Aesthetic Intelligence

The concept of aesthetic intelligence has changed the way I look at my day-to-day work, the consultancy business. I don’t remember why I was surfing the Net looking for something with the word ‘aesthetic’ in it, but at one point the paper of Constance Goodwin and Rochelle Mucha popped up (‘Aesthetic Intelligence, What Business Can Learn From The Arts, 2008).

I was intrigued by this; what can business learn from the arts? Don’t these two separate worlds exist next to each rather than merge into one? How can artistic qualities help you in a business environment where rationality, efficiency and targets prevail?  

The first liberating thought I got out of Goodwin and Mucha’s paper was the definition of the word ‘aesthetic’. Like many other wonderful terms (freedom, authenticity) the meaning has shrunk into something narrow – if not shallow - to the extent that we think of ‘beauty’ alone. ‘The Greek derivation of the aesthetic, however, suggests it refers to a ‘sense of perception’’.

Artists, par excellence, use the power of their senses, - what they see, hear, touch, smell, feel, and intuit -, to create work. Only then can we truly enjoy their work, by the reaction we feel. Goodwin and Mucha propose that ‘to achieve and sustain success every artist and every businessman must master the creative process of performance.’

It is interesting to look at business this way. Because what I find oppressive in a business environment is the seemingly linear process of thinking, doing and achieving. Goodwin and Mucha come up with some wonderful suggestions to break this dull cycle:

  • What if we considered what we think as what we are designing?
  • What if we considered what we are doing as how we are performing?
  • What if we considered the results we are producing through the impact they are having?

It takes a while before these questions really sink in. But when they do, it’s so much more fun to go to work and try to design you emails, proposals and memos. In my experience, it takes the edge off constant over-thinking and over-rationalizing. It’s at the same time pretty frightening, to ' perform ' instead of just doing your thing 9 - 5, go home and watch a movie.

Performance requires being present and authentic. To invite your senses to join in may leave you energized after an inspirational talk with a client or colleague. But it may also trigger anxiety in a claustrophobic room with humorless blue suits delivering a message that is hard to stomach.

In their paper Goodwin & Mucha regard this ‘expansion of consciousnesses’ as a source of knowledge and action. Input for our thought process, so different choices will be made, products and services will be offered that make a change in people’s life.

It's easier said than done, but worth a shot.