Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Art of Your Business

Recently I was asked what is the art and the science of business. The answer to this question is often surprising and compelling.

When we think of art we think of creativity and limitless boundaries where time is not relative. We think of freedom and having control over our own life and it's destination. We think of those "artsy" people who always show up late, are always daydreaming, lack focus and can't seem to get anything done on time. It's unfortunate that the word "art" is a part of the word artsy because art has really nothing to do their behavior. What the "artsy" people create is the art, their behavior is not. Creating art can return those feelings of limitless boundaries, freedom and control and I'll tell you how.

Artists have to follow "systems" that are made up of objectives, rules, processes, procedures, techniques, frameworks, standards etc. to create their art. Hey, does that sound familiar to you?

A great photographer has to be an expert in many areas including lighting and shutter speed and has to be able to frame the subject to reach a desired effect. We see the photograph and say "that is art", but we don't usually think about the many regimented and defined tasks that went into creating that photograph - unless, of course, you are another photographer yourself.

And how do we judge artists? We judge their work based on how well they used their systems and processes to deliver the result. Artist who use unique systems often are the ones who set trends and can even change what we accept as art.

The truth is that art has constraints, limits and boundaries. It is about creating something, building something, something that is understood, can be translated and repeated. The "scientific method", for instance, is art.

The creation of "systems" and their processes is art.

A system is made up of defined processes that are designed to meet an overall objective. The human arm is a system that is designed to achieve set objectives. Each of the arms movements are processes that are all a part of the overall system.

Systems create common repeatable actions which should ensure that objectives are met. The science (qualification and quantification) will prove the systems are truly meeting their designed objective.

So what about science in Business?

The science of business is the numbers. The numbers are what we use to quantify the systems and the processes to ensure that the system is returning a desired result or is meeting a planned objective. The science for a photographer may be the number of photos sold versus the number of photos made. A high ratio would mean that the photographer would only need to create a few photos to generate more sales. A low ratio would mean that the photographer may have to spend most of their time taking masses of photographs in order to generate enough sales. I think you will agree that the photographer who can sell most of what they produce has a better system . This is quantification and that is the science of business.

Another example would be a beautiful building designed to please anyone experiencing it. The art may be pleasing and enticing but without good science, like the science that predicts stresses and other forces on building materials, the structure may be no more than a hazard to anyone that comes near it. Failures are common within new organizations and can even fell established organizations if they fail to create or maintain art and/or fail to maintain and apply good science. Enron is a good example of compelling art supported by junk science.

So, how do I start creating art in my work or my organization?

What I recommend to clients is to have everyone start documenting their existing daily, weekly and monthly actions. These are reviewed and added to an operations manual. When you document your processes and amalgamate them into a central repository you will have created a system, and that is art. It may not be beautiful but it will free your time to spend in the creative process of building better systems. Better systems will include quantifiable objectives (numbers) so that you will be able to track the effectiveness of your systems. This will be the science of your organization. Numbers like, how many calls, how many positive customer responses, how fast, how many failures, how much profit or loss etc...

Every time I have clients go through this process the initial response from managers is that the daily questions from staff slow and eventually stop. The documentation provides a resource and reference for staff which frees up time for managers to be creative, improving their systems and their results. After all, the role of any manager is to organize and systems (art) facilitates this. The answers to questions posed by staff or clients become new opportunities to improve processes that improve the overall system. Managers will start looking for questions and comments from clients (internal or external) which will drive innovation within your organization. Managers will relish a chance to solve a new problem as opposed to being knee deep in them. One problem turns into a new solution, a new process, that can be followed by anyone at any time (one to many). The organization will start to exceed or more easily meet objectives. Managers will even start looking forward to new hires as the new hires will challenge their systems in ways they hadn't dreamed of. It changes the whole way managers deal with staff. The question goes from "why can't he do this the way I want?" to "what has failed in our system and how can it be improved so that anyone can do this?".

The transition from ad-hock management to systems based management is typically the first major plateau for any manager or growing organization and typically the glass ceiling for companies that don't systematize. After all, it is impossible to manage groups of people without very good systems in place. Everything has to be organized (managed) or the group will quickly splinter into many factions that don't work with each other.

Systems work best when the objectives or vision are shared amongst all the the participants and the people who deliver the systems also participate in the perfection of them.

You don't have to be a photographer, painter or an actor to be an artist. Art is everywhere and you can make it a part of your profession and your life.

Give it a try!

Dave Soteros is President of Alrym Consulting which is focused on teaching the art and science of business to leaders and managers.

1 comment:

Monty said...

I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting. Great ... Keep it up!