Is There Room for Poetry in Business?

Where do you search for new business ideas? Business books perhaps? Where do you seek inspiration? Why from other successful business persons of course! “Being in business is a serious thing” you say. But what if we are taking business and ourselves far too seriously? What if we are closing off ourselves to answers that lie along other corridors in our library of information or in the wider library of life?

Recently while watching the Tony Awards I was greatly reminded of the need to be open to receiving insight, even if it comes outside of my hours of work, and delivered by someone that I may not necessarily look to for business advice.

In what apparently has become a Tony Award tradition, Mark Rylance took the stage of the Beacon Theatre after his name was called as Best Actor in a Play for Jerusalem and shared a poem with the expectant crowd. Because I didn’t know this actor, nor did I hear his acceptance speech in 2008, I must admit, I was a little lost. And in a minute you’ll see why. Rylance began without preamble, and used the words of ‘Walking Through a Wall’ by prose poet Louis Jenkins to accept his second Tony Award. Perhaps it was the way he delivered the poem but it was definitely one of those moments where my intuitive self nudged me to ‘pay attention.’ So here’s the poem…

“Unlike flying or astral projection, walking through walls is a totally earth-related craft, but a lot more interesting than pot making or driftwood lamps. I got started at a picnic up in Bowstring in the northern part of the state. A fellow walked through a brick wall right there in the park. I said, ‘Say, I want to try that.’ Stone walls are best, then brick and wood. Wooden walls with fiberglass insulation and steel doors aren’t so good. They won’t hurt you. If your wall walking is done properly, both you and the wall are left intact. It is just that they aren’t pleasant somehow. The worst things are wire fences, maybe it’s the molecular structure of the alloy or just the amount of give in a fence, I don’t know, but I’ve torn my jacket and lost my hat in a lot of fences. The best approach to a wall is, first, two hands placed flat against the surface; it’s a matter of concentration and just the right pressure. You will feel the dry, cool inner wall with your fingers, then there is a moment of total darkness before you step through on the other side.”

If after reading this, your answer to my question about room for poetry in business is a resounding “No!” I won’t be offended. But if you’ve got this far, you might as well read through to the end as I offer what I got after hearing the poem <smile>.

This one poem spoke to me of business success – that it is possible and far more the rule than the exception although you must be wise in deciding which business is best for you. So many people go after businesses because of its potential for making big bucks. It says that you may have to try several businesses before you find one that’s right for you and that when you do, you will survive – intact. Sometimes you might be lured into businesses that look ‘solid’ but once you’re involved might take on the personality of a wire fence, costing you much more than you bargained for and in the process – leaving you in a loss position.

The best advice though comes at the end. Whatever business you do get into, don’t be half committed – place ‘both hands’ in your business. Focus on what you’re about and with the right amount of effort you will begin your journey towards the success you seek. This journey is not without its share of dark moments, the darkest moments sometimes coming just before your breakthrough but you must have faith in knowing that you will get there, no matter what!

I am reminded of an interview that I saw with Howard Schultz – Starbucks CEO – who looks for answers for his business in Homer’s The Odyssey. Motivated – I did go out and get a copy – although I’ll admit – I am intimidated by Homer.  And close on the heels of that is the fact that I formed a mental block against Homer and have not really tried reading it. What’s my point? You never know where you’re going to get your answers. Don’t get yourself mired in the mindset of a sectioned world – where business is business and everything else lies outside of it. Business is life and life is organic – moving, shifting, shaping, reshaping, and changing. Now where’s my copy of Homer’s The Odyssey?

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