We Still Need Artists in the Workplace

By CEO Jim Annis

Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, once said, “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin … or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”

At the August Governor’s Conference, one of the break outs included a gentleman who was touting all the engineering jobs coming into the workplace, and the need to keep up the emphasis on STEM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Math) education to keep the workforce supply with that skillset. During the discussion, a woman addressed the speaker and the audience with the following question, “what thought have you given as to how artists factor into this?” The man was stumped and said, “I have not given it any thought.” This is the disconnect that I hope to bridge with this article.

Creativity, play and innovation help birth scientific breakthroughs. Great scientists—like artists—need to be “makers,” inventors and dreamers. Both are often working towards the unknown, something unseen. Scientists who have won the Nobel Prize are 17 times more likely than the average scientist to be a painter, 12 times as likely to be a poet and four times as liked to be a musician.

I support adding the “A” – The Arts- into STEM education to create STEAM. We cannot afford to lose that in the K-12 realm. We also cannot afford to stop there. The business community has missed a huge opportunity. We have never considered factoring arts into the general business model. It baffles me. Why? One strategy many communities, including Reno/Sparks/Tahoe, used to work their way out of the Great Recession included a big push in our area for creating Intellectual Property. I do not disagree with that as a strategy. However, it needs a counterpart. You can have 4,000 patents but if you cannot communicate why these innovations are important to change how the world works and to get others to use those innovations then you haven’t made the world a better place. As a business owner, my experience has been that those with degrees in creative and liberal arts majors have an advantage in the workplace because they can better conceptualize, analyze and communicate.

For full disclosure, my wife is a classically trained artist and I am a hobbyist artisan of wooden rocking chairs. Creativity is part of who we are. We employ many sciences in our process, including chemistry, industrial arts, and the science of light and lasers. In rocking chair making, the same planning and visualization techniques apply that I use in my “day” job. In fact, my work at The Applied Companies does not require the exact detail that my art does. One wrong cut on the saw – even one-sixteenth of an inch – and a $1,000 chair seat can be ruined. I need to start over and a client might have a cherished gift delayed. At my company, we can usually recover from a bauble here and there by “doing the right thing” and course correcting. Why? We have the professional competence and the creativity to make the next move. That is what fuels us.

How can you integrate STEAM – emphasis on the A – to propel your company towards your goals in 2018?