Be an artist, for the future

The following is a reflection of the book 'Leaders make the future, by Bob Johansen'. This relfection was required as part of my elective class, Strategic Foresight, during my MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts.


Reading about the ten leadership skills that Bob Johansen defines in his book Leaders make the future, I kept thinking of the life of an artist. A ceramic artist to be precise. It might not be a perfect analogy but molding a lump of brown dirt into a beautiful, colorful piece of art in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity is a master skill set to have. Allow me to elaborate...

It starts with being a maker. Having the Maker Instinct to create something extraordinary and work towards that creation. Rather than sitting and wring his hands, the artist commits to building, growing his creation, and share his final work with others. Starting with a few rough sketches (Rapid Prototyping) and maybe a few mini samples, he begins his journey. It all starts with a lump of clay, and even through this brown mass the artist can envision what they are creating (Clarity). They have faith in the process and learn as they build. Learning comes in its true form when they start shaping the clay (Immersive Learning). They learn the texture, the density, the flexibility of the product by doing. There will be times when they might come across an air pocket or a stone, a disruption/disturbance in the journey, but that’s a challenge the artist readily accepts. A dilemma that becomes an opportunity. An opportunity to play around the clay and refine it.

An artist learns from other artists. (Smart Mob Organizing)  Creating a network to engage with other artists only builds his knowledge and skill set. Also, this network eventually develops into a community. A place of sharing the learning, assets, work and encouragement. (Commons Creating) 

The true test for the artist comes when its time to fire the pot/sculpture. Glazing the pot/sculpture without really knowing what color it will eventually become. Trusting his intuition on the strength of the pot, the artist places his piece of work to be fired in the kiln. A tense situation as one doesn’t know if the piece would survive the heat or not. It might break, it might crack.. all the hard work might just turn into ashes. But they are patient and calm over the duration of the firing. When the final outcome is presented, the artist shows authenticity to the work of art, rather than boasting about his own self. They let the work speak for itself. (Quiet Transparency).

True artists, like true leaders, don’t really worry about the end product. They rely on nature for their inspiration and focus on their beliefs rather than others suggestions. Focusing too much on the end product takes away from the process and it’s through the process that these skills come in most use. If you believe in the process, the final product will be more than envisioned. However, I believe there is more to the skills than what Bob Johansen suggested. Patience & Empathy being one of the few. Patience in the process, patience to see the final outcome. And Empathy, I believe, is the heart of everything. Be in connection with the world, and acknowledge your environment.

And now if you’ll excuse me.. I have some clay to work with!