Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Poetry and Strategic Thinking
By the Boston Consulting Group

Our language capability has a significant effect on how we express ourselves and on the way we think. Much richness in ideas can be lost if the person expressing the ideas does not have a superior command of language, and as much more can be lost when the recipient is ill prepared. Not sensing the proper tone, not recognizing an allusion, misunderstanding a metaphor, or taking understatement literally can all lead to a communications breakdown. Reading poetry can help you think strategically because: (1) like other literature, poetry can teach by analogy, and (2) poetry can teach language skills because it is the most condensed form of language and the richest in means of expression.

Sensitivity to language, however, is not the most important leadership skill that can be enhanced by studying poetry. Leaders too often develop their abilities in quantitative, linear thinking at the expense of emotional, contextual, and cultural response. (3) Effective reading of poetry requires a blending of intellectual, emotional, and sensory reactions. It blends visual image and language. It understands the literal while allowing full play to the ambiguous. Admittedly, most poetry students never become proficient in this integration, and we don't claim that if you read poetry you will automatically develop the skill. It requires that one enjoy the experience of poetry and want to become an astute reader. But the skill can be learned and, once acquired, should be transferable, for example, to responding to complex, strategic situations.

To itemize one strategic benefit, poetry develops nonlinear thinking by improving our ability to:

-recognize layered perception
-detect different modes of meaning
-expand the breadth and depth of associations we perceive
-improve a wholeness of response
-deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, unresolved conflict
-defamiliarize ourselves from the immediate situation
-defer judgment
-detect weak signals

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