The artistic experience is one of immersion. Getting lost in the act of creation. Not a painless or effortless activity but one that requires great focus and stamina. It is an intrinsically human experience and no two artistic expressions are the same. It is the opposite of a commodity. As we move towards a future where everything that can be automated will be, what will be left for humans to do? I believe it is to make art. Something very unique to humanity.
So how can we turn work into art?
It starts with a shift in thinking. Away from thinking about work as the thing I do against my will to get money. That is the current paradigm of work. I do it against my will and that is why I get paid. But what if the thing that creates value is also what I am most skilled at, most uniquely talented to do, what I love, the thing I would be doing if I wasn't getting paid? But instead of doing it for free I'm doing it within the structure of a business that allows me to be compensated for doing something I love.
Why art? Because making and viewing art has uniformly positive impacts on humans. It reduces stress and increases well being. It also makes us more empathetic, a critical need in the modern workplace.
Turning work into art would be transformative. If we can experience work as we experience creating art – getting lost in the creation of something indelibly personal and profound – there would be far reaching impacts. Businesses would benefit from increased engagement, employees would be more engaged and fulfilled, even families and communities would benefit from workers that come home energized and not drained by the drudgery of their jobs.
To begin we must rethink and broaden our definition of art. Beyond painting, drawing, playing an instrument, etc. How can you drive a bus artistically? Bag groceries artistically? Create an artistic customer experience? I believe every profession and task can be infused with art. Maybe even add a dash of gaming to really make it engaging.
This change would require businesses to fully shake the factory/industrial mindset that still haunts the workplace. A hierarchical model based on command and control, very militaristic and often inhumane. Instead of treating human beings as useful but frustrating meat machines that do your bidding, treat them as unique individuals with specific abilities that can be harmonized with the needs of the business. Sure, this is more complicated and requires really getting to know your employees and giving them a high degree of autonomy.
The upside is huge. With employee engagement hovering at 31% moving that number north may be the biggest opportunity for improved productivity and profit. The evidence is clear, engaged employees lead to higher profits. There's your ROI.
If we transform work into art we would create work experiences that are truly human. What a better world that would be!