Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Aesthetic Intelligence: Reclaim the power of your senses

Aesthetic Intelligence: Reclaim the power of your senses, by Rochelle T. Mucha, PhD, BookSurge Publishing, 2009, 200 pp., ISBN-13 978-1439238493, $15.99.

Reviewed by Amy Frazier, State University of New York/Buffalo State.

Author Rochelle Mucha spent over two decades as a business consultant before embarking on a doctoral thesis which would fundamentally alter her awareness of certain untapped potentials in organizational life and leadership. The catalyst for Mucha’s insights came from the developing field of Organizational Aesthetics, a branch of organizational development which seeks to improve organizational life by integrating perspectives from the arts (Mucha, 2009, p. 2). Mucha extends major themes from her dissertation in a book for general business readership, entitled Aesthetic Intelligence: Reclaim the Power of Your Senses.

A self-professed theatre lover, Mucha turned to the art form for insights into teamwork, creativity and leadership. Her findings led her to the development of the concept “Aesthetic Intelligence” (AeI©) which defines key elements in what Mucha calls the “coveted culture” of theatre (Mucha, 2009, p. 9). I have a background in the professional theatre, as well as some experience in translating theatre practices to business settings, and was curious to see how Mucha built a bridge between the two worlds.

AeI© is comprised of three elements: Presence, Authenticity and Synthesis. Presence refers to “being and acting in the moment;” (Mucha, 2009, p. 32). Authenticity is “intentional characterization, thinking and preparing for whom you have to be for that audience, for that purpose, at that time,” (Mucha, 2009, p. 44). Synthesis pulls together presence and authenticity in a moment-by-moment ability to capture “the synergy of presence...while being authentically in character” (Mucha, 2009, p. 48). I found a connection to the actor’s work quite clear: be in the moment, be in character, do both of them at once.

Presence, authenticity and synthesis give rise to a style of communication Mucha describes as “Generative Conversation,” which is “emergent and begins with deep listening” (Mucha, 2009, p. 59). Generative Conversation is found in the “coveted culture” of theatre, where:
team play is a given, and everyone has their eye on the same prize; feedback is daily and embedded; experimentation informs structure, is welcomed and not punished; individuals passionately and proudly invest 100 percent of their focus and energy every day; pride and playfulness, compromise and competency, self-interest and collaboration, and structure and freedom stand side by side. (Mucha, 2009, p. 12)

Having worked to articulate the value of theatre in describing some of my own programs, I admire Mucha’s ability to paint a compelling picture of the power, openness, embrace of failure for the sake of truth, and connectedness found within theatre cultures. She skillfully builds arguments for why these qualities would improve creativity and connectedness in many business cultures.

In her use of the word “aesthetic,” however, Mucha tends to leave the reader hanging. “Aesthetic,” is a word often used to describe an awareness of beauty, or a particular artistic style; however, it has its roots in the ability to perceive with the senses (Mucha, 2009, p. 8). Mucha explains this, but falls short of really laying out for the reader how the senses contribute to the qualities of AeI©. She references the six senses (sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell plus intuition), but leaves out valuable senses such as the vestibular sense (involving movement and balance), and the kinesthetic sense (Hannaford, 2005, pp. 37, 48). Omitting the senses of balance and kinesthesia, which feed into a person’s felt sense of grounded presence (Kabat-Zinn, 2005, p. 219), seems to be an oversight.

I also see a missed opportunity in not exploring exactly how actors develop awareness of their senses. Specific exercises using the breath and techniques for centering are fundamental tools for the actor. Leaving out these practical details strands the reader, ironically, in a theoretical landscape, unsupported by knowledge or information on how exactly one can begin to cultivate a state of presence.

Also, in terms of post-IQ intelligences, it appears that Mucha’s concept of AeI© may be an interesting bundling of Gardner’s (1983) bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences––which does not make the theory behind AeI© uninteresting or unimportant, but does draw questions to my mind as to Mucha’s stated focus on the senses, without giving a more detailed explanation of their operation.

In her exploration of leadership, Mucha returns to what she does best: bringing a seasoned consultant’s eye to the intersection between business and theatre. An “Aesthetically Intelligent” leader is present, authentic, and a superb synthesizer of ideas, impulses, talents, needs, goals and directives. A theatre director and an organizational leader both “glean the optimal performance of the individuals for the whole, the performance, the organization” (p. 133). A theatre director’s ability to listen in deeply and to care about person, process and outcome are related to the role of change leadership. Once again, I connected with Mucha’s ability to build a bridge between two worlds, in ways I have often found difficult to articulate.

Mucha (2009) states that the twin imperatives of business and the arts are to “cultivate an environment of connection and creativity...(and) develop robust and healthy relationships in a diverse and global marketplace” (p. 21). The AeI© principles of presence, authenticity, communicating from a basis of generative language, and cultivating an environment of experimentation, self-interest and collaboration form a solid platform for imparting the cultural wisdom of theatre to organizational settings. Despite gaps in information regarding the role of the senses, I found Mucha’s work to offer an insightful, enthusiastic, and provocative recipe for furthering these twin objectives.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Hannaford, C. Ph.D. (2005) Smart moves: Why learning is not all in your head. Salt Lake City, UT: Great River Books.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005) Coming to our senses. New York: Hyperion.
Mucha, R. T. (2009). Aesthetic Intelligence: Reclaim the power of your senses. Atlanta, GA: Author.


rochelle said...

Take 2 - with spelling corrections

I am both flattered and intrigued by your astute and critical assessment of my book. I wrote it to have some tangible way to begin the dialogue on the potential of the intersection of business and the performing arts. Your comments, in and of themselves, is satisfying.
The exploration of this intersection, is organic, very much a work in progress. Since the publication, I have moved some of my focus towards the power of the connections that are culturally embedded in the world of the performing arts, and perhaps you will discover this too.
And, I agree - there is much more to do to elaborate on the senses. I think my intention, even though it may have fallen short of its goal, was to emphasize how in order to be present - one must employ all of our senses - be in the moment - absorb our landscape, and what is offered both implicitly as well as explicitly. I welcome the feedback.
Thank you for beginning this conversation. I invite you, or other readers to contact me if they choose (www.businessasperformanceart.com), and I welcome exploring other ways we may collaborate.
Rochelle Mucha

Amy Frazier said...


Thanks for your comment. It’s an honor to connect with you directly about your work.

This is such a rich field of exploration! Bringing awareness to how a domain culture is constructed and shedding light on how it operates require a key eye and abundant curiosity, which I really appreciated in your descriptions of theatre culture.

I’ll be interested to hear what you’re discovering as you look at the power of connections in the performing arts. They have certainly enriched my life.

May the conversation continue!

Amy Frazier