Is poetry too “touchy-feely” for the office?

Don’t Want to Read? Click here to listen.That was a question at a recent event I attended for organizational development professionals. The focus was on the use of poetry as a tool for strategic planning, learning seminars, keynotes, coaching and executive retreats.

Some OD practitioners wondered if serious professionals in government, military and big business might find poetry too “touchy-feely” or “artsy-fartsy” for serious use.

As a corporate poet, I found that perspective interesting. In reality, poetry has  been used throughout history for many professional purposes.

President Abraham Lincoln used it in government, Sir Winston Churchill used it to motivate a country,  General George S. Patton used it in the military and it has been used to comment on the marketplace.

Poetic perspectives can help us access, uncover, and synthesize what’s below the surface that needs to be addressed to move an organization’s culture forward. It can also be used to summarize learning, to bring focus to a core theme a group is dealing with, or as a fun way to release tension.

For example, I used the poem Change & Values to refocus the efforts of an executive team at a retreat. After analyzing some tough organizational audit findings, these committed executives were struggling. They questioned what this data said about their leadership. They were tempted to dismiss it.

We were at a weekend retreat center and this was day one. I had to make a flexible change in the agenda to revalidate the data with them. I knew I had my work cut out for me, so I spent most of the night designing a new exercise to do that.

I was too keyed up to sleep after that, so I wrote Change & Values as a summary of the mood that I had sensed at the end of day one. I thought it would reset the tone, acknowledge what the group was dealing with, and prepare us to move forward. I read it to the group at the start of day two.

You can listen to it below.

Change & Values

After reading the poem, we did an exercise that allowed the executives to take ownership of the audit data. We then had a lively discussion about how the data revealed some dynamics that needed to be addressed in the culture, but wasn’t an all out attack on leadership.

In fact, the minor changes the data suggested showed that the staff took the audit seriously and were committed to helping make their daily work together more enjoyable and efficient. We then looked at what the executives could do, individually, to show that they valued their staffs desire to create a stronger, more productive work culture.

At the end of day two, I met with the President and his Executive Vice President. They said they were glad I had presented the poem. Both thought it helped set the right tone for moving forward. The EVP asked me to include a copy of the poem in the retreat summary.

Poetry can distill the essence of a moment into an understandable nugget of information. Corporate poetry does that for business purposes. Experience has taught me that poetry can be a very powerful and effective business tool.

 

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