The Flow Project: What Art Offers Leadership

At the International Leadership Association Conference last weekend, I encountered Skye Burns and Doug Banner, founders of the Flow Project, and was reminded of the potentially remarkable work they’re doing to expand the role of artists as leaders and leaders as artists.  Their mission is to apply the principles and practices of art in resolving social and cultural challenges. As usual, it was refreshing to encounter their creative thinking, intelligent questioning, and welcoming work. They’re well worth checking out, as theorists and practitioners who shine a light on the impact of the arts on leadership, from the point of view of process.

In this blog, I’ve looked intensively at the ways artists as leaders in the public sphere introduce themes, build community and impact the ways we understand leadership on all levels. What I love about their work is that they are making a place for the artist and artistic process at the table of leadership decision making.

This is the conclusion of Skye Burns paper, originally published in Leadership for Transformation, a volume in the International Leadership Association’s Building Leadership Bridges Series (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2011) and posted for download on the Flow Project’s website with the permission of the International Leadership Association.
Artist Inquiry group from the Flow Project website

Artist Inquiry group from the Flow Project website

“Art is a way of knowing. An artist does not know ahead of time what the work will reveal. A work of art that is truly alive captures the spirit of something in the snare of eternity, and part of the beauty in art is the sense of vulnerability evoked by the fragile contrast between the temporal medium and the timeless essence the work embodies.

The Flow Project is a communal work. Many people are contributing in diverse ways to the life of the work, helping the project grow and giving form to the vision. As long as people continue to bring forward new pieces, new aspects of the work will be revealed. It is too early to say exactly where the work will lead or what it will ultimately reveal.

The one thing that can be said with certainty is the people involved in The Flow Project sense they are “onto something‟ and they are willing to invest their time and energy in The Project because it seems the artists‟ way of knowing may give leaders the ability to see another dimension of the creative challenges humanity faces in the world today, which may enhance our chances of transforming the creative challenges into creative opportunities.”

LINK To her full paper, What Art offers Leadership, to download here…

As Steve Jobs once said, about innovation and problem solving in the aesthetic world of Apple’s leading design teams: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

steve-jobs-1And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have lots of dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solution without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” 

We value artists in industry– why not in the halls of government, or the negotiating tables that determine our economic development? Bottom line: leaders who “get” that creative process become better leaders.



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