The French writer and playwright John Cocteau once said, ‘The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.’ As we enter the shortest and most romantic month of the year, the inner poet in me has been roused. I am curious – can the lies in poetry reveal any truths on business?
We know that inspiration is the life blood that fuels the entrepreneurial cycle, from ideation to exit. A founder turns a bolt of inspiration into a business vision, the vision into a plan, and then the plan into a sophisticated business machine.
But even the most inspired leaders need to create an environment where these fleeting ‘bolts’ are likely to happen. The more gregarious amongst us turn to global shindigs such as Davos. Others do the opposite and lock themselves up in an isolated cabin. This month, I seek these elusive bolts of enlightenment in the couplets and stanzas of poetry.
Raw ingredients of inspiration
On my bedside sits a collection called ‘A Poem for Every Night of the Year’ that I serendipitously discovered at a used book shop last year. This month, before I switch off my bedside lamp, I read poetry aloud, to my wife’s utter annoyance. But by reading aloud I process the words on a deeper level.
Like a complex maths problem, poetry challenges the brain in a different way. It requires abstract thought and an ability to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated concepts. I am convinced these surreptitious poetry recitals help develop the right side of my brain… the part some believe is in charge of imagination, intuition, art and visualising feelings – the raw ingredients of inspiration.
If you can keep your head all about you
Most of the poems I have come across have left me frustratingly unmoved. But every now and then, I come across something truly special. One of these inspirational gems was ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling.
Kipling speaks on what makes a boy into a man, and it isn’t just about age. The poem, while written as parental advice from father to son, has surprising resonance for the entrepreneur who is plagued with doubters at every turn. Here is an extract:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
These words should be on every start-up founder’s required reading list. At the essence, these characteristics of persistence, discipline, stoicism and thick skin are at the core of what an entrepreneur is.
Poetry and property
‘Scaffolds’ by Seamus Heaney is particularly interesting to me. The poem takes the image of building a physical property and turns it into a metaphor for building a long-lasting relationship. Maintaining strong relationships with friends, loved ones, business partners, employees, customers, and suppliers is fundamental to long-term personal and business success:
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our walls
Poetry and wealth creation
I am also a long-time fan of Felix Dennis and his book ‘How to Get Rich’, which I assure you, is not as crass as it sounds. Dennis, both a businessman and a poet, was a man who mastered many different crafts. He shares his wisdom on setting your goals high in life. After all, you only get what you ask for:
I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening,
When I counted my scanty store.
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task…
I worked for a menial's hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have willingly paid.
World’s best teamers
I’d like to leave you with a short poem I scrambled together one night in a bolt of inspiration. I call my first poem (since grade school, that is), ‘World’s Best Teamers.’ It’s about one of my favourite subjects - the importance for entrepreneurs to build a world-class team to turn their vision into reality:
Bang. It’s a bolt of divine inspiration,
Capture it. Fold and mould it into a vision,
Focus is the name of the game,
Know what you want, and aim,
Let’s turn all this into a plan,
The magic words are ‘I can’,
But nothing really gets done,
Without flawless execution,
For that, you need much more than just the Founder,
Or else, you’re simply going to trip and flounder,
So, hear me out, o’ zealous dreamers,
Go and find yourself the world’s best teamers.
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