The Poetry of Business

Business and Poetry at first glance have little in common. Most people consider business as representative of the rational side of our society. Business is involved with profit and concrete ways of achieving it. Poetry represents the creative, more abstract side of the world. It deals with ideas and emotions, not the bottom line. Yet, on closer inspection, many areas of overlap actually exist.

For starters, there is a fair amount of poetry about business. Poems about business range from the whimsical -- one Ogden Nash verse contemplating work begins

I sit in an office at 244 Madison Avenue
And say to myself You have a responsible job havenue?
Why then do you fritter away your time on this doggerel?

Here are some other famous and not so famous verses about business:

Carl Sandburg in his Chicago Collection addresses all aspects of Chicago life, including its business life. Skyscraper discusses what transpires in the daily life of a skyscraper; To Certain Journeymen is about the business of dying; and Working Girls muses on the flow of life.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Work Without Hope comments on the constancy of work as part of all nature.

Frank Halliwell in The Customer provides a tongue-in-cheek commentary on being put on hold.

Michael Benedikt writes what he calls "Prose Poems" that describe many aspects of the business of life.

Clearly, poetry about business covers all of history and all types of styles, but the common denominator is that it comments on this experience we call business. Uncovering the few examples I have cited here has been inspiring and fun, so much so that I have started a page that links to any poetry that relates to business. This should be a useful, ever-growing reference page of poetry about business.

Poetry In Business

Entrepreneurism has much in common with poetry according to Tom Ehrenfield ("Poetry & Business"). His premise is that "entrepreneurs, like poets, invent new ways to connect people, ideas, and organizations." He makes the case that entrepreneurs and poets take the same intuitive leap, creating meaning where it didn't exist before -- then communicate it to their audience. The common denominator is coming up with an idea and making it real. Simply put, starting a business is the business equivalent of writing a poem.

However, even in established businesses many managers and leaders find their business inspiration in poetry. Many business leaders write poetry as part of daily journaling or simply to help center themselves as they sort through their business challenges.

A growing movement in business is the desire to inspire greater creativity in organizational life by overcoming habitual fear and reticence of expressing oneself through nurturing a sense of "soul" within the office. "Soul" is developed using poetry and story telling as a way to express deeper emotions. The goal is to provide new ways to look at life in business and to finding greater satisfaction in one's work.

Poems are commonly found in mottoes, slogans, and even mission statements for businesses today. And a whole, new profession of business poets has emerged. These poets provide inspirational verses, poetry-driven motivational programs and professional development using poetry.

Poetry is also used as a way to improve business writing. Rules of good poetry writing are as applicable to good business prose as verse. Good writing comes from a combination of good content, clarity (being concise and organized), and style. There are many jokes about "business-speak" -- expressing simple statements in complicated, convoluted ways. Simply reading aloud what has been written can be tremendously effective in reworking business prose so that it flows and communicates accurately in an understandable fashion. Here is an example of a bloated, wordy sentence one might find in a business report -- "Over the past quarter our company has taken action on the issue of service calls and has initiated advanced planning in the area of complaints. Compare that to the simpler, more direct -- "During the last quarter our company has focused on service calls by developing new complaint follow-up procedures." Listen for the flow. It can make all the difference in the world in both employees and customers understanding of the business' message.

This brings us to the most common type of poetry found in business -- advertising. Advertising is how a business attempts to get its message out to the public -- and some of the most effective advertising is poetry. One of the premier uses of poetry in advertising was the Burma Shave ads found along highways for many, many years. For those of you who have grown up with freeways, the Burma Shave signs were found along highways around the country. Each sign would have one line of the poem. Families driving cross-country would watch for them avidly and read them aloud, laughing at the cleverness. One example:

Dinah Doesn't
Treat Him Right
But If He'd
Shave
Dyna-mite!
Burma-Shave

Maybe not great poetry, but a nostalgic era in advertising that may be returning. They were the pioneers of poetry in ads -- almost a necessary part of advertising today.

So, maybe poetry is a more integral part of business than one would guess. With that in mind, here is my contribution:

Business and Poetry
Poetry and Business
Perhaps That is the Real Answer
To Business Success!