those spaces in between life, thinking, the physical world, and humanity
There is an increasingly important category of work—knowledge work—that you can best manage by not enforcing a detailed, in-advance set of objectives, even if you could. Often in this kind of work, time spent planning what you want to do will be better spent actually doing (or letting others in your charge do), trying something you haven’t thought out in detail so you can quickly incorporate what you learn from the experience in the next attempt. In appropriate conditions—only in appropriate conditions—you can gain more value from experience than from up-front analysis. In certain kinds of work, even if you can figure out where you’re going and find a map to get you there, that may not be the best thing to do.
Forging ahead without detailed specifications to guide you obviously requires innovation, new actions. We take this observation one step further by suggesting that knowledge work, which adds value in large part because of its capacity for innovation, can and often should be structured as artists structure their work. Managers should look to collaborative artists rather than to more traditional management models if they want to create economic value in this new century.
We call this approach artful making. “Artful,” because it derives from the theory and practice of collaborative art and requires an artist-like attitude from managers and team members. “Making,” because it requires that you conceive of your work as altering or combining materials into a form, for a purpose.2 Materials thus treated become something new, something they would not become without the intervention of a maker. This definition usually points to work that changes physical materials, iron ore and charcoal into steel, for instance. But the work and management we’re considering don’t always do that. Instead they mostly operate in imagination, in the realm of knowledge and ideas. While artful making improves anything that exhibits interdependency among its parts, we’re not primarily concerned with heating metal and beating it into shapes. We’re more concerned with strategies, product designs, or software—new things that groups create by thinking, talking, and collaborating.
Any activity that involves creating something entirely new requires artful making. Whenever you have no blueprint to tell you in detail what to do, you must work artfully. A successful response to an unexpected move by a competitor requires artful activity; so does handling a sudden problem caused by a supplier. An artful manager operates without the safety net of a detailed specification, guiding a team or organization when no one knows exactly where it’s going.