But let’s move beyond the solo artist. The ‘script’ isn’t a finished work (and woe betide the strategic plan that is). And - Shakespeare’s with me on this on - it certainly isn’t ‘literature’. It’s a blueprint, a coming together of scenes and characters in a narrative dramatic arc – one that, driving from conflict to resolution and framed in centuries of oral storytelling and plot archetypes, provides a working document for actors, designers, theatre artists and craftsmen to put into ‘production’.
There’s something that always happens when you bring a team together in a creative space – which itself is both a safe container and a crucible (the latter, if I remember my chemistry lessons correctly, implies white heat). If our individual creativity exemplifies what Stephen Covey had to say about the first of the two creations in any enterprise – the imaginative exercise of beginning with the end in mind – the ensemble works to bring out the second, the practical implementation, but does so as the exemplar of synergy: what emerges is greater than the sum of its parts.
Actors and performers bring into the working space their instruments, their roles and responsibilities. But by exploring the script together, on its feet, by playing it to and with each other, not only does the actor discover his or her own unimagined potential, so does the work itself. It achieves a new, larger, living identity. Again, what happens in the moment, in this coming together? Emotional choices, playing choices, are no longer chosen by the actor; when you’re ‘in the zone’, they choose you. It's a release of synergy - what emerges is greater than the sum of its parts.
And, at that point, with the ‘production’ rehearsed, with sets and costumes and lights and sound added, the creative process is finished, right?
If we thought so, we’d be missing the most important component: the audience. We could exchange opinions as to whether any ‘art’ is indeed art until and unless it’s experienced, by the viewer or the listener; what’s undeniable in live performance is that the work is not so much ‘delivered’, complete, hermetic, immutable (as in most visual art, as well as in the narrative of film) but rather exchanged.
Tonight’s audience is not the same as last night’s (and tomorrow’s will be different again), and, in each case of a group of people gathering in common purpose, they will invariably coalesce into a common identity, dependent on any number of external factors – and upon the circumstances of coming together. The unspoken but omnipresent questions in their minds as the lights go down are: “Why are we here?” and “What’s our relationship to you onstage?” Those are the first questions incumbent upon us, the performers and the production, to answer, not “who we are”. They know why we're there.
And so the production and the consumer ‘meet’ in shared space, two ‘personalities’ shaping the experience in the moment. It’s the actors and the production who must be acutely attuned to the responses and information they’re getting from the audience, and it’s they who adapt the show. Quiet ‘house’? Don’t panic, keep a steady hand on the tiller. Friday night audience in a ‘ho-hum, show-me’ frame of mind? Saturday night audience - having got the chores done, the babysitter at home with the kids, a nice dinner before the show and more open and relaxed? Perhaps even a bit raucous? Give them a bit of time to settle down, let the whole thing ‘breathe’ a bit, but don’t let the laughs run on too long or the whole thing will careen out of control.
A different audience every night means that the experience (of the ‘product’) is different in each iteration, and what that means is that tonight’s experience of “playing it in” is fed back into the collective consciousness of the work, to influence and develop the playing of it tomorrow night and on through the run of the show. Which means we don’t ever have a ‘finished product’ – but a living entity that feeds back into the constantly evolving Individual Creativity of the writer, the Collaborative Creativity of the performers, and again out into the Exchanged Creativity in every engagement with our audiences.
This is, simply put, a dynamic model of storytelling.
Now apply that to your business model. Your product or service isn’t fixed, the development and engagement of your team isn’t ever ‘done’, your customers are in a continually evolving relationship with you, and your business strategies are living, breathing, ‘playing’ blueprints for an evolutionary organization, driven by and characterized in Wilber and Laloux’s “Teal” organization, as driven by purpose, operating in wholeness and flourishing in self-managed teams.
And while we’re at it, why not situate a new leadership paradigm, for the evolutionary organization – as opposed to the static, fixed, pyramidical one – with you as the driver of those creative processes and people? A theatre director - the 'director of the ensemble' who doesn't appear onstage - functions as coach, visionary, provocateur, arbiter and most importantly as your ideal audience (“How will this play? Let’s explore some other choices. What if we came at this from another angle?”) before the writer, designer, actor meet the audience. And then, we reflect the audience’s responses, their creativity, back into the process. And so it goes.
Living, dynamic, iterative, and providing a model for staying ahead of the constantly shifting goalposts.
If we, as leaders of the company or the practice, feel we’re “stuck” (is the team not stepping up, or disengaged? Is our revenue growth or market traction not happening? Do we have no time?) by accepted practice we start by looking at where we are, and at what the gap is between that point A and our (envisioned) point B.
But did we tell the numbers what they were going to be? Of course not. We engaged in goal- and target-setting, but when we look at our metrics – our KRAs and our KPIs – we trust in them to tell us what and where the enterprise actually is. They’re the bedrock of any quantative measure.
What if the problem isn’t ‘quantative’ at all, but ‘qualitative’? As Paul Kirby says in The Bee Book, it’s people who are our engine of performance. And why is it that we tell our stakeholders - our customers and our teams - who and what we (and, oftentimes, they) are, and what it is we have for them? Why don’t we let them tell us? Why don’t we build our qualitative business and team strategies on the same projection-action-response continuum we trust in our metrics?
Better yet, what if, in the qualitative, right-brain arena, we did something that goes beyond mere goal setting (think about this: your goals are limited by the limitations of your thinking) and customer response, and in projection-action-response, brought in an approach which both reveals and releases the unimagined potential of the business?
Ask any executive or manager at what capacity – percentage? – the organization is working. Forbes in March 2014 noted a ratio of “not engaged/ disengaged” employees to “engaged”, in the average company, as 2:1. How do we unleash the potential for growth that’s already in the organization?
To achieve that, we would need to refashion our business-narrative approaches, into an “applied creativity” model. Not just creativity theory (which is plentiful) but into methods and practices that have been opening up and releasing the unimagined, right under our noses, for thousands of years.
And, further, we would need the three circles of creativity – concentric rings moving outwards – that we find in the paradigm, and production, of live theatre, to complete what we started, to be able to fully assess how our services are actually working out there. The three components in our true positioning, branding, values-driven entrepreneurial journeys are matched by the three stages of live theatre creativity: “I”, “We”, and “You”.
When we move from creativity in theory – you know, how much we benefit from mindfulness, curiosity, lateral thinking, intuition, passion, imaginative play – to ‘creativity in action’, we start by exercising our own individual creative potential; we then move through collaborative implementation, and we complete the process in what we could call "exchanged creativity".
When we set out to bring into being anything at all – business strategy, ideation of a product or service, novel, painting, poem or song – we start out with ourselves and the medium (paper or canvas? keyboard and screen?), and a set of tools. Tools and media (brushes and paint) come with rules.
We might have set out with an objective, an end in mind, and we map out our path towards it. That’s our ‘logical’ left brain at work. But we’re not just reproducing or documenting something, we’re creating, right? And of the six key brain centres we fire up, only logic could be said to belong to the left brain; the others – motivation, intuition, creativity, emotion and physicality – are all right-brain engines So, without exception, we invariably discover – in the act of writing or painting or composing, of putting something together – an unimagined potential in ourselves. We start by ‘writing the story’, but soon enough, the story starts writing itself; the work takes itself, and us, to a place of greater self-expression than when we commenced. As I write this, my thinking develops. I look it over, put down the pen, new ideas come that weren’t there at the outset. I pick up the pen and recommence. Michaelangelo didn’t sculpt the Pietà; in his own words, he chipped away at the marble until it revealed itself. At some point, the rules go out the window, and we let our hearts and gut instinct take over. That’s how we access our untapped capacity.
"Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it".
Stop the presses: neuroscientists and thespians are on the same page! It’s theatre that engages the whole brain of the leader, or the team, and connects it with the customer.
According to Swart, Chisholm and Brown’s Neuroscience for Leadership: Harnessing the Brain Gain Advantage (2015), we all have six key brain centres and only one of them – logic – could be called “left brain activated”. The other five – motivation, creativity, emotion, intuition and physicality – are what, in this “Neuroscience for Business” discussion, companies tend to shy away from. Too “soft”, too “touchy-feely”. (Too uncomfortable? Might force us out of our comfort zone, or even our rut?). But clearly, they belong, more than in any other creative medium, to the practice of live theatre.
Let’s examine how paradigms of theatre can unlock, uniquely, two new outcomes in the world of the business, the leader and the team.
Goals, targets and objectives are pre-set, and we chart our paths towards them, ultimately achieving them – or not. That’s ‘logic’ at work. But in a creative endeavour, we go beyond the linear process of reaching a goal. Take an individual, a solo artist: we invariably discover – in the act of writing or painting or composing, of shaping – an unimagined potential in ourselves. We start by ‘writing the story’, but soon enough, the story starts writing itself, the work takes itself, and us, to a place of greater self-expression than when we commenced. As I write this, my thinking develops. I look it over, put down the pen; new ideas come that weren’t there at the outset.
But further, as an ensemble or collective or a company, co-creativity takes the whole team, in true synergy, to an untapped capacity, beyond any and every individual’s concept or role going in. That’s what happens when, in the theatre rehearsal room, scripts and actors meet and explore a scene - with the director functioning as mentor, coach and ‘ideal audience’. Everybody is accessing their motivations, creativity, emotion, intuition and physicality (as well as logic) individually and collectively, for a whole that emerges, in real time, as greater than the sum of its parts.
The second theatre paradigm is this: in live performances, the ‘production’ isn’t just delivered, it’s exchanged. The entire team develops the ‘production’ and then ‘plays it in’ with audiences, who then reflect back to us what truly we have in our hands. Performers don’t just listen to their audiences (and they listen intently: have a look at what Mark Rylance has to say about that), they absorb the energy as the audience itself forms a collective identity, different every night, which in turn influences how the actors play the piece. Ask any actor how the same show plays very differently to mid-week, Friday night or Saturday night audiences.
Or ask any theatre director who leaves the production in the hands of the stage manager, cast and crew, as is the professional norm, and returns a couple of weeks later to see how things are going, how much the show has ‘grown’ by being played in to a couple of dozen different audiences during the run. That ongoing development is the sum total of several different engagements, by the team, in ongoing motivation, creativity, emotion, intuition and physicality – as well as logic. It’s constantly evolving.
And so it is in the evolutionary organization or business. Creativity and collaboration will take the ‘product’ and the team to an unimagined potential and reveal their unimagined capacities. Viewing the relationship with the customer (which means staff and stakeholder as well as client) as a living, developing exchange - in which we factor in their responses and experiences into how and what we deliver - will tell us what it is we truly have in our hands, and how it wants to evolve – and that’s what drives our positioning, branding and sales, in the “live” and living strategies our businesses use to stand out from the crowd.
(Want to know more about how the Theatre of Commerce offers the methodology to get you there? Have a listen to my podcastradio interview at http://bit.ly/2jCAWAs or just ask).
The key to getting ourselves and our teams to the next level is creativity, right? And there’s a lot out there, these days, positioning the next-generation business in the ‘creativity’ space. As we’ve moved from the industrial age through the information age into the ‘relationship economy’, we have embraced the future of our businesses as being, no longer ‘transactional’, but founded in the quality of their relationships, both external but also internal. Sales and strategy. Paul Rigby, in The Bee Book, notes that “people” are our “performance engine”. And to get to running at full capacity, we need to maximize our teams’ creativity.
I’ve found Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity ‘system’ idea helpful - that creativity results from the interaction of three things: an ‘individual’ in his or her relation to the ‘domain’ (the area of the endeavour, whether it be in science, business or an art form) and, third, the ‘field’: those out there who decide what’s admitted to the ‘domain’ and by what measure. No, not the critics, but those who are, in essence, the ‘customer’, either internal or external.
But, all well and good, you say, what can “being creative” actually do for my business?
To follow the model of producing live theatre – getting an idea from concept to page to stage and out to an audience (see? you knew being an entrepreneur was a creative act, because that’s exactly what you do!) – we have a leader (the director or producer) first of all guiding the script-writer. Just as the sculptor will tell you (s)he merely chips away at the stone to uncover the piece of art that is already there, so the writer will start with idea, characters, intention, only to find (every time) that there comes a point in the writing when the story starts writing itself. Goes where it wants to go. Set it up carefully and consistently, and let the work tell you what it wants to be. Engaging in creativity releases unimagined potential.
Blueprint in hand (a script is not a finished document), the director/ leader takes it and a vision for the produced piece into a team of designers, craftsmen and actors, for its ‘production process’. And in that creative crucible, something happens. Each artist comes into the process and the rehearsal hall with his or her own role – and responsibility – defined by their ‘casting’. (“This is my part in this”) But in the collaborative (guided and coached) environment, only then does the work truly reveal itself – in ‘playing’ it – and only then do the actors discover, in the playing of it, their individual and collective untapped capacities. Those are the ‘lightbulb’ moments, when a team member realizes that they are capable of far more than they had thought possible. We find ourselves getting ready (for audiences) a ‘whole’ that is always greater than the sum of the parts going in, beyond our previous imaginings. It happens, for the work as well as the individual, every time.
Still we’re not done. We’ve got a ‘production’ but we don’t have an event. (I had no idea I was going to make that distinction when I started this post). We aren’t ‘delivering’ a finished piece: the show is finally forged in the interaction of performer and audience, as our energies and responses are exchanged, and that in fact changes every night – ask an actor how different Friday night audiences are from Saturday nights’, and how actors constantly adapt to them. Same production, different event.
Back to business. What we’re doing, in being co-creative, is accessing what the authors of Neuroscience for Business (Harnessing the Brain Gain Advantage) characterize as all six key brain centres: not just “left-brain” logic, but “right-brain” motivation, creativity, emotion, intuition and physicality. And in the live theatre model, that’s how we go beyond ‘goal’ or intention, and let positioning, value proposition, brand and strategy reveal themselves to us, not the other way round. What might our businesses and our services really want to be? The answer, in creative expression, is in accessing something bigger than us.
Can we see the competitive advantage resulting from that?
(Want to know more about how the Theatre of Commerce offers the methodology to get you there? Just ask - or have a listen to my PodcastRadio interview at http://bit.ly/2jCAWAs ).
Saturday November 5th, in New York City; an interesting juxtaposition of theatre and film-going experiences, both dealing with the subject of oppression, of black women and men, but by and in their own African-American cultures. Stories of people’s lives thrown into turmoil by toxic masculinity, from within their own communities. Journeys into womanhood and manhood. What interested me, apart from being intensely moved by both pieces of “performed art”, was what the juxtaposition could tell us about how we receive and participate in an arts experience, and how we might apply two different paradigms to the world of commerce.
In a packed Broadway theatre on a Saturday afternoon, what The Color Purple did was ignite its audience. With a central powerhouse performance from Cynthia Erivo, beautifully supported by a great cast (including a chance to see the original Dreamgirls ‘Effie’, Jennifer Holliday, a real treat), great songs – starting with ‘traditional’ gospel feel and moving into more contemporary R&B – the central story of the abuse and oppression, and fierce and triumphant spirit, of Celie moved from stage and performers into each of us, individually but also collectively. And then we reflected all our energy back to the company and the show, co-creating our event – a one-time occurrence. (Which was acknowledged, this extraordinary but transitory coming-together, by the performers from the stage at the end of the show, as they stepped forward to thank us for who we were, and pitched their week’s cause, Broadway Cares). A transformation effected in all of us, onstage as well as in the house, its profundity owing precisely to its impermanence.
A very different experience that evening, at a movie theatre in Chelsea, to see Barry Jenkins’ film, Moonlight – the story told in three ages (9, 16 or so, 30-ish) of a young man struggling with fatherlessness (and a form of motherlessness), being bullied, emerging but unexpressed homosexuality, purpose and identity. Beautiful, minimal, heart-breaking, violent and tender, it rolled its credits to a movie theatre full of people left with their own thoughts and emotional experiences. And then we exited, separate, not together. Did we achieve a silent, ‘collective resonance’? We’ll never quite know.
Moonlight is, as my companion put it, a perfect film for an introvert. Owing I think something to Terrence Malick’s influence in focussing almost exclusively on internal expression (is that a contradiction in terms?), the camera reads the interiors of the characters. The Color Purple, on the other, was triumphantly expressive. You don’t get to ‘read’ characters in the theatre (or at least, very rarely, and only in small spaces); we can only engage, say, in Hamlet’s existential journey to the degree that he is able to express himself. Celie’s power comes from her expressiveness, mostly in song, less successfully in dialogue (though that is the fault of the writer rather than the actor). And it is through her expressiveness that we, the audience, coalesce into our own, shared personality on a Saturday afternoon, reflecting ourselves back in to the show, never to be repeated in quite the same way, ever again. That’s the power of the collective, in theatre.
Chiron’s journey, in Moonlight, is charted (through three actors) by inviting us into his interior. It’s a one-to-one delivery, not one-to-many. It’s ‘being’, not ‘doing’ and, for us, an opportunity for emotional resonance which is highly individual. Is my own response and specific connection to Chiron’s story shared with the people around me? Possibly. Possibly not. There’s a sense in the movie theatre that we are all in something together, some meaningful experience – it’s palpable – but it isn’t articulated (until the post-movie conversations with companions) in a collective exchange between artists and audience. The experience is not informed by us, as in theatre.
Moonlight is an im-pressive revelatory work. The Color Purple is expressively transformative.
So what might this tell us, in the world of business, about our resonances with our customers, internal and external, team and clients? First, the paradigm of theatre is essential to the ‘sale’: we don’t just write and tell the story, we create the means for our audience to reflect their own experience of the product or the service back to us, and together we co-create what the experience really is. The exchange tells us what we really have, what the story really is, what our brand and positioning truly are.
The paradigm of film applies to the character of the leader: each of us ‘reads’ (and is read) individually. We might share that ‘read’ with others, but it’s a private experience first and foremost. And, as they say, the camera doesn’t lie.
Of course, we need both these things. If we aren’t open to the theatre’s paradigm of expressiveness, we will determinedly and deterministically lay ourselves open to the dangers of telling our customers what we have and who we are. Do we more wholly “find our why” by engaging in theatre practice, which gets our ‘why’ to reveal itself to us? But if our creativity in this instance leads us into true empathy (Martin Buber’s I and Thou relationships), so it also must lead us, in the other, to true authenticity, the foundation of leadership.
So what does this tell us about paradigms of leadership – in theatre and film? True leaders are indeed the catalysts and coaches of the producing and creative ensemble. You are only as good as your players – and your capacity to bring them to their unimagined potential and to create, in synergy, a whole far greater than the sum of its parts, is the measure of the leader’s success. Our “audiences” (teams and customers) experience their transformations as individuals but also collectively. We have the opportunity, in the theatre paradigm, to enable and empower both.