Introduction and Background
Knowledge Art is an idea that was a product of spontaneous combustion a few years back, but explains much of the work that has produced and guided Compendium for more than ten years.
In the summer of 2000, I took a five-day course at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, led by David Horth. David, along with Chuck Palus and Bill Drath, has been a Compendium research colleague and Compendium Institute member for several years. The course, named Leading Creatively, engages participants in a variety of art practices, toward the goal of enabling insight, creativity, inspiration, and expression in “connected leadership” – shared meaning-making in a community of practice.
I took the course primarily because we were already collaborating on possible applications of Compendium for CCL’s work and I wanted to get a better understanding of how to adapt the tools and methods to support their work. Surprisingly to me, I forgot that goal after the first couple of days and became deeply, personally engaged in the course and its activities – music, drawing, collage, poetry, and other art forms. The course included simple exercises like the Upside-Down Picasso – copying a Picasso drawing of Stravinsky by turning it upside-down, covering the image with a piece of paper, then uncovering the first eighth of an inch or so, drawing the few visible lines, uncovering the next eight of an inch and carefully adding that now visible bit of detail, and so on. The gradual unfolding requires time, attention, and discipline, rather than the slapdash way that I normally might have tried to copy that drawing. The exercise was arduous – it took me over three hours – but it yielded insights through the physical, aesthetic, and emotional experience of taking the time to pay close enough attention, and the physical labor required to produce the drawing. I learned that it’s the process and crafting, not the concepts or product that can yield a successful outcome.
The Leading Creatively course teaches the
recognition of, meaning, and usefulness of artistry in everyday organizational
life. Artistry is inherent and present even when we’re not aware of it. The
practice of some simple techniques can reveal this artistry and draw on its
power, make it available as a resource. It shows that one can invest art in
the seemingly mundane, and invest the mundane with art
-- art is there anyway, why not recognize and maximize it? Conventional
ways of thinking about leadership, though still valuable, don’t show the
whole picture or provide enough to go on. An understanding of leadership that
doesn’t include artistry shouldn’t satisfy us.
Over the course of the week, I became aware that I was starting to have insights and little revelations about my own work. These increased in depth and intensity towards the end of the week. I felt I was able to tap into deeper currents than normal day-to-day practices allow.
On the fourth day, I was listening to David conduct a dialogue on what we were learning and how we were thinking about applying it. Suddenly, a thought spoke clearly and loudly from somewhere inside me: “Compendium is Knowledge Art.” As far as I know I had never heard or thought the phrase “knowledge art” before that moment. I was stunned. The phrase seemed not only accurate, but to express a deeper motivating truth than any of us had been able to articulate up to that point. I wrote it down in my notebook and walked over to where Chuck Palus was sitting and showed it to him. His reaction was similar to my own. There seemed to be a name for the phenomenon of which Compendium was one possible instance, but which predated it and gave rise to it.