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Room for growth: What the corporate world can learn from the arts

group of European dancers — how learning from the arts can transform the corporate world

Humans are innately curious creatures: we love to learn. It’s what sets us apart from other animals, and we’re very good at it. Learning also makes us happier and healthier (

In Astrophysicist Mario Livio’s book Why? What Makes Us Curious, he states that many studies prove humans have (

“a strong genetic component to curiosity.”

This desire to learn extends into our careers. According to Forbes (

Meanwhile, Dan Pink in his book Drive — the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (, cites (

Yet, learning can be seen as a weakness in a corporate environment. Although many companies have formal mentoring and training opportunities, on a day-to-day level, leaning over and tapping a colleague on the shoulder to explain a task can seem daunting. Heads of companies often outsource mentoring so they don’t appear uninformed in front of their employees. Even at the recruitment stage, candidates for a role are often expected to be experts. Job descriptions can be laughably demanding of candidates, pushing the boundaries of realism: multiple technical qualifications, years of experience, many tiers of academic degrees, fluency in every language, a stint in volunteering — even for entry-level positions.

These lengthy job descriptions, packed full of detailed requirements, doesn’t allow for potential. A marketing candidate might have impressive social media experience but be less capable with Adobe. A company should look beyond that knowledge gap — if it’s something the candidate could learn. Adaptability, motivation, enthusiasm, and an ability and willingness to learn, should be more desirable qualities than a list of specific skills and an expectation of watertight expertise.

Another reason why corporations restrict learning opportunities and autonomous decision making is because of the rigid chain of command telling people what they can and cannot do. In the corporate world, when there can be so much at stake — both in terms of finance, reputation, and longevity of the brand — companies can be very low-risk.

You can’t learn without making mistakes — you can’t learn that the hob will burn your skin without touching in it the first place — however, even a single mistake can have huge consequences in major companies.

So, corporate leaders take control of the decision-making process. Employees are merely used as bodies to carry out tried and tested strategies for success. In an extreme sense: the leadership team are the programmers, their employees the cogs in the large money-making machine.

The corporate world is also restricted by paperwork and procedure. Many companies are built on tradition. There could many levels of decision-makers. There are unwavering rules and regulations. There are set targets. All this is a noose around the neck of growth and often true innovation.

Of course, employers are looking for a return on their investment. Time spent training and developing employees is money wasted. Companies want results from day one. However, perhaps they should look for potential, for a candidate they can nurture and grow with the company. People are rarely ready-made experts who tick all the right boxes. Sometimes, they are hidden gems who have the ideas but lack the experience. Just because someone doesn’t have the right experience, doesn’t mean they’re not right for the job.

On the flip side, in the world of arts and sports, learning and growing is normalised. In sports especially, it’s expected. A sportsperson who doesn’t train constantly is never going to succeed. Even those at the top, in fact, especially those at the top — Olympians, gold medal winners — will be learning and growing every day, investing time and money to improve their discipline. According to Bustle, former competitive swimmer Michael Phelps trained everyday (, while even athletes on ‘rest days’ are still honing their bodies with low-intensity workouts ( Even personal trainers have personal trainers (

In the arts, a high-risk environment like sports, where failures are inevitable, learning and growing is also expected. Take the publishing industry for example. Although writers are naturally talented, they spend their whole lives learning their craft. This might be through formal or informal mentoring; enrolling onto workshops, courses and conferences; attending festivals; tapping into writing groups on social media; reading resources or how-to books; or simply writing, writing, writing ( Even when an author receives representation from a literary agent, there is further development to be done. It can take two years of editing a manuscript with an agent before it’s ready for publication. Agents are scouting for raw talent, innovative ideas, and potential. Once they secure it, their role is to support and develop the author throughout their career.

Srini Rao, host and founder of The Unmistakeable Creative ( in a blog post ‘The ultimate guide to mastering your craft’, cites practice and failure as two factors. Failure is (

There are no true experts in the publishing world. There isn’t a CEO or manager of writing. There are famous authors — JK Rowling and Stephen King for example, who people might cite as gurus — and gatekeepers, such as publishers and literary agents — and those who provide services, like editors. The publishing world, like the corporate world, still has structures and processes in place. Yet, there is also flexibility. Mistakes can be made; failures are a certainty. Manuscripts might not be published; published books might not get literary acclaim or hoped-for sales. But authors — even those who are in some way restricted by agents and publishers — will still improve their discipline every day through the mere act of writing.

bring a unique perspective — there is no expert, only those who learn
bring a unique perspective — there is no expert, only those who learn

K.M. Weiland, author and mentor, sums it powerfully in a post on her blog ( titled ‘Why There’s No Such Thing as a Writing Expert — And Why That’s a Good Thing’:

The arts industry understands that mastery doesn’t magically happen — that it might, in fact, never happen. The end goal isn’t important, but the journey. It’s those incremental steps towards expertise that allow for learning and growing.

Thanks to this, the arts industry is constantly innovating. Perhaps corporations could be more innovative if they gave their employees this room to grow. Again, this could be through formal mentoring or training. However, on a smaller scale, it could be through empowering employees to make autonomous decisions; to contribute new ideas; and to learn through practice, experimentation, and risk-taking.

Reports suggest that productivity in the UK is at an all-time low ( Perhaps it’s time for companies to revaluate how they recruit and retain their employees. Instead of prioritizing a strict set of tangible experiences, qualifications, and expertise, perhaps seeking ambition, enthusiasm, passion, and potential will unearth those employees who will be most committed to the growth of the company — and themselves.

More thoughts and ideas here…

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