• MBA students from the MIT Sloan School of Management work on a cartoon storyboard at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday, March 21, during Sloan Innovation Period. Pictured, from left, are Kielo Ahomaa, Tom Marquet (a Museum School student), Eun-Joung Lee, Lilly Zhu and Corey Halverson.

    Photo / L. Barry Hetherington

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Sloan students explore art of business

Two MBA students are huddled over a table with a camera suspended above them. They shift magazine cut-outs of an egg and an infant, left, right, upside down. "I think a little bit of the yellow ��� this is nice." "We can cut the black out." "Let's cut it." "Brilliant, brilliant." "OK. Move on."

A last peek at the computer monitor and Lilly Zhu hits the spacebar to record one frame of what will become the 9-second animation, "The Origins of Love."

Not your typical day at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

During Sloan Innovation Period last week, Zhu and Kielo Ahomaa were among 12 MBA students who made an animation, created a cartoon storyboard and discussed color theory at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Museum School graduate students and faculty members guided their explorations.

This first-time collaboration between the MIT Leadership Center and the Museum School was designed to show MBA students how to become better leaders by engaging the right sides of their brains.

Deborah Ancona, faculty director of the MIT Leadership Center, notes that similar tasks face artists and leaders. "Leaders need to make sense of new environments, to develop a creative vision and to communicate in order to inspire others. Sensemaking, vision and communication are just as critical in visual art," Ancona said.

Introducing the all-day workshop on Tuesday, March 21, Museum School faculty member David Kelley pointed out that the traditional approach to fine art emphasizes expression and aesthetics. Twenty-first-century artists, he said, are more likely to approach art as creative problem solving.

The Sloan Innovation Period course, called "21st Century Visual Arts Workshop for Business Leaders," was structured with this concept of problem solving in mind.

For example, the MBA students grappled with communications obstacles while creating a cartoon storyboard. Two teams worked from each end of the story, trying to meet in the middle.

Plots twisted and turned. Fish jumped from airplanes. The mysterious woman was revealed to be a spy. "Maybe in the end, it's not our bearded friend's fault," mused a student. The studio hummed with laughter, talk about transitions, speculation about what the other team meant.

This inability to see the complete picture typifies many business situations, the students said. "When two companies are merging, you know that you have to meet in the middle but the stories can miss each other -- as in our case," said first-year student Ahomaa. "We had to work really hard to make the story line make sense somehow."

Ahomaa, who arrived at the workshop protesting that she was "not artistic," raved about the day. "I learned a lot. Every session was thoughtfully linked with business. There is a clear connection."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 5, 2006 (download PDF).

Topics: Business and management, Arts


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