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The Triumvirate of Essential Skills Artists and Critics Bring to the Workplace

Three reasons why your company needs team members with soft skills


Were you an art history major? Are you more concerned with ancient Greek civilization than the final score in last night’s sports ball event? Do you regularly spend time preparing for auditions or find yourself awake at 3:00 AM on a week night writing your next masterwork? If so, don’t despair. You may still fit in quite nicely in a place that offers substantial paychecks in return for a job well done. As a matter of fact, you should be able to provide something of considerable value to any organization.

I’m not going to toss out a gaggle of statistics in an attempt to convince you that making the transition to a corporate or nonprofit arena is right or plausible in your case. What I am going to do is detail the ways in which someone of your critical, philosophical, or artistic inclinations can be of considerable worth in the world of techie types, executives, and holders of M.B.A. degrees. Consider the impact of the following three transferable skills.

1. Communication Skills

Graduates of liberal arts schools and creative individuals tend to be effective communicators, and this skill can pay great dividends in day job environments. Most of us have become aware either through research or experience of the fact that strong communication skills are a driving factor in career success. Clarity and empathy in communication are particularly valuable when applied to corresponding across all levels of an organization. Corporate and nonprofit entities alike are made up of many departments populated with people from diverse backgrounds who are guided by a wide variety of interests and talents. People who can correspond effectively with all of the diverse individuals who form an organization are key to that organization’s success.

In addition to the all important internal organizational correspondence, both written and verbal, there are a few specific writing styles that may be essential to your success. Marketing copy must be written for all manner of campaigns, including email campaigns. Technical writing by one definition or another is required for stacks of documents that must be written to define projects and record the nature of those projects for future reference. If you lack prior experience with these kinds of writing, you can prepare in advance through research and practice, then further grow in your understanding as you take on work assignments.

2. Project Management

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your massive artistic endeavors, your thesis research and defense, or your experience running an arts festival or producing an independent film don’t build strong project management skills that should be coveted in the average workplace. You just have to be able to adapt those experiences to suit the specific needs of day job projects and combine them with your strong communication skills in order to assist in delivering projects on time and on budget.

By simply learning the core values and offerings of a given business or organization and becoming familiar with the key players on the various internal teams, you can take an effective first step in the direction of transforming your past experience in other arenas into successful project management skills in the strange new world in which you find yourself. As you apply yourself to the challenges that come your way, your project management chops will only strengthen. Your talent for writing and corresponding in a clear fashion will only further enhance those chops.

3. Balance of Critical and Creative Thinking

Your imagination may suggest solutions that come from an entirely different and certainly valuable place than those proposed by more standard thinking. Instead of understanding problems within a framework based in past organizational experience or rooted in business school curricula, you may see them in an entirely new way and propose solutions that no one else on your team would have thought to suggest. Your original perspective might just be exactly the thing that creates new opportunities and paves the way to innovative solutions.

Another way in which your creative thinking can enhance the workplace is by opening up the minds of your co-workers and leaders to the value of social entrepreneurship. I’m not suggesting that the ability to wield such influence is exclusive to creative types and humanities majors, but we may be particularly adept at inspiring others to embrace a mindset of social responsibility within our workplaces. In the process, the commitment you exhibit for intrapreneurship and compassion for people in your community may pay unexpected dividends for your career.

So, keep writing that book of poetry on your lunch break or side gigging as an actor on the local stage. By all means, continue pursuing your passion for being creative and for developing a sense of perspective about human history. Discover a way for that passion to fuel a full time career or explore it in your spare time, but along your journey from Inferno to Paridiso, don’t sell short your ability to make worthwhile contributions in any workplace. Your employers and your community just might be better off for your efforts.

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