It seems there is an increasing number of people who combine a professional life in the service industry with a professional life in the arts. While there is an increasing demand for specialists in organizations, I know professionals who are also actors, big band conductors, painters, sculptresses, saxophone players, etc. Why is this?
After I sold the shares of the company I had started many years before, I spent some time in Africa recovering from the loss. Fifteen years of work lighter, I was on a mission to find myself and a new direction in life. On my travels I came across some cave drawings in Botswana. The guide explained how the figures with antlers represented a ceremony for rain. I asked him who had made these paintings. It is likely, he said, that the shaman who had designed and conducted the ceremonies also recorded them on the cavewalls. The same guy!
It dawned on me that the shaman’s designing healing and trust sessions and his subsequent pictorial representation combined skills and roles that were at once familiar and inspiring to me. I was an organizational shaman! My experience with acting and directing theatre intervention in organizational change processes and my career as a painter were weaving a future thread. I heard a call from the past to use my artistic gifts as an actor and a painter to help bring about the paradigm shift that organizational thinking needs. So, when I returned to Amsterdam, I signed up for a master’s degree as a management consultant and rented a studio to paint.
So, I work as a hybrid professional now. And I discovered there are many more like me. What explains this increase? In my case, I have become more whole as a professional, since I took my hobby to be a parttime profession. I take both lives seriously. They give me balance. Engaging with the discompfort of others, the pain, the search for coherence in my consultant’s work, is compensated for by the quiet of my inner journey while painting. My thoughts, my heart, my soul are expanded in a teamcoaching session as much and maybe in the same way, as when I’m in my studio painting. My ‘self’ crosses disciplinary boundaries.
It gives my CV a certain uncomfortable edge: ‘Are you an artist?’ ask my colleagues in business life, ‘are you a consultant?’, ask my fellow artists. And they show this smile which is somewhere in between compassion (you’re not really one of us) and admiration (wow, interesting guy). Apparently we like it if things are clearly separated. In school we study one subject at a time, an organization has functional divisions, an actor is typecast for a specific kind of role. Along with this we habour this judgement of people’s otherness, especially other people’s discipline. Too often there is …
no room for other disciplinary perspectives, the result of which is the rejection of them for not being one’s own. Thus, if one’s discipline has foreclosed the question of its scope, all that is left for it is a form of “applied” work. (Gordon, 2006, 36)
Salespeople look down on after-sales people and vice versa (“…you’re such a bunch of amateurs!”), civil cervants look down on politicians and vice versa. Likewise: You’re either an artist or consultant. One is leading, the other is subsidiary. If you’re both; you are nothing.
The pattern which connects
A world away from the shaman who was painter, musician, advisor, parson, therapist and doctor. What has happened? Why can’t we be Renaissaince men any more. Like Sir Walter Raleigh at Queen Elizabeth’s court in Shakespeare’s time, who was poet, politician, and exporer (known for bringing tobacco to the western world.)
Rational thinking has enabled us to analyze. To take things apart in order to understand the whole. And to construct the whole from building it up from the minutest particles. In the beginning of the 20th century, artists like Seurat created paintings from dots and in organizational thinkers like Taylor figured out the ideal radius of streetcleaner’s brush strokes to make cost effectiveness scalable to keep the city clean.
This compartimentalization and specialization came under heavy scrutiny by thinkers like Gregory Bateson and Fritjov Kapra at the end of the 20th century. They argued that the world was governed by patterns that were insufficiently understood and that multidisciplinary learning was needed to raise questions that would help us understand our complex existence. Anthropology, computer science, physics, philosophy, art were all included in the mix.
We need a kind of thinking that relinks that which is disjointed and compartmentalized, that respects diversity as it recognizes unity, and that tries to discern interdependencies. We need a radical thinking (which gets to the root of problems), a multidimensional thinking, and an organizational or systemic thinking. (Morin and Kern 1999, 130)
The idea that we need to cross boundaries to understand things better, helps me to justify spending time in my studio painting and go out to help organizational change. What I try to do regardless of my working context is creating coherence. That is my art as a painter and as a consultant. And it is an art that we all understand and it is a condition that we are all able to create.
What I experience when I witness coherence is a certain inner peace. Sometimes I feel myself smiling. I can hear myself say ‘yes’ deep in side.
In a painting coherence happens when all the diverse parts, the colours, the lines speak independently and contribute to the whole.
In a group, I feel coherence when people speak their inner voices and the conversation becomes rich and meaningful. In both cases a connecting pattern is manifesting itself. From this connecting pattern we derive energy that moves us. Whether it be a painting, a piece of music, a sculpture, a design. We become more than ourselves by being thus connected.
In a society that is faced with unpredecended challenges, we need to see the whole and its parts from many perspectives and in manner that gives us enegy.
This is why I believe hybrid professionals become a welcome guests to communities that seek change. Not only because they bring in something new, but because they themselves are the connecting patterns and, like the shaman in Africa, they release that beast in all of us that is needed to create the future we want.