Above the Trees

Artful Approaches

  • Print

Felipe M. Venegas leads an almost military lifestyle. As a comprehensive financial planner, he finds comfort in project outlines, deadlines and a regimented schedule.

So when he decided to advance his career and get an MBA at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., he expected his instructors to teach from a podium, hand out lesson plans and begin class on time.

Instead, Venegas found himself assigned to a four week fiction class that met “around 8 o’clock.” His first task was to write about a picture of a hippyish looking woman. He was incredulous. Venegas remembers seething, “How much am I paying? What are you asking me to do?”

The final straw came as the deadline loomed for the final project, which was to be presented before the entire graduate class and faculty. And still there was no outline, no instruction.

Venegas snapped. He lashed out at the instructor in class, demanding more guidance. In that instant, he realized the frustration he was feeling was by design.

Mary Pinard calls it the “aha moment.” It’s the transformative experience Babson seeks for its MBA students, says Pinard, a poet who teaches undergraduate English and directs the school’s MBA creativity program.

With its artful approach, Babson has joined a growing group of experiential learning programs that are reaching out to corporate America as employers look for new ways to motivate workers and managers to come up with creative solutions to business problems.

“The idea is for [students] not to feel comfortable and in control,” Pinard says. “The idea is for them to be challenged, to learn they have it in themselves to address situations, problems and scenarios with their own creativity.”

For 10 years, Babson has incorporated creativity courses into its curriculum. For the first four weeks of the two year program, students are randomly assigned to study with an artist. This year, Babson’s artists include a dancer, painter, puppeteer, fiction writer, poet, musician and an improvisational actor. At the same time, MBA students take other courses on subjects such as ethics and group dynamics.

Venegas has since become a believer, and he wishes his colleagues could be exposed to the exercise. “Everything isn’t about structure,” he says. “Some things have to be done last minute. You have to have faith and trust in your team. That’s life.”

Dancing Around Decisions

The Washington Depot, Conn., dance troupe Pilobolus, renowned for its work with collaborative choreography, also brings its creative set to the business world. Its workshops get people in touch with their own creative possibilities, says Jonathan Wolken, co founder of the dance troupe. “We focus people on their ability to communicate, collaborate and listen to each other.”

Wolken holds workshops in a studio setting. Participants are asked to experiment with movement, from open ended explorations to sequences in which everyone takes a step together. Pilobolus nurtures an atmosphere in which conversation–and criticism–flow freely.

Wolken hopes participants take back to work a sense of generosity and greater collaboration. At the end of the workshop, he asks participants to produce a dance and present it to the entire group. The aha moment often comes then, when Wolken adds the music. “People are agape,” he says. “You have no idea how powerful you can be.”

Above the Trees looks at leaders and industries outside the law. It lets you draw analogies to how you run your business, how you deal with your clients and how you face your own challenges.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.