New frameworks and practices are needed to foster leadership, learning and innovation in complex organizational systems. This exploratory case study improves understanding of how aesthetic factors (creation of symbolic objects and acts) influenced the experiences of five executives in a leadership development program involving aesthetic design approaches. Perspectives from organizational studies, transformative learning and organizational aesthetics provide a cross-disciplinary lens for understanding aesthetics and learning.
This study found that aesthetic factors were catalysts for transformative learning by increasing self awareness through the integration of sensory, emotional and rational ways of knowing. This enabled participants to challenge habitual meaning making systems, reflect on assumptions, and shift their perspectives and actions. Participants described the safe, caring, and physically beautiful learning environment as instrumental to their ability to be open, creative, and vulnerable, and to form strong learning relationships within the group. Creative, playful and novel activity generated feelings of lightness and enjoyment that enabled difficult and conflicting feelings to be accessed and resolved. Aesthetic objects served as tools to support expression, co-inquiry and embodied memory that gave rapid form, meaning and clarity to an emerging vision for their leadership. From these results, a framework for aesthetic learning design was developed as a unique contribution of this study.