While it’s true an honest tale may speed best plainly told, sometimes business leaders could do worse than follow William Shakespeare’ example and use a little verse.
Photo: Graham Haber
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much poetry in business. But perhaps there should be.
Reducing big ideas into finely-crafted verses – that have rhythm and may rhyme – is a skill that can be useful for more than just reading pleasure.
The late Sidney Harman, chairman of United States audio equipment manufacturer Harman Industries, studied physics, engineering and social psychology and was convinced poets made great thinkers.
“I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand,” he told The New York Times.
Boston Consulting Group’s Strategy Institute published a book, What Poetry Brings to Business, in 2010, which argued that executives can enhance their ability to discern “weak signals” and manage ambiguity in an increasingly complex business environment by developing their poetic competence.
The book’s author, Clare Morgan, writes of a study showing that poems caused readers to generate nearly twice as many alternative meanings as stories. Readers of poetry also developed greater “self-monitoring” strategies that enhanced their thinking processes.
In his most recent book, To Sell Is Human, management author Dan Pink says a rhyming message is more readily accepted than one that doesn’t.
“Researchers at Lafayette College did an interesting experiment. They gave participants 60 proverbs and asked them to rate whether each was an accurate description of human behaviour,” Pink says.
“But there was a twist: one group of participants received sayings that rhymed, for instance: ‘Woes unite foes’ and ‘Caution and measure will win you treasure’. The other group received the same proverb but in a form that didn’t rhyme.”
The participants thought the rhyming ones were more accurate, even though they said the rhymes made no difference.
Pink says rhymes increase processing fluency.
“They go down easier. When processing fluency increases, people understand things more deeply and your idea sticks.
“In other words, rhyme can enhance reason.”
If reducing the complexity of your ideas to a poem seems too difficult, think about what it takes to write a 140-character tweet.
Former Sun Microsystems chief executive Jonathan Schwartz went one better when his company was acquired by Oracle. He tweeted it in haiku: “Financial crisis / Stalled too many customers / CEO no more.”
There’s no rhyme in it, but plenty of reason.