Poetry in business

Poetry in business - open book

Liz, September 29, 2017

Sometimes, just to make sure people are listening, I say to people in comms workshops: Right, now we’re all going to write poems.

A shudder of disbelief ripples around the room. A look of “surely not?” fixes itself on every face.

Corporate workplaces and poetry, it seems, just don’t mix.

On one side, you have a tightly operating, highly rational organisation (or so everyone would like to think). On the other you have fluffiness. Wandering lonely as clouds. And, (heaven forbid) emotion.

It often seems I can only get people to embrace better communications techniques if I disguise them as rational, process-driven techniques. (This survey proves X, this piece of research revealed Y – so we’re going to replace that noun with a verb and get a predictable result.)

But because everyone’s talking poetry this week, I’m going to take a different approach. Here’s to creating human connections from the gut and the heart, rather than the head…

What is poetry?

It’s a difficult concept to define. The word itself comes from the ancient Greek for “I create” – which I think is a beautiful start. But as to what poetry is… well, I always think of it as capturing a moment or a sentiment as a snapshot. It’s like photography in words – and it’s where the words transcend their literal meanings and bypass your rational thinking process. They just sock you in the gut. You feel them before you know them. Like when you look at an image and have a reaction to it, even before you’ve worked out exactly what’s happening in it.

Reading poetry on sofa

What isn’t it?

I think poetic language is any use of words that feels a little bit different. It doesn’t need to be formatted as verses. It certainly doesn’t need to rhyme.

So why would you use poetry in business?

There are loads of reasons you’d use it, including:

  • Making people sit up and listen
  • Making your audience feel something
  • Showing your audience you’re prepared to reveal something of yourself
  • Showing your audience that underneath it all, there’s a heart
  • Sharing an experience with your audience (the rawest form of engagement)
  • Becoming more creative and innovative
  • Breaking down silos (when we’re expressing human emotions and observations, we’re in the realms of universal experience, rather than specialist, technical knowledge)
  • Reconnecting your teams to their audience

When would you use poetry in business?

When we’re helping teams to become more creative and expressive in their communications, we suggest you’d usually keep poetic language for high volume occasions. Sadly, courts don’t deal in poetic language, so you’ll give your legal teams a heart attack if you try to get it into a contract.

Neither do you want to do it all the time. Because if you only communicated in poems or poetic prose, you might struggle to get people to understand what you do and how you do it.

Instead, use poetic language like a sparkling gem. A plain metal piece of jewellery does the job. And sometimes all you need to do the best job is a plain piece of jewellery. But sometimes, a beautifully placed gem or detail adds depth and fascination.

How would you use poetry in business?

This is the bazillion dollar question. There are, of course, forward-thinking organisations that employ their own poets in residence – or who promote creative writing as a team activity. Here are a few examples:

But what I’d like to address here is how poetry and poetic language can add depth and power to customer communications.

This is a poem I wrote a few years ago for a wood burning stove company. It was included in company literature and they had a large decal of it up in store. Customers loved it and requested copies of it.

Stove poem

It’s a nice thing to be able to do – and it just means more to prospective clients than a statement that says something like:

We are committed to providing the best in-hearth experiences.

Which of course sounds daft. But a mortgage company would be more likely to do the latter than write a poem. Which is a shame – and a missed opportunity to do something different and special.

Because getting a mortgage is a highly emotional experience – and poems express and acknowledge emotion far better than any corporate speak statements.

And it doesn’t need to be a fully-fledged poem. It could be a line or two that feel poetic. These are a couple I’ve managed to sneak through the sign-off process:

Business poetry examples

They were for clients in FMCG and financial services, and were parts of campaigns, ads – and in one case, an annual report.

I can already feel some readers curling their toes and wincing. But it’s ok – because these lines worked. They were right for their brands and they got the results they were meant to. And if you’re cringing at lines like this, it’s because you’ve been conditioned that emotion is un-business-like. All I have the energy to say on this subject right now is: “You’re wrong.”

How do you make poetry part of communicating?

In some ways this is simple, in other ways it can take changing whole cultures.

The simple way to bring poetry to work is to read it, write it and value it. It doesn’t need to take long. Start a meeting with sharing a poem. Start a workshop with writing one (we use a few different exercises to kind of trick people into writing them – and that gives them the confidence to branch out and create more). Have them around your workspace.

If you’re going to try this, then give people a change of scenery. It’s much easier to be inspired when you’re watching people interact or when you’re outside. Failing that, let people lie down or have a little five-minute meditation.

These tiny breaks with convention let ideas flow – because they let people feel rather than think.

You also need to work hard on technique – because good poetry takes time and effort.

The cultural side of things can be bigger to deal with. But the benefits of dealing with them can be significant.

The number one thing you need to have for poetry and poetic ideas to flourish is a safe space. This means you can’t have a culture of fear or of ultra-conformity. People have to feel it’s ok to have different ideas and to be able to express them. You also need a collegiate approach where colleagues know how to critique one another and create the best work together, supportively.

You have to make it ok for people to spend time pondering rather than doing. And believe me, a 10-minute ponder can produce much better ideas than just tapping mindlessly at a computer for an hour.

Poetry has a place at work. It makes ideas flow and it’s an effective way of communicating. If you’d like a bit of poetry in your life, give us a call.


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