Books: In Business with the Bard - Theatre and business - creativity and practicality - should be natural allies. Peter Parker admires the latest celebration of this partnership

Books: In Business with the Bard - Theatre and business - creativity and practicality - should be natural allies. Peter Parker admires the latest celebration of this partnership - Power Plays:

by PETER PARKER
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Power Plays:

Shakespeare's lessons in leadership and management John Whitney & Tina Packer Macmillan pounds 15

I applaud the first of this exuberant book's two stated purposes, that 'the creativity of artists and the practicality of business people may once again become allies'.

That seems to me a proper mission: necessary - even noble.

We in management need to keep reminding ourselves that imagination is essentially the nature of enterprise. It is the great creative power in religion and art. It is only in the marketplace where we seem shy to speak its name. We managers are much happier with what we can measure - and that's important - but what we're unable to measure can turn out to be even more important. This is the message that the authors celebrate with gusto, and business schools do their students no favours if they leave no room for the reality of this mystery in their programmes.

The authors are well qualified - both are passionate about Shakespeare and both have personal know-how of the processes of business. John Whitney set up his own advertising group before becoming a Dean of the Harvard Business School and a successful turnaround expert. Tina Packer has created her own repertory theatre in New England - Shakespeare Inc. Together they reinforce that desirable alliance between creativity and practicality.

The business audience is familiar with the routines and language of theatre these days. Management rehearses in order to be word perfect at presentations; we know about run-throughs, we speak of our 'roles' and we get our acts together. When the results are good, spectacular corporate AGMs have something of the Dionysian ritual about them. The play is certainly the thing.

Business and drama have always been at the centre of community life.

If theatre makes management more sensitive in its relationships, clearer in its communications and more aware of the sheer humanity in management, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished. It is why there are courses, conferences and books galore about the relevance of Shakespeare to our working lives. Power Plays is both serious and fun, written in the style of the new genre of management literature, which has adopted Shakespeare as the guru you can take anywhere.

But when we arrive at the authors' second aim it is far less appealing. 'On a more workaday level, we hope that after reading Power Plays you will head out on your next business assignments with Shakespeare at your side.'

So accompanied, they set off in Part I through the corridors of power.

We learn what Will, son of a Stratford entrepreneur and a shareholder in the Globe, can teach us about how a leader can use power well, and how business leaders and their trusted lieutenants can maintain their focus, make money and grow a company. In Part II, we find out what Will can teach us about 'Communications, the use of ceremony, symbols and oratory ...'

And in Part III, we enter the moral maze of a manager's contradictory commitments to stakeholders. 'How can you avoid becoming a Hamlet?'

On this workaday level, it's all too pat. Quotations - like chips - with everything. Genius is not to be oversimplified. Shakespeare's richness of characterisation should not be stereotyped into Hamlet the doubter, Richard II 'the skipping King', Iago the untrustworthy lieutenant, Falstaff the necessary maverick.

I am left with an uneasy, embarrassed feeling about these analogies. Prospero's 'rough magic' amounts to more than power plays and pep talks. Shakespeare's glory was not in writing minutes. His imagination cannot be packed into case histories. King Lear, nearing his end, talked to Cordelia of taking on the mystery of things ...

Sir Peter Parker played both Hamlet and King Lear while at Oxford University.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Upcoming Events

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today