Why Business Needs Poetry

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If you had asked me nine years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, a career in business would have been at the very bottom of the list. A fresh graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I had majored in Creative Writing and Anthropology and was hell-bent on changing the world. I had written poems about “tiptoeing on the conscience of corporate execs” and was concerned that my decision to go to graduate school amounted to poeticide (the act of killing one’s poetry). In my commencement speech, I addressed my decision to specialize in Poetry head on:

“I entered into CU in the fall of 2004 as an English major. And I later decided to specialize in Creative Writing, specifically Poetry – which everyone knows is the best major to pick if you want to get a really good, high-paying job after college.”

The joke got quite a few laughs at the time and would still to this day. Poetry majors aren’t widely regarded for possessing the strategic acumen required to be successful in business. Yet, nine years later, here I am, a poet swimming upstream in a sea of businesspeople. My experience has taught me that the business world desperately needs poetry. 

Here are five reasons why:

 

Poets craft beautiful, memorable content.

The ability to effectively create a message that is not only relevant, but resonant, to a target audience is essential for business. But many companies overlook this—they place junior staff in communications and marketing roles and are frustrated when they don’t get press coverage. Good PR and marketing doesn’t stem from media relations. It starts at the foundation with positioning and branding. It starts with a message architecture that is injected like a virus in everything a company says and does. Without contagious messaging, a company’s communications are at risk for falling flat.

From using the right sounds, choosing the best words and structuring sentences for optimal delivery, the best practices that make for beautiful poetry also allow for beautiful, memorable content.

 

Poets are the yin to the business grad yang. 

In business, we occasionally fall victim to favoring our own perspectives. A hiring manager might prefer candidates who graduated from the same business school, or people who were in the same fraternity. Why? Because we get used to what is comfortable and what works.

At Cunningham Collective, we value diversity of perspective. Every engagement we undertake includes a collective innovation session. In these sessions, we put our team’s collective brainpower to work on a specific client, evaluate their problems and opportunities from multiple perspectives and apply the best solution for that problem.

My background in poetry provides a fresh perspective to these sessions.  Whereas many of my colleagues see frameworks and supply chains, I see story arcs, characters and context. Is one type of thinker better than the other? No. But they’re much better together.

 

Poets aren’t just right-brain thinkers.

The left brain/right brain debate is nothing new. Left-brain thinkers are viewed as logical, process-oriented people while right-brain thinkers are seen as creative and artistic. But a new study from Duke University has challenged this prevailing sentiment. It discovered that creative people have better-connected brains, enabling them to more easily communicate between brain hemispheres.

What implications does this have for business? It suggests that creative thinking types like poets are not only more creative, but they’re also better able to communicate between different areas of the brain to solve problems. And speaking of problem-solving, a recent Harvard Business Review article found that most of the issues businesses encounter solving problems has to do with an incomplete understanding of the problem. If those problems are repositioned or reframed in another context, a creative solution is more likely to become apparent.

 

Poets make simple the wildly complex

Poets have a rare ability to take a complicated topic and surface a specific feeling in a concise and compelling way. A great example of this is Ezra Pound’s famous poem “In a Station of the Metro.”  

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

In this poem, Ezra Pound vividly captures a moment – bustling travelers in the station of the Paris metro – in only 14 words. This talent is not only enviable, it also endlessly applicable to business. It’s a beneficial skill for content-focused roles in copywriting, marketing and communications. But this ability to make simple the wildly complex can be applied much more broadly to UI development, product managers, software engineers, even executive management.

 

Poets possess inherent executive leadership skills

The Bureau of Labor & Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook sadly does not profile the job outlook, skills and work environment for poets in the United States. They do, however, evaluate a related profession, writers and authors. It lists the following Important Qualities successful writers and authors typically possess:

  •  Adaptability
  •  Creativity
  •  Critical-Thinking Skills
  •  Determination
  •  Persuasion
  •  Social Perceptiveness
  •  Writing Skills

This list reads like a direct description of some of the most successful, game-changing CEOs out there today like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Reed Hastings and more. These “Important Qualities” are must-haves for any executive today. They may even be the qualities that differentiate great CEOs from those that are merely good.

From creative problem-solving and mastering the art of simplifying the complex, to crafting compelling content that resonates, businesses can learn a lot from poetry. I just hope they’ll listen.   

 

Emily Stine is a Strategist at Cunningham Collective. She also occasionally writes poetry.