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The Misunderstood Power of Culture

By Robert Fritz

This past week over a million people gathered in Havana Cuba to listen, see, dance to, and celebrate some of the best Latin music there is. It was the brainchild of Colombian rock star Juanes. The idea was rather simple: put on a great concert. This was the second such concert he has arranged. Juanes calls these "concerts for peace." But make no mistake, the events were totally apolitical.

In fact, making music and other arts is a world apart from politics. Too bad for politics. CNN's Soledad O'Brien interviewed many concert goers about politics during the event. None of them were interested. They were in a different universe, one in which peace is a natural state of being – a universe that is both primal and immediate, and yet able to lift the soul to some of the uppermost heights of the human spirit.

The arts have always been more powerful than politics. Back in the Sixties there were two groups that dominated the youth scene: the hippies and the politicos. Forty years later people still listen to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones keep tearing up the stage, but no one remembers the Abbie Hoffman's or Jerry Robin's or Bobby Seale's. The politicos were always trying to get the artist to join their cause. The artists were doing something much more important that the politicos just couldn't get.

Yet most people don't understand the power of the arts, nor the creative process that drives it. Last month I was in Stockholm Sweden working with a group of international leaders who were involved with very large projects such as developing the milk industry for an area in Argentina, migrating from heavy industry to high-tech in a city in China, further developing bioenergy and biofuels in Brazil, and so on. In all, there were fourteen projects, including ones from Chile, Croatia, Kenya, Thailand, Russia, and Zambia. Vinnova, the Swedish governmental agency for innovation systems, an organization that promotes higher levels of research development, brings in groups like these once a year. Vinnova's Marit Werner runs this program, and her intention is to expose the participants to the best processes for accomplishment there are. My role was to teach them how the creative process can be used to organize and plan through the complexity of these enormous undertakings. They learn the principles of structural tension, phased in planning, and the difference between problem-solving and creating. But most importantly, they learned what the cultural reference points were that would give them a platform for the creative process itself.

Every country has the arts. Yet most people do not make the connection between the rich traditions that exist within their midst, and the broader culture in which they are imbedded. For example, it is typical for people to say to me a version of, "You have to understand, Robert, here in (name of country), we don't do things like that." Once when working in Brazil, the managers with whom I was working said, "You have to understand, Robert, here in Brazil…" Well it just so happened that when I was a musician, I had worked with many Brazilian musicians. They were among the best in the world. They were products of an extremely rich music tradition that was identical, as a creative process, to all such traditions. I said to my Brazilian friends, "you are listening to the wrong people in your culture. You should be taking a page out of your musician's and artist's books. They have mastered the creative process."

So before I began to work with the group, we talked about Brazilian music, and Russian music, and Thai music, and African music, and Chinese music. Everyone recognized their own fertile tradition that they could use as their own reference point in managing their projects.

And that is the point. Everyone has his or her own artistic cultural tradition which is made possible by the creative process, the most successful process for accomplishment in history. Beyond the bad habit of chronic problem solving, well beyond the limiting world of politics, the creative process as manifested in the arts can reach higher, deeper, and, from a practical point of view, can be more useful than most anything else.

 © Robert Fritz 2010

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Updated: 10/24/10