Pay Attention to Process

I remember my first sculpture class at a prestigious Philadelphia art school.

I labored over an exquisite clay version of the nude modeling before us, taking great pains to find every curve; examining contours and proportion each step of the way. After an hour or so the teacher (himself a notable sculptor) walked around surveying the work. I was sure he’d single out my maquette for its competence and understanding of form. I was half right. He said something, like “Nice….good form,” and then thwack, he squashed it into its wooden support base. “Now, start again. You’ll really love the second one.”

Stunned, I just stood grieving over the loss my beautiful nude clay study. My teacher destroyed the study for three reasons. First, he was convinced that my second attempt would outshine my first. It did. Second, to remind me not to become too attached to the way things are…because, they’re likely to change.  He said that learning to adapt and live in transition was the key to succeed. “Stasis”, he insisted, “was the enemy of the artist.” Staying open to new possibilities is the key to artistic growth. The third reason, he said, was to teach us the value of ‘process.’ For him, the art is in the doing; identifying the challenge and working through it to create something new.

Growth comes from the awareness and discovery that something wonderful is about to emerge…if we just pay close enough attention to the process.

All three of these lessons can be applied directly to leadership. First, do the best you can, and don’t be afraid to fail. You’re likely to do it better the second time, anyway. Don’t treat your ideas as precious. Be open to how someone might improve on them for the greater good of your organization. That’s collaboration.

And lastly, pay attention to the process…the sequence of how things happen; the hundreds of little decisions, communications, discoveries, mistakes and course corrections that add up to a new creation. Internationally renowned sculptor, Martin Puryear, used to say “I’m more interested in the sculpture-making process itself, because the making process generates more ideas than the end result.”

Art truly does imitate life. And paying attention to how things happen, the process, will help you navigate and manage change. Personally and professionally.