Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vision in verse from the bard of the boardroom
By David Honigmann
Published: March 17 2009 02:00 | Financial Times

Twenty years ago, David Whyte, a Yorkshire-born poet, was invited by a consultant into the world of business. Ever since, he has made it his mission, through corporate speaking tours and seminars, to help businesses harness the insights and metaphors that poetry can offer to broaden their language, improve interaction within the workplace and stir imaginations.

His first serious in-company work was with AT&T and, over the years, he has worked with corporations from Boeing to Microsoft and organisations from Nasa to Kaiser Permanente. He is an associate fellow of Saïd Business School in Oxford, and is about to talk to MBAs at Stanford.

A poet's craft, for him, is as "a maker of identity". Sometimes he is a guest speaker running through a conference; other times he will give seminars in-house. Typically, he has about five long-term clients at a timeand he works with their senior management.

He begins with poetry (his own and that of Rilke, Wordsworth, Yeats and many others), and then broadens out into conversation and reflection. "I do everything from 45 minutes to three days," he explains. He recites the poems slowly, repeating lines until he is clear that his point has hit home. He does not work in soundbites, but through a scrupulous precision over language, listening and talking to a group until he is able to articulate an uncomfortable and unspoken truth.

"All these organisations are like Shakespearean plays writ large, with the nobles telling their truths from the podium while the gravediggers are telling it like it really is in the bathroom. And every epoch ends with a lot of blood on the floor," he says.