The Master of Fine Arts is the new MBA. So argued author Daniel Pink in a recent New York Times story about the new creative economy, in which even old-school corporations like GM increasingly value imaginative “right-brain” thinkers. Harvard Business blogger Tom Davenport vehemently disagrees. While I agree with Tom’s sensible point that all jobs require input from both sides of the brain, I’m glad more companies have begun to recognise the benefits of artistic training.A few years ago I quit my job managing a web company and went to grad school to study fiction writing. It was supposed to be a complete break from my real-life career. But when I returned to my day job, I realised my MFA had been a pretty good management-training course. I didn’t learn a thing about finance, but for two years, I’d practiced disciplined imagination — a requirement for innovation. And I’d learned a few things about managing people (and myself).
Here are 4 lessons an MBA might learn from an MFA:
1. How to take criticism. In a writing workshop, each writer must remain silent while others discuss his work. This rule allows him to hear what people say, rather than distracting himself by preparing his defence. Train yourself to listen openly to all criticism. Then wait until you’ve had a chance to reflect before deciding which suggestions to follow and which to ignore.
2. What motivates people. Everyone’s mix of motives is unique and complex. The more you can intuit the secret desires that drive a person (whether a fictional character or a colleague or your boss), the better you can predict what she’s going to do next. If you figure out what motivates the people who report to you, you’ll be able to tailor incentives for each individual.
3. How to engage your audience. Good fiction writers know how to involve readers in acts of collaborative imagination. Readers like to be challenged — part of the pleasure is guessing the murderer’s identity before being told — but if they can’t follow the plot, they get frustrated. Companies competing in the experience economy need to get this balance right. Customers, like readers, do not like to be bored or confused. They like to feel smart and creative and listened to. That’s one reason companies that involve their customers in idea generation, like Dell, Staples, and BMW, rate highly in customer loyalty.
Knowing how to keep your team engaged is an important skill for all managers, but it’s critical if you want to succeed at innovation. Again, involving team members in the creative process is the key.
4. When to let go of good ideas. Or, as writers like to say, kill your darlings. An idea may be great on its own, but if it doesn’t serve your larger venture, you have to be ruthless and cut it. Brilliant but misplaced ideas can derail a project or keep you from seeing bigger, better solutions. It can be almost impossible to recognise your own darlings. Writers have editors to point them out. In the business world, look for honest feedback from colleagues you trust.
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.