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“Art is a conduit toward human needs and perception,” Maeda began, previewing a key topic of his talk, focusing on the relationship between art and leadership. “Art is about asking questions, which is a good way of looking at how to solve a problem. I like to apply how artists think to look at how to improve design, technology…and now leadership.”

Maeda predicts that future art-school grads “may not make art or objects, but instead make or remake organizations.” However, to comprehend the artistic process as a management strategy they may need an art education, not because art is a cloistered and mysterious endeavor but because notions of “creativity” at work have typically veered into cartoonish directions.

On the TED stage, he also displayed a series of slides with statements that became a mantra. “Tech makes possibilities, design makes solutions, art makes questions, leadership makes actions,” they read, summing up the relationship between these disciplines.

Maeda then showed two charts. One was a traditional, rigid-looking hierarchical organization with managers at the top and everyone else below in tiers. Another resembled wheels with managers and staff radiating outward, connected by spokes and arcs. The latter was not only more beautiful but, as he explained, more appropriate to the way we socialize in offices in 2012. That is, not in static, unmoving, and outdated rows of cubicles, but as dynamic, interacting parts in open-plan offices. More artwork than organizational chart, the graphic reflected the way an art-trained manager might organize teams—by analyzing and understanding systems of people and how they connect as human beings rather than by corporate titles or rank.

As I applauded Maeda along with the TED crowd, I had to think of Andy Warhol’s famous quote: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art… good business is the best art.” Decades apart, Maeda and Warhol reached a similar conclusion: When business is regarded as an artistic endeavor, it has the same potential as an art piece to challenge and impact every aspect of our lives. And to win and hold the public’s interest, just as any art form does, a business must be technically well-executed, as well as imaginative and engaging at the same time.