioritize our well-being, but also to invest time and energy to become more productive. Let me give you some illustrious examples. William Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine, and Isaac Newton produced some of his best work while in quarantine, writing the papers that would become his early calculus and developing his theories on optics while playing with prisms in his bedroom. Also, Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio got very productive during his 1348 plague’s quarantine. During that time he wrote The Decameron, a collection of novellas framed as stories that a group of friends tell to each other while locked-down inside a villa. Doesn’t it look like what we are living today? Interesting right?

John William Waterhouse
A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.

They say that “innovation takes time”. How often have we heard this sentence? People need time to think, research, and test ideas. Time to collaborate with others to assess ideas. We need time to get creative. Now we do have that precious resource that we always wanted… we have time! Be creative! Don’t waste it. Being in quarantine is not being on vacation, actually, it means that we are all socially responsible for the future of our community, therefore we should invest this time in learning and improving our skillset to become a better version of ourselves. Instead of being stressed, unproductive and unable to think properly, let’s take a step back, get clear and make a plan so that you can still have a profitable year in your business, despite what we are all experiencing at the moment. Maybe there’s a gift in all of this craziness. Maybe your business or your projects could be even more aligned with your soul’s purpose.

Let’s take a step back and think about how we can use this time wisely. Let’s think about a long-term view of the year rather than panicking. Design Geek & Insta Teacher  Kat Coroy shares an interesting perspective.

She says: “If you are an artist for example and your exhibition just got canceled, rather than being upset, use this time to create really amazing pieces without distractions and, later in the year, you can have an even bigger exhibition which can bring you even more money than having an exhibition now. If you are a jewelry designer, think about a new collection that you can design now and that can be sold later in the year as a back to work style or holiday season gifts. If you are a personal trainer, learn new skills… let’s say learn how to make videos and share your classes on social media and your website. Later in the year, this can be a huge push for your business. This is a time where we can really think about what we really want to achieve and build a plan to get there. Stress and panic are not good friends of thinking clearly. So, take a break from anxiety, and focus on who you are and what your real purpose is.”

Maybe you find out that you want to help to fundraise the research against Corona Virus, or share your knowledge with people. Use your time wisely, you can do this.

So, how can we work on our creativity at the time of Corona Virus?

First of all, creativity is about discovering your own ways to work, your unique practice, and from there growing your confidence. It’s about gathering inspiration from others and learning to recognize the real and true value of what you do. Some of you guys may feel intimidated by creativity or, instead, feel that you have a huge creative spark. Anyhow, let’s explore it together. We may find out that some of the new skills or some of the ideas we develop during this time in quarantine, may be useful in the following months. For example, let’s try to experiment on how to see beyond the obvious. In a book entitled Conscious Creativity that I have recently reopened, there are a lot of interesting exercises that can help unlock our creative potential. One of them is about working with shadows. 

Conscious Creativity

The concept of shadows can be frightening because related to the concept of the unknown. However, shadows are part of our lives. A quote from the book says “as silence proves the sound, and pausing proves the act, it is always darkness that proves the light.” Shadows can transform a dark corner into a piece of poetic atmosphere, and they can also help us see beyond the obvious. By learning how to investigate shadows we can help us work with contrasts, not just artistically speaking but in life as well. And considering the times we live in this can be something we can all work on. The contrasts can make us see the beauty in the shadows.

So, the exercise I would like to suggest today starts with us “thinking about what shadows evoke: new forms? A sense of calmness? A transformation of light?”

A SHADOW STORY

Now let’s create a shadow story. Yes, you read that right, a shadow story. We are storytellers, so let’s roll up our sleeves and build our story.

Shadow

Here is how it works. Collect a series of let’s say 6 images of shadows, to create a visual story that narrates a journey, even if it’s a journey only you can understand. Be led by what you see rather than having a pre-prepared idea and let the narrative be whatever it wants, abstract or linear. The goal is to get you to engage with the shadows and embrace them as creative tools. Taking pictures with your phone is a great way to capture shadows and all their details. It’s not an exercise of perfection, but it is instead a storytelling and narration approach. You may wonder, I am stuck in my house, how can I do it? 

The answer is to use the space that surrounds you to get inspired. Start observing it. You may notice details you were not even aware of. Observing the contrasts of light and shade near windows and doors is always a great place to begin. Also, look for how colors can add value to your story, combined with shadows in different ways.

Then if you like the idea, share your story with us on IG, tagging @creativepois_on with the hashtag #shadowstory. Looking forward to seeing your stories! =)

Here is my shadow story:

Ready, Set, Imagine!

Daniela Pavan.

Are you On Stage or Back Stage?

By Daniela Pavan

Backstage

Shakespeare said “All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

Daniela Pavan
Daniela Pavan. Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Creative Pois-On.

This is how our Creative Briefing episode of this month of March begins. This quote is not only part of a very famous monologue by Shakespeare; it is also an important metaphor of our life. It’s like the world we live in is our stage, or better, the context that surrounds us is our stage and we are all actors, playing different roles according to the different contexts we engage with. So, somehow all of us are on the stage of our lives, on a daily basis. I found this a very strong and fascinating metaphor, that can be applied to both social interactions in general as well as business and professional relationships. A metaphor that makes me wonder that since human beings are like actors on the stage of their lives, what can we learn from those who are really on stage every day, working as performing artists?

LISTEN TO MORE OF DANIELA’S INSIGHTS ON THE CREATIVE BRIEFING EPISODE

Sociologist Erving Goffman uses the metaphor of the theater in a very interesting way in my opinion, creating a dramaturgical perspective that sociology applies to study and explain social interactions. Goffman affirms that life is basically a “performance” carried out by “teams” of participants, “front stage” and “backstage”. The terms “front stage” and “backstage” refer indeed to different behaviors that people engage in, every day. Through this metaphor of the theater applied to sociology, Goffman points out the importance of three additional elements: the “setting,” “the appearance” and “the manner”. Specifically, the setting is the context, which is important because it shapes the performance. Then we have the role of a person’s “appearance” that may change responses in terms of social interactions, and the effect that the “manner” of a person’s behavior has on the overall performance. In this very intriguing approach, what is the difference between the “front stage” and “backstage” behavior? Cultural capital, as French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would say, and norms and expectations for behavior shaped by the context we live in, play the main role in defining the difference between the front and backstage.

Concert

According to Goffman, people engage in “front stage” behavior when they are aware that others are watching. Interesting, right? Typically, front stage behavior follows a sort of social script shaped by cultural norms, like when we go to the office or queuing at the supermarket to pay.  Whatever the setting of front stage behavior, people are aware of how others perceive them and what they expect, and this knowledge tells them how to behave. Front stage behavior change though in anxiety situations, when people are scared and act instinctively rather than thinking about social norms. However, in normal situations, when someone ignores the expectations for front stage behaviors, it may lead to confusion, even controversy, such as a managing director who shows up at an important meeting in her bathrobe and slippers.

Graduation

Back Stage Behavior instead refers to what we do when nobody is looking, so people are free of the expectations of the front stage context. Therefore, they feel more relaxed when in a backstage setting and can let their guard down. They are not required to wear work clothes or make-up, someone even changes how they speak when backstage. Many of us are not even aware of these differences. When backstage, some people rehearse certain behaviors or interactions and prepare for upcoming front stage performances, such as practicing their smile or handshake, rehearse a presentation or conversation, or prepare themselves to look a certain way once in public again. In the book The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene, the author explains how Napoleon used to spend hours in front of a mirror, modeling his gaze on that of contemporary actor Talma. While backstage though, we are not always alone. Family members, roommates, partners may change our behavior while backstage, even though we feel less under the spotlight, as it happens when we are frontstage.

Theater

People’s backstage behavior mirrors the way actors behave in the backstage of a theater. So going back to my previous question, what can we learn from performers? Being a huge lover of the theater and an actress myself and, at the same time a woman in business, I believe there are a lot of connections that can be designed and developed between acting and business. I am a strong believer that performing on stage is a great way to prepare yourself for success in the working world. For example, in a very interesting article by LifeHack.org, they list the reasons people who love performing on stage are more likely to be successful. So let’s explore the most important together!

  • First of all, you will learn how and when to improvise. Success on stage requires the ability to respond to unexpected developments. This attitude in a business environment translates into being flexible, able to adapt quickly to change and to overcome problems.
  • Then, being on stage as a performer teaches you the importance of deadlines. If someone is late to the show, the whole crew has a problem and the audience won’t definitely be happy. In business, showing up for meetings and meeting deadlines for project deliveries are valuable skills.
  • Communication wise, performers know how to present. When on stage, actors are in full view of the audience as well as fellow performers, therefore they need to develop the confidence to stand in front of people and deliver value. This is huge in business, especially to be able to lead meetings and deal with negotiations.
Stage
  • Performers know how to wear different hats: Delivering a successful performance requires contributions from many people who cover different roles. While you may be an actor, a flexible attitude that allows you to take on multiple responsibilities makes a big difference. This reflects in business because successful people rarely say “that’s not in my job description.”
  • Empathy is very important while on stage. Performers know how to read other people. Empathy helps while performers work on the show as well as to engage with the audience, on stage. This skill makes a difference outside the performing world as well. With empathy, you know how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and are able to better understand the context you are in. Think about how Design Thinking includes the value of empathy in its process. 
  • Eventually, performers know the importance of celebrating success together! Many actors and performers throw a party when they successfully complete opening night. Recognizing others and being thankful for their contributions are important to professional success as well.

So now the question for you is, do you want to be on or backstage?