Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Power of Poetry to Business, in the Words of Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia (pronounced Joy-a) claims to be the only person in history who went to business school to be a poet. Having earned a degree from Stanford's graduate school of business, he worked 15 years in corporate life, eventually becoming vice president of General Foods.

In 1991, Gioia wrote an influential collection of essays titled, "Can Poetry Matter?" in which he explored, among other themes, the nexus between business and poetry. Since 2002, he has been chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts where he has overseen programs aimed at making Shakespeare and poetry recitation more popular in the U.S. Gioia, who is a speaker at the Wharton Leadership Conference in Philadelphia on June 7, talked about these ideas with management professor Michael Useem and Knowledge@Wharton.

Read and listen to the interview here.

A piece of the interview:

Useem: Let me reverse the question. From your own experience, can business managers themselves benefit the other way around from poetry?

Gioia: Oh absolutely, but I think that my own theory on it may surprise people. I think that if you come into the business, with an arts background, you have a tremendously difficult time initially. This is because it's a very different world, it looks at problems differently and by and large, they don't necessarily respect your background.

For that reason, I did not let anyone I worked with know that I was a poet. This is because, let me ask you a question, if you had a poet working for you, wouldn't you check his or her addition? So privately I went through a very difficult time. That being said, as you rise in business, as you get out of the lower level staff jobs and the quantitative analysis, and you get into the higher level of problems, I felt that I had an enormous advantage over my colleagues because I had a background in the imagination, in language and in literature.

This is because once you get into middle and upper management, the decisions that you make are largely qualitative and creative. And, most people who do really well in the early quantitative stages are grossly unprepared for the real challenges of upper management, at least in marketing which was the industry that I was working in, marketing and product management.

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