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The art of business science – part I

A while back, I was asked to do some pro-bono work for UNESCO. The original request was to give a speech on the topic of “culture and business” (the implied request, I guess, was more like culture versus business) at a big conference in Italy. Eventually, it turned out they wanted me to talk about the competitiveness of regions and cities, which later led me to write the summary piece that you may already have read under this section.

The original subject, however, had kick- started a process in my mind – an idea that got further fuel during the conference when, it appeared to me, (too) many people in the so called “world of arts and culture” seemed to bow their heads to colleagues from the business sector and ask the politicians present for help to counter the “balance” between commerce and culture. It was the old “fine arts vis-à-vis bad business – culture battling commerce -fight”, all over again – at least until one of Silvio’s Ministers turned up on stage.

Enough said.

As far as I can recall, these were the initial questions that I posed myself (and my wife who had tagged along for the conference – Italy…).

  • Why is it that culture and business are so often portrayed as two opposites on a continuum?
  • Why is business regarded as a science and culture as an art?
  • What is the difference between art and science?
  • Is contemporary business an art or a science - or perhaps both… or maybe neither?

Big questions, I guess, but remember, once again, that we were in Italy and the hosts had just treated us to a visit to La Scala and a really fab dinner!

Nobel thoughts

My tinkering reminded me of a an interview with the Japanese Nobel laureate in Physics, Professor Masatoshi Koshiba, that I had watched on TV a couple of years ago. Toward the end of the conversations, the journalist asked Mr. Koshiba who was his hero and idol - the person that he admired the most. The Japanese Nobel prize winner smiled and answered something along the following lines (to the best of my knowledge and memory):

“I know that you expect me to say Albert Einstein – the brilliant scientist – but that would not be telling the truth. My answer is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Now, let me tell you why. I’m a scientist. We make discoveries in a world that exists with or without us. This implies that if Einstein had not made his discoveries, eventually, someone else would have made them. Science is predestined.

But, then consider this, if Mozart had not been born, we would not know of “Eine, kleine nachtmusic” and no one would ever have enjoyed “The Magic flute”. No one else but Mozart could have composed that wonderful music. That’s why I hold Wolfgang Amadeus in higher esteem than Albert.”

Now, let me pose you another set of questions. Is success in our modern economy a question of discovering what is already out there, or does it boil down to creating what is yet unknown and unseen - to be better or to be different? Is your challenge the one of going for genuine innovation or are you going to settle for chasing what’s inevitable, like the rest of the pack? Should leaders seek inspiration from the world of science or that of the arts? Or, what if the future of business is part management and part magic – Michael Porter & Harry Potter!

In a second part of this thought piece, I’ll tell you what I think. Here’s a hint of what to expect (my cliff-hanger).

  • The unholy alliance
  • Management by numbers
  • Outnumbered

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