May 8, 2003
In Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work, Rob Austin and Lee Devin provide a long-awaited and extremely important way of thinking about how to manage the artful aspects of business. All of us who manage talented, idiosyncratic people know there’s art involved. We routinely support exploration for which we, as managers, don’t immediately see the point because – as Austin and Devin point out – great ideas often emerge. You can’t get to them by taking the most direct route because you don’t know the destination in advance. You think you’re working on one thing, but the really important thing turns out to be something else entirely, something on the periphery of what you thought was important.
As Austin and Devin also point out, the management methods you use when you rely on emergent innovations can seem pretty foreign to people who have been steeped in the methods of industrial-age companies. But in the high-tech world (and probably in many other industries), being able to manage creative engineers so that they will produce emergent innovations is absolutely crucial. This is partially because the environment is changing so fast that it requires improvisation in terms of strategy, products, and even day-to-day operations. Just when you think you understand the technology landscape, you see a major disruption.
The reason high tech is so hard to follow is that disruptions come without warning. Just like our major innovations, disruptions come from the corner of your business model when you are not expecting them. In fact, one company’s innovation is another’s disruption.
Pay attention to what Austin and Devin are saying – their point of view represents an important expression of the new ethos of management. If you frequently find yourself trying to steer your organization without a clear idea of where you’ll end up, and improvising mid-course corrections in response to emergent problems, then this book is for you.