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In the Festive Season Spirit: Exploring Art's Contribution to Knowledge Management

1 October 2023

Noga Chipman-Steinwartz

 

Art, a term encompassing human activities free from fixed, binding, and predefined action patterns, relies on the artist's judgment, interpretation, and creativity. Within a work of art, emotions, skills, perspectives, and unique interpretations of situations and realities find expression (source: Wikipedia).

 

While we typically revere and appreciate art for its enrichment and enjoyment in our personal lives, this article aims to present art as a tool in organizational knowledge management. It serves as both a means to foster new knowledge and a diagnostic instrument for addressing organizations' needs and challenges to which knowledge management seeks solutions. The processes of knowledge development, aggregation, and accessibility often involve group collaboration, and, therefore, valuable insights can be gleaned from research and practical experiences related to the use of art in group work.

 

Campbell (2010) elucidates the significance of art within group dynamics. She emphasizes art's role as a tool for expression and creative engagement, highlighting its particular relevance as a means of group expression for several compelling reasons:

 

- Universal Language: Art transcends cultural and normative boundaries, fostering a common language among individuals of diverse backgrounds. Human creativity is an inherent, universal ability, making art a unifying force.

 

- Facilitating Expression: Art empowers individuals to communicate profound content that may be challenging to convey verbally. It enables each of us to create meaningful expressions.

 

- Catalyzing Growth: The creative process inherent in art encourages growth, development, and evolution—critical aspects for organizations seeking innovation and novel approaches to their operations.

 

- Unconscious Expression: Art is a conduit for our subconscious selves and the collective group identity. It promotes rapid self-disclosure, fostering group cohesion in shorter timeframes. Group cohesion is pivotal as an initial step toward achieving various organizational objectives.

 

In my work with groups in knowledge management, I frequently utilize art as a tool for participants to express themselves. It assists in articulating work processes, defining job roles, addressing organizational needs, and fostering innovative ideas for operational improvements. These concepts serve as the basis for developing professional theories, managing portal administration workflows, and more. I've observed that art liberates creative thinking, encouraging the generation of novel ideas that may not emerge through conventional discourse and familiar terminologies. I will illustrate these approaches using various art techniques, including visual art, creative writing, and drama.

 

Visual Arts as a Diagnostic Tool for Role Characteristics

Occasionally, during knowledge management processes such as characterizing portals, websites, or crafting procedures, I collaborate with groups of employees to delve into the elements of their roles and gain insights into the relative significance of various aspects of their daily tasks. To achieve this, I provide participants with work surfaces and a selection of creative materials, inviting them to create a mandala representing their role.

 

A mandala is a circular painting composed of concentric circles, with some circles intersecting partially while others are wider or narrower. By examining the individual mandalas crafted by each person, we can explore differences in how employees perceive their roles. Questions emerge, such as: What constitutes the central focus of the part for me versus for you? Which component serves as the cornerstone, supporting other elements? What currently resides on the periphery that we aim to centralize? Conversely, what now occupies a significant portion but should ideally be relocated? This valuable insight informs subsequent efforts in characterizing methods, processes, and knowledge enhancements to enhance ongoing work.

Creative Writing as a Tool for Capturing the Essence of an Organizational Unit

Wisława Szymborska, a renowned Polish poet, essayist, and translator of French literature, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. Her poems, expertly translated into Hebrew by Rafi Weichert and David Weinfeld, deeply resonated with the Israeli public and garnered praise from critics. During her 2005 visit to Israel, thousands of individuals participated in conferences held in her honor. One of her celebrated works, 'Options,' comprises concise lines, each beginning with the phrase 'I prefer.' The poet conveys her essence, worldview, and cherished values through this work.

 

For example:

- I prefer cinema.

- I prefer cats.

- I prefer oak trees on the banks of Horta.

- I prefer Dickens to Dostoevsky.

- I prefer appreciating people over loving humanity.

- I prefer having a needle and thread handy for emergencies.

- I prefer green.

- I'd instead not assert that the mind is to blame for everything.

- I prefer the extraordinary.

 

In my interactions with groups seeking to grasp an organizational unit's identity, objectives, and unique processes, I occasionally share insights about Wisława Szymborska and introduce them to her poem. Subsequently, I invite participants to compose three sentences in the style of 'Options,' but tailored to their specific unit. Each participant then chooses one sentence to present. I compile these diverse sentences on a board, thus crafting a distinctive 'song' for the team. This approach fosters a profound connection among participants, who take pride in the collaborative creation and the creative manner in which they depict their unit.

 

This 'song' sparks discussions regarding the tools and knowledge necessary for the unit to achieve its articulated goals. Beyond fostering cohesion, a crucial element for ongoing efforts, the 'song' is a foundational component for defining additional knowledge products, such as webpages, sections, and content areas within the portal.

 

Drama as a Tool for Revealing Crucial Group Dynamics within the Organizational Unit

Drama holds immense significance in group settings, as it can unveil a multitude of perspectives to each participant, allowing them to comprehend how their experiences within the organization might be interpreted differently by colleagues and partners. One remarkable example involves the utilization of drama within a knowledge development group I observed, where an employee shared a challenging personal experience with service recipients.

 

Three participants voluntarily assumed the roles and emotions inspired by the employee's narrative, effectively dramatizing the situation. Their performance, with a strong focus on the employee's feelings, abilities, and resilience in dealing with the situation, revealed concealed yet vital aspects of the event's management process. This 'presentation' served as a pivotal foundation for collectively defining practical approaches to address the incident. These collaborative efforts translated into innovative work procedures, contributing fresh insights to the field of service provision.

 

In conclusion, this article has introduced innovative approaches to group work within the organizational context of knowledge management, interweaving it with the arts. It has explored tools from various artistic disciplines, highlighting their potential value in job description, unit characterization, and developing novel work methodologies. These techniques are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the arts' creative possibilities. I am eager to hear about the inventive ways you, dear readers, will experiment with combining creativity and innovation in your work. Experiment and savor the experience...

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