Poetry improves lives: a guest post by Dave Brooks

This is a guest post, a courtesy of a fellow poet and writer Dave Brooks and his insightful reflection on how poetry can benefit our lives. A must read 🙂

The use of creativity in business is a vast subject and has been covered in a number of dimensions in the past, with both positive and negative connotations. Creative accountancy is seen as bending the rules. Being overly creative can sometimes be taken as not being practical. But in reality, in the office disciplines such as general management, line management and business management, creativity has a role to play in the areas of engagement, communication and more importantly of late, compliance.

I want to talk about poetry as opposed to just generic creativity, but for this we need to understand what poetry is. It would appear to mean different things to different people. Many folks still remember the rote learning of classic lines during childhood. There is a general assumption that poetry must rhyme and often there is a distrust of anything more sophisticated than a birthday card ditty. Why not start with a definition or two, to get us on the same page.

1. Literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhyme.

2. Writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound and rhyme.

There are so many bones to pick over in these two definitions, it is hard to know where to start, but let’s drop a few of the more obvious words as these can cloud the picture. “Literary” might make us think we are writing something not for business, but I would like to think that all good writing should be judged by this standard, whether for artistic purposes or for the annual accounts.

One might argue “Feelings” or “emotional response” are inappropriate as an aspect of business communication but I say oh contraire. The most common speech written for internal business use is that for a regular management update to the staff or stakeholders. These pieces are designed to engender passion and followership, sometimes in the case of our US colleagues on the edge of religious zeal or fervour.
We also know that rather like poetry that there are horses for courses. One rambling heroic poetic does not fit the space available for a Haiku. Where time and audience dictate the medium and the composition, we cut out cloth accordingly. So on this point, I think the use of “distinctive style and rhyme” is spot on.

But the part of these definitions I wish to focus on today is that of the transference of ideas and the concentrated imaginative awareness of experience. Yes, my friends, I wish to lead you on the road to compliance. Compliance is not a dirty word. We all agree to abide by some conditions when we start to work for a company. Even those of you out there who are like me, self-employed have to meet the rules set by the bank, the tax office and often business specific regulator. However, there are two big issues with regulation and compliance with it; initial awareness and change.

When first joining a company, a dozen or more documents will arrive at your door and you are deemed to have read them and understood them. This will be anything from the pension scheme to the use of a corporate dentist. They will also include the use of IT policy, security, ethical behavior and external communication with the press and third parties. We are overwhelmed by them and the best way to make sure nobody reads a policy document is to thump them over the head with it. Big paper documents which are measured by quantity not quality provide no value. Yes, you need a long form of the policy, but you also need a simpler way to get the message across.

Do you remember “Concentrated” from the definitions above? Well if we combine with this “Ideas”, “Experience” and “Imaginative” we come to only one conclusion, the use of analogy or imagery. By explaining through the use of metaphor or telling of war stories, a general level of awareness can be created, maintained and improved.
This is equally true with the second scenario, the ongoing maintenance of compliance.

The use of simile and imagery can open tired eyes and part of the role of poetry is the selection of language that engages. We should not be tied to the same old staid subset of English but rather make use of our fabulous language made rich by an array of poets from the Bard up to Carol Anne Duffy and beyond. Lowest common denominator thinking and writing belittles the intelligence of our audience. A fine example of this in practice is through an organisation I have been working with for two years called the analogies project (www.theanalogiesproject.org) that specialise in uses of analogy and story-telling to improve Information security compliance. But why stop there? The sky is literally the limit. Why not use story-telling to make pensioners more aware of the perils of life online? Why not use metaphor in schools to encourage road safety?
In all of this, the written word is at the heart of this work. Good words, strong words, creative and imaginative words. The use of vocabulary that sometimes calls for the use of a dictionary. My second-language speaking colleagues do this without any more of embarrassment. So why does the thesaurus seem to be a book that gathers dust when we leave school. My poetic heart underlies the work I do with my business brain. One feeds my stomach and one feeds my soul. I encourage every one of you to do the same.

Dave Brooks is a poet, novelist, contributor on the Analogies Project, freelance risk consultant and vocalist on the YouTube single Fiscal Cliff by the Academy of Rock. More about his work you can find at http://poetryonthemove.webs.com/

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