In the new Digital Age, organisational success will not solely depend upon the ability to adopt, develop and exploit technologies. Successful organisations need to distinguish the human-based nature of their organisational life and components (Adler, 2010). Indeed, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, organisations will be increasingly challenged to develop a capacity for change and innovation. The pace of change and the disruptive nature of innovations will require that organisations become more and more agile, intuitive, imaginative, and open to change. This can be achieved only by developing the human-based dimensions of an organisation. Therefore, the Fourth Industrial Revolution it is not only about embracing new disruptive digital-based technologies and learning machines, but it is also about shaping organisational environments that let people express their real potentials and be in touch with their positive emotions.
In the Digital Age it will be fundamental to take into account that organisations’ functions and existence is characterised and based on vital phenomena. These include, at the same time, the technological dimensions and the emotive and inner dimensions of human-based characteristics. These two dimensions are inseparable unless an organisation is made into a ‘machine-like system’, removing the human presence. This means that technology and humanity have to be seen as two intertwined pillars of development and continuously put in conversation.
In order, to acknowledge and point out the dual and inseparable twofold technological and human-based nature of organisations in the digital age, the view of the organisation as a techno-human system is introduced. This view considers organisations as living organisms (Burns and Stolker, 1961) and stresses that organisational behaviours are strongly affected by aesthetics and emotions in organisations (Fineman, 1985; Frost et al., 1985; Linstead and Höpfl, 2000; Mintzberg, 1985; Strati, 1992; 2000a; Turner, 1990). Accordingly, the technological and rational-based knowledge assets as well as the organisational aesthetic and emotive features have to be managed by organisations in order to sustain success and achieve excellence (Strati, 1992, 2000a; Taylor and Hansen, 2005). Indeed, emotions play a central role in explaining the quality of the organisational value creation capacity. They act as enablers and/or barriers towards business models and processes innovation, having the capacity to moralise and demoralise, mobilise and immobilise organisational energies (Frank, 1988). In particular, emotions affect the engagement of people to give the best of themselves as well as to exercise their curiosity and creativity in order to see new possible and valuable solutions. According to Dick Richards (1995) “engagement occurs when [people] experience a deep sense of caring about the work, a sense that what [they] are doing is worthwhile in and for itself.” (p. 31). The creation of this ‘sense of caring’ requires that organisations address people’s emotions (Richards, 1995). They affect people’s behaviours as well as act as a catalyst for the development of business performance drivers, such as satisfaction, enthusiasm, flexibility, loyalty, creativity, change and innovation propensity, identity, diversity, culture, risk taking, and so on (Flam, 1993; Schiuma, 2009, 2011). They help to explain the organisation’s capacity of being adaptable, resilient and innovative.
In the new digital age where the computational power of machines will enable higher efficiency and control, emotions play an important role in explaining the level of people’s engagement which in turns affect the employees’ capacity of being creative and innovative. This means that the digitisation process of organisations and economy will be coupled by an increasing acknowledgement that emotions and other soft dimensions such people’s energy, experiences and ethics represent an important source for organisational performance.
In order to enable people to discover and express their creative potentials and being engaged organisations can shape their organisational context into a creative environment. A creative environment aims ‘to shape a space and time’ in which people can be engaged with their emotions, exert creative thinking and deploy their energy in order to make an impact on organisational value creation dynamics. The creation of an organisational creative environment is based on the idea that technology and humanity can be synergistically integrated. It represents a platform in which the rational and emotive elements of an organisation are fused and nurtured by each other although they have a very different role. The emotive dimension involves touching people’s feelings and moods, and making sure they are in touch with and present to themselves. Conversely, the rational dimension refers to the technologies, rational knowledge, and set of rules and procedures that define how activities have to be carried out.
The fundamental scope of a creative environment is to spur the full engagement of human potential and most importantly to avoid ‘silos thinking’, such as overspecialisation, and/or a paralysis of critical and creative thinking among employees. At the basis of the creation of a creative environment resides the recognition that organisations have a living nature and that at the heart of their value creation mechanisms there are people.
On the basis of the above assumptions in the next session it is discussed how organisations can shape creative environments by managing their aesthetic dimensions.
Shaping creative environments by managing organisational aesthetic dimensions
In shaping a creative environment, the key challenge for managers is how to practically handle the emotive characteristics and elements of an organisation so that they can be integrated with technology and the other technical and rational-based knowledge characterising of the organisation’s processes. For this purpose, acknowledging the techno-human nature of an organisation, a powerful approach the management of the aesthetic characteristics of an organisation. Indeed, the organisational capacity of handling emotions and other key soft human-based value drivers, such as experiences, energy, engagement and ethics, can be built by focusing and managing the organisational aesthetic dimensions. In fact, aesthetics and emotions are two dimensions which are closely intertwined. Aesthetics generate feelings and feelings affect aesthetics. Aesthetics can be used to mobilise and manage emotions within and around organisations, and emotions can be put in place to better tune organisational aesthetic characteristics. The management of aesthetic dimensions within organisations equals to affect how people make sense of their outer and inner reality by using their senses. The management actions can be focused on the aesthetic experiences and/or properties of an organisation. Organisational aesthetic experiences refer to the quality of employees’ experiences within the organisation, including their well-being, the quality of their daily work activities and the engagement level in what they do. This idea can be further extended to include all possible organisations’ stakeholders; in which case the management of organisational experience corresponds to how stakeholders perceive the organisation and its products/services and activities. On the other hand, organisational aesthetic properties characterise the aesthetic qualities of the organisation as a whole. This involves the capacity of the organisation’s tangible and intangible infrastructure (from equipment and workplace to culture and climate) to affect people’s (stakeholders’) experiences. For this reason, organisations are increasingly paying attention to the integration of interior design and playfulness in workplaces and are paying great attention to the creation of an organisational atmosphere in which employees could be happy, inspired and energised. However, the recognition of the role and relevance of the aesthetic dimensions of an organisation requires the definition of approaches and tools to handle the creation, development, and impact of the organisational aesthetic experiences and properties. For this reason, the knowledge domain of the arts can be approached and instrumentally used. In fact, the power of the arts is the capacity to define and shape aesthetic properties and experiences. Accordingly, the arts from an instrumental point of view can be considered as aesthetic technologies, i.e. art forms and/or artistry that are instrumentally used in order to deal with or solve a business/organisational issue. This means that from a practical point of view in order to manage organisational aesthetic dimensions artistic projects and practices can be adopted by organisations. Through the arts it is possible to foster people’s aesthetic experiences and manipulate the aesthetic properties of an organisation’s infrastructure. This, in turn, supports managers in handling the organisation’s emotive, energetic, ethical, and experiential features and to integrate these dimensions with the organisations’ rational-based assets and technology grounding the working mechanisms of business processes.