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The need for Art when dealing with organizational agility

At the Lapin Agile (1905) - Pablo Picasso

Why this urge for an art perspective?

If you google 'art 'and 'agile' and sort by images, the one painting you will find is Át the Lapin Agile by Pablo Picasso. The relationship between Art and Agile is not obvious. Unless of course you think about the ART (Agile Release Train) in a Scaled Agile Framework. When you are preoccupied with that kind of agility, you might find it difficult to follow the organizational dexterity perspective we are referring to.

So, what is the relationship between Agile and Art and what's the point to pay attention to this now?

Agile, like many other concepts such as quality, happiness, control, is vague and constructed in our mind by means of interaction. Through communication we shape our reality and define our world. We understand Agile and an Agile way of working as an individual in an instance and yet most of the time we find it hard to develop a new shared organizational understanding of this reality. When scaling Agile, new vague concepts arise like Agile Mindset, Agile Culture, Agile Transformation. Are we getting any further in our development? Are we really in transition as human beings, teams, organizations and communities? Language is not always helping us. Concepts like Agile can prison us in an imagined perspective imposed by mainstream thoughts.

Agile is not simple and obvious. Art isn't simple and obvious either.

According to Wikipedia Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative, conceptual idea, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. In their most general form these activities include the production of works of art, the criticism of art, the study of the history of art, and the aesthetic dissemination of art.

Art is can be seen as the expression about something you try to grasp but not fully understand. As a matter of sense making we express our feelings, ideas and thoughts. We try to say something which is not yet expressible in a pretty clear statement.

In our daily live we are blessed with many routines and repeatable situations, like waking up and going to the bathroom, drink our tea or coffee and go out for work. 'Goodbye' when you leave for work in the morning, means 'see you tonight' and an icon for a toilet is universal understandable. In many cases you don't need to spend much time on decision making and sense making. Art on the other hand does make you stand still and makes you pay attention to what you experience.

Here we urge for a perspective away of the controlling reflex we embrace with the different kind of methodology frameworks like Scrum, SAFe, KanBan, ScrumBan and the like. We invite you to take an uncertain and more vulnerable road with no simple answers and invite the help of art and the way artists act.

Banquet of the officers of the Sint-Joris-Doelen (1616) by Frans Hals

Dutch masters were ahead of us in making a shift

If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Frans Hals museum, you will get to know how much influence this painter still has. Frans Hals is best known for his painted portraits of the people who lived around Haarlem during the 17th century. He took a different perspective on what he painted and how he painted. Frans Hals painted prostitutes, children playing or mentally disabled people with the same gratitude as the rich people who paid for his portraits. In his paintings of a group of people, movement and liveliness were expressed. As you can see in the picture of the painting Banquet of the officers of the Sint-Joris-Doelen (1616) , you notice how the painting makes you part of the activity.

All over the world painters came to Haarlem to study the work of art of Frans Hals by copying them. It has been told that Vincent van Gogh 200 years later was a great admirer of his work and took the same perspective on what he painted and how he painted. Here on the left a painting by Frans Hals and on the right Vincent van Gogh.

What can we learn from artists to make such a transformational impact like Frans Hals did? Nowadays we are not really impressed or disturbed by the work of these older painters. When people see a famous piece of art which is very recognizable this piece of art is so well known, they might think it is obvious. They might think: this is just 'The Potato Eaters' by Vincent van Gogh or 'The Night Watch' by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Art gives people knowledge by experience complexity


The exposition GIACOMETTI-CHADWICK - FACING FEAR at Museum De Fundatie in Zwolle disturbs (exposition until January 6th 2019). We see long thin fragile statues accompanied with more massive ones with no faces. When watching these sculptures you start questioning. What does it mean? What does the sculpture wants to express, what does it mean to me?

Art is about sense making in complex situations and starts with observing, feeling and questioning. Agility or an Agile way of working is in place when we are dealing with complex problems. We also observe what we can empirically notice, we feel and probe to make sense out of it.

A work of art starts at the work of the artist and ends at the experience of the observer. Everyone makes a different story about the art work. It may resonate or not, you may like it or not, your state of mind and your recent experience may reflect in your observation. Working on wicked problems may also give you a sense of not-knowing and disturbance, just like you see an unfamiliar piece of art.

Working in complex times is a work of art. In our lives and in our work we are creators, observers and interpreters at the same time. Are we artist when we are dealing with complex issues? I think we are in a way. In a way.

As Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 - 2018) pointed out: " One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say. It’s one reason why we read poetry, because poets can give us the words we need. When we read good poetry, we often say, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s how I feel" .

Art helps us to investigate our future next level understanding of organizational agility

Inspirational thoughts about the relationship between art and knowing can be found in the work of the philosopher Arnold Cornelisse (1934 - 1999). In his masterpiece "Logica van het gevoel" (The Logic of Feelings) he explains that the urge to learn is the most fundamental human drive. The starting point of learning is to system search in a world that does not have its system in itself. That is how man has developed. Historically, Cornelisse argues there are three layers in which the emotions could have a place:

  • the natural system,

  • the social control system and

  • the communicative self-control system.

The layer have succeeded each other. Every person goes through these stages personally in his own development. We are - according to Cornelisse - now as human population in the transition the social control system to the communicative self-control system.

According to Cornelisse, communicative self-control arises when people freely create their living environment with each other, without being dictated by a regime or government. In communicative self-control this happens from freedom and the 'feeling' of the human being; from their own will and on their own. This does not include ownership, but sharing is central; sharing information, resources and responsibility. The old vertical power is balanced with horizontal cooperation.

There is this urge for knowing, understanding, making sense and our current language, interpretation and acting is restricting us for further development. Art as mediator or form of expression might help us to investigate our future next level understanding of Agile. Art might help us to postpone judgement, to look further, to investigate deeper the layers om emotions and intuition and to rely more on what is becoming and what is emerging.

Let's start using Art when dealing with organizational agility

We need Art for dealing with organizational complexity. We can learn from Art how to become Agile and evolve our organizational dexterity. That's why in 2019 the initiative is started to investigate the relationship between Art and Agile. To investigate new perspectives, to let us inspire by new creative techniques, to learn new possibilities that really make a difference and make Agile alive in our organizations.

In this quest we are not alone. There is this center for artistic activism. Artistic activism is a way to connect with the artist inside of every activist and the activist within every artist, redrawing connections so that artistic activism generates fun and pleasure rather than sacrifice and guilt and, in the process, reintegrating and reenergizing our lives.

TATE Modern in London pays attention to Activist Art Activist art is a term used to describe art that is grounded in the act of ‘doing’ and addresses political or social issues. Coursera even started a MOOC in the last week of 2018 about the relationship between Art and Social Movement and a course by Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York helps us with the course Art & Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art. MOMA demonstrates very useful techniques to learn from Art.

And we can imagine that there are so many more possibilities to learn from Art to become Agile. Back to Frans Hals. In our last picture of a painting we see again a portrait of Sint-Joris Doelen, a group of officers. Second on the left Frans Hals painted himself! What an extraordinary way of making a statement.

So now it's our turn! Let's investigate and learn. Are you interested in the relationship between Agile and Art? Are you an Artist, Agilist, Activist, Frans Hals or just motivated, pleas feel free to join ArtOfAgile - CoreTeam Kick-off on March 28 2019 (17.00 - 21.00)


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