Pori Creative Futures Conference PAPER v4





Perttu Salovaara

University of Tampere

Department of Management Studies

33014 Tampereen Yliopisto


gsm +36-20-573 6537









This leadership study analyses how arts, creativity and leadership are connected. The material for the research was gathered from an internet blog-discussion of a group of professional artists, educators and academics.


The material suggests broad connections between arts and organizations, but on a linguistic level there seems to be a wide-spread dichotomy between arts and organizations and even deep suspicion from both sides. Since arts is described as being a cure for the sufferings of business life, the image of a fairy tale “The Beauty and the Beast” is employed: the Beauty and the Beast illustrate the dichotomy, and the point of the tale is the love that transforms the Beast into a handsome prince.


In the analysis altogether five distinctive themes were taken under consideration. They produce two discourses, Identity and Negating realities. These discourses emphasize how the question about the connections between arts, creativity and leadership turns to an ontological question of how do we see arts and change.




“The time is right for the cross-fertilization of the arts and leadership”, Nancy Adler (2006) states boldly. As current research shows, there is a growing tendency to ask what organizational and management scientists could learn from a dialogue with arts and aesthetics (Ropo & Parviainen 2001; Hatch, Kostera, Kozminski 2005; Sauer 2005; Adler 2006; Strati 2000, 2005, 2007).


According to above authors, much of today’s ‘mains stream’ leadership research is based on a rational model of organization which takes leadership into account a) in cognitive terms and b) as an individual attempt. This study is based on a) an aesthetic approach on organization studies (Strati 2000; Ropo, Parviainen, Koivunen 2002) and b) an understanding of socially created leadership ((Smircich and Morgan 1982; Hosking & Morley 2004; Ropo & Sauer 2003). This paper examines how relations between arts, creativity and leadership are constructed.


Chia (1997, 2002) claims that from epistemological point of view there is a need for a more robust theory that would enable us to develop a more insightful and richer alternative to understanding the phenomenon of organization. Making sense of human behavior in organizations requires also understanding about social processes, emotions and bodily knowledge (Ropo, Parviainen, Koivunen 2002). These are rather domain of aesthetics than of positivistic realism. Instead of analyzing organizations as stabile entities, this line of research identifies itself with organizational ontology of becoming (Chia 2002; Tsoukas & Chia 2002) and emergence (Carlsen 2006).


In an interpretative analysis, a part of the research methodology is to make the researchers position transparent (Van Maanen 1989; Czarniawska 1998). The same applies to narrative therapies (White and Epston 1990) and hermeneutics (Gadamer 1960). The following is about positioning myself and making transparent researcher’s background influences.


I have worked as an organization consultant dealing with leadership and change management for the last nine years. At the same time I have continued to study philosophy, which was my major subject whilst still studying at the university. I play guitar and have used arts in my work quite a lot, so linking arts, creativity and organizations was not a new idea. My link was thus biased: yes, arts is being used in organizations; yes, creativity is sometimes lacking in organizations – as elsewhere too; yes, arts is often used to stimulate creativity and to provide new ways of visualizing various issues; yes, art methods are sometimes hard to apply, since people regard them as “non-serious business”; no, art is not in “everyday use” in organizations.


I got acquainted with the material through our CREA-project (Leadership in Creative Economy). There was a discussion with my professor Arja Ropo that - for me as a philosopher - opened up the whole issue with arts and organizations: it is an epistemological question. As she put: “What other ways of knowing about organizing and leadership are there than the cognitive faculties?” That question rang a bell for me immediately for several reasons.


First, business leaders “know” that there are the formal organization and the informal organization, like in saying “nothing is achieved by deciding it in the management team, it has to happen on the shop-floor too”. That is a consideration about the process (how), not only about the content (what), resembling the strategy-as-practice-movement (eg. Mantere 2003).


Second, leaders often show a concern for both good results and people’s well-being. These two issues are naturally not separated, but managing systems (with Total Quality Management, Lean Management, Balanced Scorecard, CRM, ERP…) tends to position employees as “passive” recipients of “active” management. “The other” knowing (human, emotional, sensuous) is only scarcely used – I mean, it is rather hard for a manager to verify that knowledge with a technical background in an action oriented environment.


Third, connecting arts with epistemology made a difference to me: Art is not a mere useful tool, but a platform for organizational research. If we need “a more insightful understanding of the modern organized world” (Chia 1997), arts can offer ways of seeing things in a new light.




A relation between arts and organizations in general has existed for a long time. Managers have always liked to be photographed with a piece of art in the background; or the new Volkswagen luxury car Phaeton, including a lot of handwork, is being marketed as a piece of manufactured art (Pelzer 2006).


At the Davos World Economic Forum, in a session entitled “If an Artist Ran Your Business”, one of the questions studied was “What can business leaders learn from artists?” Flatter organization structures, quest for creativity and a need to utilize human capacities have had an electrifying effect on leadership: running an organization calls for combining efficiency and productivity with creativity and understanding of human growth. “The economy of the future will be about creating value and appropriate forms, and no one knows more about the processes for doing that than artists.” (R. Austin, as cited in Adler 2006, p. 487).


The question with which arts world has been struggling is designing a creative production process. The leadership question is not “how to lead creativity?”, since that would implicitly suggest an instrumental power relation, and that is not the way arts is understood in the material. The initial research interest grew out of question “How to combine (artistic) freedom and (organizational) direction?” The leadership question here is being reformulated as follows: How to support dialogue between individual and group level? To study that question, the following question was first posed to material: On the level of language, what kind of reality is being constructed between arts, creativity and leadership?




The material for this research was collected from an internet blog-discussion by the members of AACORN (Arts, Aesthetics, Creativity, and Organization Research Network) from years 2004-2007. AACORN is a network for academics, educators, consultants, and artists from Australasia, Europe and the Americas who are interested in aesthetics and creativity in organizational settings. There are currently about 200 members at AACORN, who include some internationally acknowledged organization scientists, leadership researchers and artists.


Research focuses on the texts produced between 2004 and March 2007. Material consists of 137 A4-pages of blog-discussion of the members of AACORN. Data is organized in four parts. The basic data (D0) consists of discussions from 2004 to 2007 with tens of different topics, and it was collected for this research purpose. Data 1-3 are reproductions of AACORN itself. Data 1 is a blog-entry entitled The Role of the Artist, data 2 is entitled Management as an Art, and data 3 Art’s Place in Organization Studies. All the data can be found in www.aacorn.net.




With discourse analysis methods the aim is to study how categories of arts, creativity and leadership are being created, maintained and changed in a text.


First, there was a need for general account of the content. After having studied the text I employed a search-engine for the central terms to find out how many times they were referred to, and in what kind of connections. Through textual analysis and search-engine certain themes were recognized as repeating patterns.


In order to make sense and analyze those themes the second step was to apply philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer 1960). Hermeneutics provides a way for analyzing the material from the perspective of pre-understanding. This is not an attempt to go “into their heads” but asking a question: On what grounds is a sentence X understandable in this context? What kind of prejudices and presumptions are in action for the sentence X to make sense? These questions are built on a holistic understanding of language, in which “each word supposes a whole of language to give it full force as a word” (Taylor 1995, p. 94). A word and its context place a reader in a linguistic dimension, and the aim is to study meaning as interplay between the context and the interpreter.

A hermeneutic experience is an experience of “something as something. According to that idea I was searching in the text for something of a thingness-kind, “the thing” or phenomenon at stake (Figal 2006). The question is: what is the text talking about? That I then ended up describing the phenomena with a fairy tale image of “The Beauty and the Beast” certainly owes to following sources: David M. Boje’s analysis of Disney-studios as “Tamara-land” (1995), to Erika Sauer’s (2005) use of caricatures at the analysis phase, and to Alvesson’s (2003) and Czarniawska’s (1998) encouragement for researchers to find alternative ways of reporting.


In this research I will employ a detailed analysis of data that keeps alive the “richness” of actual events. Certainly, during this kind of qualitative research, any researcher would write a different analysis – story – about the material. The point of different readings is to illustrate multivocal interpretations and create a relationship between marginalized and dominant stories with the hope of some unique outcomes (White and Epston 1990; Freedman and Combs 1996).


From a methodological point of view the latest strand adding to these discussions is opened in the Academy of Management Review with a theme on “richness” (Weick 2007), which suggests that we should be paying closer attention to the “texts” (artifacts) we are studying. “To go ‘to the scene of the accident’ in search of meaning, and to locate the scene of that accident deep inside one’s own head, is to catch the significance of the accident scene and to use that significance to reanimate analysis.” (Weick 2007, p. 16) As Weick’s research on Mann Gulf incident shows (Weick 1993), generalizations and habitual reading leave sometimes important cues aside.

What does that attempt mean when the material is text?


Weick mentions five lessons for research to make an account rich. First lesson “Reading Builds Richness” requires “true reading” that is capable of restoring projects. In terms of research, the scene of accident is “inside one’s own head” (p. 16). The implication of that is to use one’s own imagination to understand the scene. The second lesson is that multiplicity of theories adds to conceptual variety of reading the scene. In that sense theories protect against hubris, one-eyed or too limited reading. Weick calls the second lesson “Read with Theories in Hand Because Theories Increase Requisite Variety”. The third lesson, “Rich Comparisons Breed Further Richness”, is illustrated by an example: before going to an art exhibition, buy a postcard, and then later compare it with an original work. The point is to make account with own prejudices that do not prevail when reflected with the reality.

The fourth lesson, “Simple Accounts Mean You’re Not Paying Attention”, says that the most obvious and clear cut truths or sentences might be worth reconsidering. Easy explanations and almost “everyday psychology” hide sometimes much more variety and wider possible explanations than we usually find. The requirement for rich research is to break through the walls of obvious reflections. The fifth lesson is about avoiding the use of “be”-verb and giving a more detailed account of the event. From outsiders point of view it is true that someone might “just sit there and read”, but that would hardly be the reader’s self-description. We cannot know what s/he thinks, but we know out of our own experience that a) there is a content to what we read, b) we are not just there, but there are also reasons why and what we read, and why in that particular place, c) if someone stops us, we react to it according to disturbance and person, and that d) we might as well have bodily sensations or mental conditions that very much affect the situation (cold, warm, comfortable, back ache, waiting for a friend, having a hurry to read for exam…).




In the first phase of the analysis five distinctive themes (contents, “things”, phenomena) were formulated. When “packaging” and labeling the themes (Czarniawska 1998), I realized that they form two discourses. The one is about identity building (themes 1-3), the other about Negating realities (themes 4-5). Before going to the themes and discourses in detail, here is a short overview:


Three themes that constitute a discourse called “Identity”:

1. “The Beauty and the Beast”: Arts and business are counterparts and thus a dichotomy.

2. “The Cure”: From the perspective of arts, business has a massive set of negative qualities, which are a symptom of sickness, but arts can function as a cure.

3. “The Voice of Integration”: In the midst of this dichotomy there are marginalized voices to be heard that call for ‘destroying the fences’, for integration.


Another discourse entitled “Negating realities” consists of two themes:

4. “Seeing the Unusual”: Arts reconstruction of reality challenges the usual ways of thinking and seeing.

5. “Reproducing the Denial”: It is shown that commands lead easily to a denial. How is resistance reproduced?




Meet the Beauty and the Beast (theme 1)! This myth is reconstructed by a dichotomy “the beauty of the arts and the beast-like business (and management sciences)”.


The dichotomy is illustrated from the arts side by sayings like “as an artist I have certain aesthetic standards which in the business world had to be (…) compromised to economic perspectives”. (D3, p. 2) Seeing the other in negative terms applies for both parties: “virtually all of my business school colleagues have had a negative set against the idea that artistic perspectives and processes could have a useful place in management education” (D3, p. 7)


How are relations between arts, creativity and leadership built on this ground? This is a typical comment:


“In addition to its rather instrumental and manipulative role of incorporation into the capitalist organisation project as a 'new tool' for 'leveraging' efficiency and effectiveness, art must be nurtured in its form as opposition to and critique of the excesses of capitalism.” (D0, p. 99)


Arts in this discussion function as counter-part for capitalism, business, greed, efficiency, manipulation etc. Arts are often seen as having value as such, and its usefulness is a taboo. Pelzer (2006), for example, argues that this separation is in the very heart of arts: it owes its identity to separation and independency. Arts would thus not be arts without a separation from routine flow of events. An experience of arts represents discontinuity. It makes us pay attention, thus disconnecting and distancing or bringing us closer to something. It also stops the natural or dominant flow of things and halts the movement.


Where does the dichotomy of “the Beauty and the Beast” originate? An interpretation of the fairy tale says that the Beast is actually bestial, but the woman's love is capable of transforming him into a handsome prince. That is rather close to a picture given in the material: art might be capable of transforming business into a more handsome “human economics”. Arts are a cure (theme 2) for saving humanity in the midst of greedy business life.


Chia (2002) claims that “’organized worlds’ have been creatively and painstakingly forged out from the initial undifferentiated flux of raw experience”. From that point of view organizing is about “freezing” a natural flow of things. In a mechanistic, machine-like, inhumanly bureaucratic and organized world the function of arts is to make things alive and moving again.


"Managers and management students don't understand how to create on cue, how to innovate reliably on a deadline....." I had a student about my own age, here in Tasmania a few years back, say to me "You actually want us to wrote what we think??? We're not allowed to do that!!!" We have generations of students, faculty, and managers who have been punished for independent, creative thinking, and who cringe at the thought of a "peer critique" (certainly my own experience as student, manager, and faculty) -- Perhaps a year or two in the art school should be required for everyone!” (D0, p. 89)


It is generally held that organizational or “everyday” life suppresses creativity, so it should be no wonder if art school or arts can provide a medicine for that illness. Creativity is a cure for more courageous and open way of living.


If cure is needed, what is the illness? To put the question into the form of dialectics of question and answer (Gadamer 1960): If art is an answer, what is the question? A symptom of the illness was lack of creativity, which – according to material – is an effect of organizations attempt to stabilize the natural movement of things. Illness appears on an ontological level: arts are calling for a change from “being ontology” to “becoming ontology” (Chia 1997), or to an emergent approach (Jones 2000; Carlsen 2006).


The dichotomy of the Beauty and the Beast is questioned only in few occasions. The voice of integration (theme 3) is more visible in later discussions (2007):


”I am eagerly interested in understanding the artistic impact on any of the fields, we all share interest for, but I am just as convinced that we need to destroy the fences, that we have created at the same time.” (D3, p. 121)


“To me this is not just about building a bridge between the fields or professions of arts and business. Its all about humans.” (D0, p. 100)


“(A)rcheologist or curator (…) will not understand our ways of framing (and fragmenting) our field/s. Sometimes they will not even understand the distinction between an economist and a management scholar.” (D3, p. 14)


These are clear signs of avoiding a clear-cut distinction between the Beauty and the Beast. In the fairy tale they were connected by love that broke the evil spell and transformed the Beast into a prince. However, it was argued earlier that the identity of arts depends on its role as a counter-part. If arts become integrated, what happens to their identity?


In Finland there are several on-going discussions about the role of arts in a society. These discussions concern “the University of Excellence” (an initiative of uniting the universities of economics, technology and arts), the new Music house in the center of Helsinki, and the financing of cultural institutions. A common character is that arts should be integrated to the rest of society for financial purposes. In both AACORN and these Finnish discussions there is a fear of arts loosing their distinctive, unique character if integrated with non-arts.


The development of integration is an on-going affair, and as such that may not sound like a big step. It is yet noteworthy, first, that these considerations are taking place, and second, that it is the Beauty who is taking initiative.



Arts are sometimes believed to represent reality, but not ever photography is doing that. An artist’s work is commenting reality in terms of construction, not reproducing it, and in this way it brings “a power relation and its asymmetry to light”. (Strati 2000) An asymmetrical power relation emphasizes the role of artist as a ‘creator’ and constructor. (Here are also the roots of the myth of genius, to which I will return later.) Growing from the roots of creation, seeing the unusual (theme 4) is an elementary condition for arts.


Seeing the unusual is followed for example in a AACORN blog-entry called “Critical incidents”. There is an example where a theatre play struck a chord with some spectators.


“Once again, the gritty and real performances from Al and Augustine created reactions in some audience members that were significant or "critical" enough to lead to a restlessness to change something. Over the last year I have received a lot of feedback about that sketch creating a "critical incident" in the lives of some of our audience members, particularly those who see danger signs in their own lives after watching and experiencing the piece.” (D0, p 36)


Seeing the unusual does not mean that a work of art or event as such would be unusual, but that the interpretation of it becomes meaningful – even so meaningful that it might have power to change things. The usual would transform to unusual. Something happens to the way we perceive “the reality”. In being provocative, critical or incomprehensible the arts are challenging the usual ways of seeing. In confronting arts the interpreter becomes “restless” and as a result – in a way – negates his/her existing reality. He is not anymore seeing it with innocent eyes or taking it for granted as usual, since it now ‘sticks out’ of the former routine flow of perceptions


Organizations, on the other hand, are being run by routine processes and management systems which stabilize an organization, “freeze” it. Since arts is often implicitly commenting and challenging the existing structures and patterns, it can help in the process of “unfreezing”. The widely-spread ‘common-sense’ change model of unfreezing-moving-refreezing, developed by Kurt Lewin in 1940’s, stays ontologically on the grounds of a stabile status quo, since it ends with refreezing. So the question remains whether arts relation to change is episodic or continuous. (Tsoukas and Chia 2002) On an ontological level arts relation to change is ambiguous: arts claim to stand on “emergent” groundings (identity of arts is built on change), but on a linguistic level it shows more characteristics of a stabile “being ontology”.


There are notions in the text about the technical, instrumentalist, manipulative, provocative or organizing qualities involved in arts, but these are not seen as negative as the same qualities in economics. One can easily conclude that perception in this case is lead by conception, by the dichotomy of the Beauty and the Beast.


A case-study from the material confirms how hard it is to live with an attitude of seeing the unusual. In this blog-discussion there is only one occasion where the others have clearly criticized another member. That happened when a participant wrote in such a philosophical rigor that only few could follow his reasoning. He was verbally attacked and pushed off-side. Someone being incomprehensible is not necessarily enjoyable.


So what can we learn from arts for leadership studies? Parallel needs for efficiency and creativity are a domain that arts seem to understand (eg. p. 7: “how to create on cue, how to innovate reliably on a deadline”). On the level of phenomenon that means connecting (organizational) direction with freedom. The material discusses this dilemma at several occasions.


“(M)y observation is that artists commit themselves only when they are totally free of any commitment... it could explain the no-feed back you got: since people were ASKED to return the books... they precisely didn't...The difficulty is: how to get what you want without asking for it.

This seems to be a necessary condition for collaborative working in art...and maybe everywhere else (love)(breeding)(teaching)(caring)(living)(dying?)” (D0, p. 13)


The situation is that books were asked back but not returned, and an explanation is given: if you touch the artistic freedom, it kicks you back. This is a physical explanation: every force produces a counterforce. In social constructionism (Berger & Luckmann 1966), the idea of force and counter-force is understood as “how denial is socially constructed?” What happens is a reproduction of denial (theme 5).


We cannot know the background, but a general precondition is given: “artists commit themselves only when they are totally free of any commitment...” So how to “lead”? If understood in individual terms “I lead” or “the leader leads”, it implies a power over (Mary Jo Parker) and a subject-object relation. Socially constructed leadership would see the relation between a leader and led in more symmetric terms, as a subject-subject relation. The above situation is being displayed as there was one active member and others were passive objects – which they, according to what happened, are not.


Change resistance is always a topic in organizational behavior text books (eg. Buchanan & Huczynski 2004), but rarely in the form “how was resistance socially constructed?” Yet a blog-entry entitled “Commitment and social creativity” took that course:


“I came to a different conclusion: rather than criticizing this systematic avoiding of asked commitment, I tend to analyse it in term of responsibility (ability to response). The more powerful responses being given to questions that you ask yourself; and artists having to develop this strange skill in order to create their art (that no one ever asked for). So couldn't it be the beginning of an understanding of commitment and trust in new terms: we could derivate from the "pathological” artistic behaviour (and highly...creative by definition) some "rules" like: "don't ask for a commitment that you want to get, implement instead a collaborative structure of a kind that avoid any demand for commitment"... then you'll get their strongest commitment you'd ever dream of... Strange and odd? but what allows artists to collaborate AND feel free of any intrusion within their sanctified privacy (!!!) might be a deep shared organisation of inner capacities to create, innovate, collaborate, with joy...????or not???”


Here we can pay attention to an internal ambiguity. On the one hand an artist is not reproducing reality, and is thus celebrated as a creator, as stated earlier (p. 8). That not only leadership and but also creativity (Hardagon and Bechky 2006) could be socially co-created is an idea that does not go hand in hand with the myth of genius – with an individual, unconventional bohemian and heroic “artist” (Parrinder 2007). On the other hand this excerpt clearly acknowledges the phenomenon of socially created leadership.


Another blog-entry takes a different view on commitment:


“refusing commitment is not a necessary condition of artistic creativity, but a factor that inhibits creativity in some circumstances and defeats the possibility of artistic achievement in others”. (D0, p. 16)


The myth of genius is a linguistic convention that has acquired a hegemonic position in discourse (Jokinen, Juhila, Suoninen 1993, p. 101-105). The myth of genius is not the only available identity construction in the material. However, as the dichotomy of the Beauty and the Beast implies, it is the most prevalent identity construction, and that is the reason why the fifth theme is called reproduction (of denial) instead of construction.




Discourses are “practices which form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault 1972, as cited in Burr 2003). In discourse analysis, language is not representing “reality” but rather constructing it. The analysis here shows two discourses that are constructed around the central terms of arts, creativity and leadership.


The first discourse is called Identity. What is art? Arts identity is built in an opposition to conventions, which is illustrated by the dichotomy of the Beauty and the Beast. Curiously enough, the Beauty is taking initiative towards the Beast. Why? To preserve hope? (as in: Adler 2006)


The second discourse, labeled Negating realities, is illustrated by two themes. The first, Seeing the Unusual, suggests that arts is dealing with change from its essence, and thus understanding that phenomenon too. The other theme, Reproducing the Denial, pays attention to conditions where denial is easier to achieve than creative cooperation. It is important to understand the phenomenon before trying to solve the problem, since otherwise one is solving a wrong problem.


Connecting these two discourses would say that arts identity is about negating realities. The process is yet more gentle than ‘negating’ suggests: first the spectator needs to identify and recognize the phenomenon and after that s/he will or won’t understand it in different terms. Understanding is when we understand in a different way, as the ‘god-father’ of modern hermeneutics Hans-Georg Gadamer puts it.


The discussion between arts and economics has certain predecessors. Leadership is nowadays a popular and well distinguished fad of management studies, but that was not always the case. Same is the case with discourse analysis, social constructionism or narrative theories: they are slowly getting wind under their wings in organization theory. The research question was “how to support dialogue between individual and group level?” What the tale of the Beauty and the Beast tells us about this progress is that if there is love, there is hope.


Keywords – leadership, creativity, arts, epistemology




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