Art and/or Science?

We hear quite often, including in business, that something is "more art than science" (or vice versa). This could apply to such varied activities as decision making, customer focus and leadership. However, before we try to determine what might be true in a particular situation, maybe it's a good idea to examine the difference between art and science.

Art typically suggests physical things like paintings, sculptures or works of literature. Science is also physical, with laboratories and experiments - and complicated formulae. Each can produce both positive and negative reactions, in all senses of the word. But what is the fundamental difference?

It comes down to art being subjective (it depends on how the artist and viewer or listener interprets something) while science is objective (there are universal rules and relationships). Put another way, art seeks to make something general more specific and science aims at general solutions to specific questions.

Now, why is this distinction important for business, and in particular understanding how to approach a situation? Essentially, it depends whether we've seen this situation before, or not. If we have, we can apply more personal, unique, even "artistic" thinking to our process. It means using our intuition and accumulated experience, deciding what's relevant. If not, we need to be more calculating, relying on information and data to reach a conclusion.

Of course, it's unlikely that any situation could be all art or all science, just more of one than the other. However new it might be, there's usually some experience we, or a team member can use. Maybe the real question is - are we too quick to see the "or" before we've completed the "and"? We'll come back to that again.


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