— Cultural Sources of Newness

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“Can artists make the world a better place?” Not surprisingly, given the high-culture context for the discussion (Aspen Ideas Festival) and the panellists (Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer at the New York City Ballet and co-initiator of Arts Strike; designer Fred Dust at IDEO; and philanthropist Dennis Scholl, initiator of Random Acts of Culture), the quick answer is a resounding “yes!” Under the skilled leadership of BBC journalist Bridget Kendall the panellists and the audience came up with questions and thoughts that both supported this claim and illustrated the disturbing societal challenges involved. The program is still available online, so I am capturing here only a few points that struck me, many of which resonate with my research findings.*

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Flying unprepared to an international conference to which one has been invited as a keynote speaker can be considered arrogant and/or unprofessional. I hope I am neither, but this is what I decided to do last week for the 3rd Participatory Innovation Conference in Lahti, Finland . I had not taken the decision alone: the idea was born out of a conversation with Finnish artist Nanna Hänninen , who had been invited to contribute an artistic response to a selection of papers that had been submitted to the conference. During the conversation we had in my office at the WZB in May about artistic interventions in organizations, we decided to propose to the conference organizers to transform our separate roles into a joint contribution that would combine academic and artistic perspectives. Co-chair Helinä Melkas welcomed our unusual and risky suggestion, which she felt fit well with the theme and nature of the conference: innovation and participation as performance. And I felt that the idea fit well with one of the key findings of my research on artistic interventions in organizations, namely that one of the most valuable contributions that artists bring into organizations is the capacity to engage not-knowing. The conference offered an opportunity for me to shift from writing about the concept to actually trying to do it in partnership with an artist.

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