Art, Imagination and Organisational Development
“How can organisations ...reimagine their role, their relationships and themselves for a sustainable future?” (Dr Chris Seeley, 2011)
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” (Albert Einstein)
How much do we use our creative faculties in the way we work together in organisations? How much do we rely purely on logical thinking and intellect? Do we limit ourselves in doing as we do?
The way we work in relationship with ourselves and each other, and with the wider group, whether that be family, our work environment, our local community or on the wider world stage, has got to be a crucial organisational question – what makes it to the table and why and what happens as a result will affect all of us, human and non-human alike.
If we are one sided in our approach, how much do we miss? We tend to prefer rational, logical arguments presented as scientific fact and to use our intellect to 'think through' the future of our organisations, yet this limits our imagination and so our potential. We also know that what really moves, motivates and inspires us is often far bigger than what the intellect can grasp or name: a piece of music, a sense or feeling, or the experience of our natural world.
Art, like Nature, connects us to something bigger than ourselves. In doing so it opens up sources and resources beyond our thinking capacity. Artful expression sits at a pre-verbal ‘intuitive grasp’ level of knowing (see John Heron’s presentational knowing), a unlimited creative place that really has the capacity to broaden our understanding before it becomes crystallised and fixed into logic and words. It opens possibilities which our rational, logical intellects alone could not begin to reach. It helps us to re-imagine how we might interact and work together in ways not yet considered.
I owe a huge debt to both the late Dr Chris Seeley and her close colleague Chris Nichols, both previously Professors of Practice in Systems Leadership at Ashridge Business School, in introducing me to Artful Practice as a legitimate organisational intervention and particularly to Chris Nichols as my tutor in showing me it in practice.
On her Wild Margins website Dr Seeley says:
“The issue we collectively face is one of imagination as much as one of ingenuity, of living into radically different ways of organising ourselves as much as solving problems."
It is not a case of either or, but of broadening our perception of admissible ways of working and of recognising the power of more artful interactions and methods used alongside the more traditional ones. We are all connected to the same source -and ideas may pop up anywhere and through anyone. Working together with others or alone with art is also fun, which is something often in short supply people’s working environments.
There are various ways to bring artful practice into work. A start might be to use a graphic facilitator for a strategy meeting perhaps - maybe someone in the team fancies a go, or engage a professional. See how the unfolding results change and support the meeting. Alternatively a professional storyteller could help weave the narrative of the organisation or team, strengthening relationships.
Or get messy and try some DIY: consider a course of action artfully by drawing the question or problem on a large piece of flip chart paper and then drawing possible solutions. Collage, cut, colour, scribe. What feels best? What colours do you like? Which outcome looks best to you? You may be surprised with what you learn.
Extending this work to teams is a next step and may be best facilitated by an artful practitioner, but it holds the promise of surprising breakthroughs and unpredictable results.
Business is innovating and I would contend is more than ready to embrace this step.
Einstein, A. retrieved from
Heron, J., & Reason, P. (2008). Extending epistemology within a co-operative inquiry.
The sage book of action research (2nd ed., pp. 367-378). London: Sage.
McKibben, B. (2007). Deep economy. Oxford: OneWorld.
Seeley, C. Wild margins: Artful knowing. Retrieved from
Seeley, C., & Thornhill, E.
(2014). Artful organisation. UK: Ashridge Business School.
Since 2011 Chris Nichols has convened a collaborations be group of practice around Artful Organisation. The group is now run through a collaborative hub of practice called GameShift - www.gameshift.co.uk