Leonardo Da Vinci, Please Call the Office ; A Canadian Management-Training Program Uses the Inventor's Famed Improvisational Prowess as a Model

By Ruth Walker writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 2, 2000 | Go to article overview

Leonardo Da Vinci, Please Call the Office ; A Canadian Management-Training Program Uses the Inventor's Famed Improvisational Prowess as a Model


Ruth Walker writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


One of the hottest management gurus around nowadays may just be someone who lived half a millennium ago: Leonardo da Vinci.

The concept seems perfectly logical to Doug Macnamara, general manager of the Banff Centre for Management, in Alberta. He's all fired up about the new seminar the center is introducing this year: a leadership program drawing on the 1998 book, "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci," by Michael J. Gelb.

"We're going through a renaissance nowadays," Mr. Macnamara says in an interview in Toronto. Citing the explosive growth of the New Economy, so who better to guide executives eager to make their mark as "agents of change" and creative leaders, he asks, than the original, quintessential Renaissance man himself, da Vinci?

The Banff Centre's seminar is part of a larger trend toward business educators realizing that leadership is an art as well as a science - and that approaching management strictly by the numbers isn't going to cut it nowadays.

"A lot of what senior managers need is qualities like flexibility, the ability to inspire followers, creativity, and empathy," says Daniel Cushing of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. "But you could spend two years in business school and never hear those words."

For a second year now, the "residence week" Rotman's executive MBA candidates spend in Toronto at the beginning of their two-year program has included sessions with the Avenue Road Arts School here. The students do improvisational-theater exercises as well as visual-arts work - painting and collages.

Of these, the improv exercises have proven the more useful, Mr. Cushing suggests. "The mantra is 'Everything's changing.' What do you do when there isn't a road map, a tool box, a framework? Artists are great improvisers and inventors, and a big part of being a manager is improvising; you can't just turn to a book."

At Banff, leadership training and the arts have long been linked; the Banff Centre for the Arts is an organizational sibling of the Centre for Management.

Part of the concept of the new innovation and renewal seminar is active, hands-on learning, Macnamara says. "We'll be working with ceramics," he explains. "That will provide a physical interaction, and show how to get down below the surface levels of issues."

Why ceramics?

"A lot of ceramics is about texture - it's about figure and ground," Macnamara explains. "It's about what is background, what is theme. How do we train our eye to spot the nuggets we should be focusing on? Ceramics opens [the participants] up to other possibilities."

One other possibility the center tried but has given up was a modern dance unit, he adds. "That was too 'out there,' even when we told them they wouldn't have to wear tights," Macnamara adds with a chuckle. …

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