Thinking Differently at Work – Poetry and Leading Business Conversations

I’m starting a series of posts on “thinking differently at work.”

A great place to start is with poet David Whyte, featured in the May 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Whyte uses poetry as a medium for leading and enriching business conversations – to create conversations that “no matter how slowly, help you make sense of the world around you.”

Whyte suggests he uses poetry to discover new dimensions of meaning, to open up new conversations, and to open up new perspectives and ways of interpreting the world. Poetry, of course, is also rich in metaphor and motivation. White describes his work as using “poetry [as] a way of getting at the phenomenology of conversation – that is, what happens along the way when you’re trying to have a real meeting . . . with your customers, with your colleagues, or with a new field of endeavour.” For example, “it could be a conversation with yourself about the greater dimensions of your vocation.”

Whyte journey as a poet in leading corporate conversations started shortly after he launched himself as a full time poet in 1986. After giving a speech, Whyte was approached by an American businessman insisting “we have to hire you.” Inquiring what he should be hired for, Whyte received the answer: “The language we have in the corporate world is too small for the territory of relationship we’ve entered.” This was an intriguing invitation for a poet, and for Whyte it was the beginning of a journey to “open up areas of everyday business life that remain impervious to the jargon we have created to describe it.”

David Whyte has worked for a range of companies including Astra-Zeneca, Boeing, and Citigroup to facilitate a variety of conversations.

Clearly, David Whyte is bringing a different box of tools to the workplace, and helping companies think and see themselves and their environment differently.

More on Whyte in the May HBR article.

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