The Poetic Science of Business Artistry



I’ve been talking with numerous business artists this past week about what it takes to go deep + innovate in a way that brings them a viable return on their labor.

I am reminded of how a woman born to the poet Lord Byron and to a mathematician helped innovate the first programmable computer in the early 19th century.

Her model and more can give us perspective on developing the “poetical science” of business artistry. 

The Poetic Science of Business Artistry

Imagination applied to novel and useful endeavors – that’s one definition of creativity.

How do you engage your imagination and then complement that faculty with a fierce analytical capacity to apply your ideas?

Steve Jobs author Walter Isaacson’s new book The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Simon & Schuster 2014) contains many take-aways for us business artists. 

At last year’s Book Expo in the city, Isaacson emphasized the need not only for people in the humanities to converse and work with people in the sciences for innovation to happen. He also gave ample stories about singular personalities who could embrace both.

Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter, for one. Ada combined her father’s poetic sensibilities with her mother’s mathematical mind. Ada felt mathematics as a spiritual language, and she could sense an equation like a brushstroke. In 1841, she defined imagination as “the Combining Faculty” that drives the sciences. She would go on to initiate and forge an entrepreneurial alliance with Charles Babbage, the inventor credited with conceiving the first programmable computer.

Lovelace is credited as being the first computer programmer.

Think about that. Without the capacity to translate into useful language an invention, concept, or idea, the machine gets stuck in storage, and the idea gets lost in the ether.

How many ideas have you had in need of a Lovelace?

Men who invented computers, Isaacson notes, mostly focused on the hardware. The women focused on the translation: “In this software lay the magic formulas that could transform the machines in wondrous ways.”

Grace Hopper is another example. In the ‘30s, Hopper was married to a professor of comparative literature and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar. She’d mark up her students explanations of their equations as if they were English papers – much to her students’ dismay. “It was no use trying to learn math,” she told Isaacson, “unless they could communicate it with other people.”

Fahrenheit 212 founder Mark Payne describes a similar way of innovating in his book How to Kill a Unicorn (Crown Business 2014). He describes his innovation team’s process and personality make-up in simple but not simplistic terms: Magic and Money.  Magic describes the wondrous element of generating audacious solutions to product and program problems. Money describes the hard-nosed aspect of figuring out how the solution will sell in the marketplace.

Imagination applied. 

Business artistry demands the poet’s mind of sensual feeling, novel combinations, unusual dot-connecting, and the capacity to translate the extraordinary of the ordinary as well as the esoteric into the ordinary. And it also demands the scientist’s rigor, laser focus, and willingness to experiment profligately.

I want to give you a tracking wonder push against your biases either toward the poetic mind or toward the analytic and calculating mind. Blind biases like blind beliefs trap us. Tracking wonder trips those traps and busts biases.

What can you do today to engage your imagination? 

A corporate consultant who’s writing her memoir keeps a sensory description notebook. She’s tasked each day to record 5 sensory descriptions – what she smells, what she tastes, what she feels on her skin, what she hears. You can build your imaginative knowledge.

What can you do to bring forward your scientist’s mind? 

A consultant and artist considers her space like a scientist’s laboratory. She’s invented her own artistic process and is figuring out how she might experiment each day in her own way with the process.

The marketing conversations, the Money conversations, come later for both of them.

How do you need the programmer or translator of your ideas’ value?

Another business artist is well-acquainted with the spiritual world and her spiritual concepts. She’s frustrated that after years of working so hard for her few clients, after devoting herself to her practice, that she’s feeling spent and no longer earning a viable return. She has what Mark Payne might call lots of “unicorns” – glittery fantastical ideas that simply don’t matter to many people. At least not yet and not the way they’re packaged and framed and presented.

It’s time to bring in the Ada Lovelace who can make the invention viable and meaningful and marketable. And it’s time to have a fierce Money and Market conversation.

Innovation happens from being able to collaborate and to debate – another take-away from Isaacson’s and Payne’s books. Real business artistry – art that moves someone and exacts change – does not always have time for tepid and polite dialogues in hushed tones. These collaborators – men and women, scientists and writers, visionaries and marketing mavens – hashed out ideas with vigor and debate.

It’s not unlike how Cathy Shap and Ginny Taylor worked together as Ginny owned her brave medicine for Women of Wonder.

It’s how a client and I jammed recently at a Business Artist VIP Day – we dove deep into the creative process but also laid out a strategy with integrity that will help that work into the hearts of people who need it – and some who will pay for it.

We each have the capacity to enact the poetical science of business artistry alone. It just takes exponentially longer, is lonelier, and is potentially not as effective than if we created and innovated more spaces to collaborate and debate. Together.

I recommend…

Rebels at Work
Lois Kelly
 is a rebel inciting corporate rebels. Her new book from O’Reilly Media is called Rebels at Work: A Handbook for leading Change from Within

Whether you work as an entrepreneurial skunk (i.e., an entrepreneur within an organization) or want to gain alliance on your radical idea, read Kelly’s book. 

TW Tour

Are you a business artist who would like to discuss what it means to be a business artist and do business as unusual in person? Check out our Tracking Wonder Tour this year. I will be in Boone, NC at The Blue Electric Community Room on June 25th and Gastonia, NC at The Hive on June 27th. Read more on the Tracking Wonder Tour and other tour stops here.

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