Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work

9780130086952: Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work

Artful Making offers the first proven, research-based framework for engineering ingenuity and innovation. This book is the result of a multi-year collaboration between Harvard Business School professor Robert Austin and leading theatre director and playwright Lee Devin. Together, they demonstrate striking structural similarities between theatre artistry and production and today's business projects--and show how collaborative artists have mastered the art of delivering innovation "on cue," on immovable deadlines and budgets. These methods are neither mysterious nor flaky: they are rigorous, precise, and--with this book's help--absolutely learnable and reproducible. They rely on cheap and rapid iteration rather than on intensive up-front planning, and with the help of today's enabling technologies, they can be applied in virtually any environment with knowledge-based outputs. Moreover, they provide an overarching framework for leveraging the full benefits of today's leading techniques for promoting flexibility and innovation, from agile development to real options.

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From the Back Cover:

Managing When You Don't Know Where You're Going
If you don't know where you're going, any mapwill do. This conventional wisdom sounds right to many managers. It highlights the safety of having a clear objective for your management actions. It implies that all management actions are likely to be confused and inefficient if you don'thave a clear objective. If you don't have a good fix on your destination--be it a product or service, a strategic or competitive outcome, or anything else--you may as well not start the journey.

For a lot of your work, though, this so-called wisdom is wrong. Why? For one thing, you can't always know your destination in advance. Whether you're designing a new product, running a business in volatile conditions, operating a process that might encounter unforeseen inputs, or just trying to figure out what to do with your life, the journey usually involves exploration, adjustment, and improvisation. Situations in which you don't or can't know the results in advance are common and consequential. All businesses face them.

If you're not too narrow in what you're willing to call "management," you can manage these situations. You can enhance effectiveness and efficiency, and you can improve the likelihood of valuable outcomes. However, the methods you'll use will differ from, and sometimes conflict with, methods that work when you do know where you're going.

There is an increasingly important category ofwork--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 inappropriate 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 stepfurther 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. Materials thus treated become something new, something they would not become without the intervention of a maker.

About the Author:


Rob Austin is Professor of Technology and OperationsManagement at Harvard Business School where his research focuses on the changing nature of work. His experience includes a decade with Ford Motor Company; from 2000 to 2001, while on leave from Harvard, he served as a senior executive for a new division of a leading technology company, helping to establish a new organization and technology platform. He is author of Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations, and co-author of Creating Business Advantage in the Information Age, and Corporate Information Strategy and Management. A Cutter Technology Council Fellow, Dr. Austin holds a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon.


Lee Devin, Professor Emeritus at Swarthmore College and dramaturg for the People’s Light and Theatre Company, has more than 30 years of experience in the theater. He has won prizes and grants for play scripts, librettos, and translations that have been published or performed worldwide. As an Equity actor, his roles have ranged from Malvolio in Twelfth Night to Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire. He has been a visiting consultant or artist in residence at Columbia University, the Folger Library, Ball State University, the Banff School of the Arts, University of California San Diego, Bucknell University, and the Minnesota Opera. Dr. Devin holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University.

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