What can business professionals learn from artists? Carol Dance (MBA ’88) on her vibrant career using creativity across business and the arts.
How did your career path take you from business to the visual arts?
Carol: I painted as a child, but never imagined anyone could make a living by painting. I studied economics and worked part time as a theatre reviewer and editor for the UNSW Press. I completed the AGSM MBA in 1987 and became CEO of the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre. When I finally retired, I wanted to do something creative and began both painting and writing plays. At the Disputes Centre I had great fun writing the role plays used to train mediators, and so thought I'd try my hand at theatre as well as painting. I've had three full length plays and eight short plays produced by independent theatre companies. "Golden Soil" about the AWB kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein.
How did your AGSM MBA fit into your career plan?
Carol: I confess I never had a plan when I did the MBA. I was completely open to any and all ideas that came my way, but I certainly used my MBA knowledge at the Disputes Centre, especially the Organisational Behaviour (OB) area. I often drew organisational charts for disputants that highlighted why the company was having difficulties, much to the appreciation of the conflicted parties. I also use MBA tools now in dealing with theatre producers and art galleries and in organising art auctions for charities. I use OB tools and strategies everyday.
What are the key synergies between art and business?
Carol: Of all the hundreds of organisations I dealt with at the Disputes Centre, the solution to problems usually lay in creativity, something some organisations, particularly mechanistic ones, just hadn't thought important or even possible for their situation. The same creative process that starts you on the road to a new painting or a new play can spark the idea for a new product, the resolution to a dispute or the solution to a technical puzzle.
Successful organisations sometimes think outside the square, in a way artists do in creating something that has never been done before. Also team work is important in both the arts and in business. My first play I wrote in isolation, sitting at my desk. Some kindly producer then got me into play readings and dramaturgy where many people helped create the final script. The more appreciation of differing points of view and the more teamwork involved, the better the outcome for businesses and for artists.
A favourite memory of your time at the AGSM @ UNSW Business School?
Carol: I was fascinated by the Organisational Behaviours units. I also loved the debates we had on Friday afternoons at the downstairs lounge. We had mixed teams of faculty and students debating in front of an enthusiastic slightly rowdy audience of 40 or 50 students. All sorts of topics were debated (Should corporations embrace social responsibility? How effective is ethical investing? How effective has been the 1983 floating of the Australian Dollar?)