Work Like An Artist-Artists develop new skills

Successful artists are always working to improve their craft and consistently devote a specific percentage of their daily time to their continued education.  However, the secret sauce here is, that they enjoy it. And when you truly enjoy your own development you can easily find the previously unexplored aspects of your personality that might bring your biggest personal and professional gains.

“Well of course artists enjoy their professional development,” you might say to me. “Professional development for an artist is inherently... fun! Who wouldn’t want to take an improvisation class?” But, before I get side-tracked on why all business professionals should be taking improvisation class, let’s think about how to add the secret sauce of fun to your next professional development endeavor.  

How many of us feel that we got everything we need to know out of our initial degree? Isn’t it our job, as much as an artist’s, to continue to pursue advanced knowledge in our work? It’s not just about how much our chosen fields have changed since we last went to school. What it’s really about is: What do you wish you knew more about?

I don’t know anyone who, given the opportunity to go back in time to college, wouldn’t take an extra course or two outside their discipline. But artists continue to do that long after they have left conservatory. Artists continue to push the outer limits of what comes easily to them and lean into the areas that they find intimidating because they know that’s where the gold is found.

One of the greatest things I ever did for myself was to take a stand-up comedy class.  I didn’t take a safe class that culminated in a quiet performance in front of my classmates, but rather one where I knew our final project would be a set at an actual New York City comedy club.  Though no one has knocked on my door to offer me a half hour comedy special — yet— what I did learn is how to work a room, be in the moment when something isn’t landing, and be flexible enough to shift gears if that’s what I need to do. And I use all of these lessons daily in the business and consulting world.

Admittedly, an artist maintains a different schedule with more gaps in their day that make it easier to continue to study. But that doesn’t mean that continued education doesn’t cut into their time. It just means that the value of the development of a new skill far surpasses its cost in either time or money. It goes beyond an evaluative ROI because an artist enjoys the process of learning something new. And that is the secret sauce that makes it easy to continue to invest in their education and development.

And don’t think that the art world isn’t competitive. It’s just as vicious as high finance or mergers and acquisitions. For artists, there are always 100 people waiting in the wings to take your place, so artists use their extra hours to hone their craft, network, and find new ways to create opportunities for themselves.

Sure, many business professionals are voracious readers.  Or they have a list of podcasts a mile long. But many of my clients haven’t received any formal instruction since they left business school in their twenties.  But accomplished actors I know seek out voice training and stage combat. Sculptors might work on their drawing skills in a still life class. A classically trained musician might seek out teachers in jazz improvisation.

So, what areas of your own learning have you not yet explored?  Could you expand your knowledge in contracts or conflict management?  Could you work on your interpersonal skills through professional development workshops that would help you manage your team?  There are always areas that we can develop and expand our knowledge. And most importantly, what do you think you might enjoy? Not necessarily what you think HR wants you to explore but what are you interested in?

Your company might not pay your way through an improv class, but the good news is that many businesses are excited to finance your continued educational development. A quick conversation with HR might lead to a wealth of educational opportunities. For myself, I like to choose one area of exploration that is related to my business goals and one that is related to my personal goals every year. What about you? What are you excited about and what aspect of your professional life would you enjoy developing?


Alexandra Phillips