06 February 2013

Want a Different Lens? Hire a Poet

Poets See Through a Different Lens
Roger Ehrenberg of IA Ventures posted on Twitter last night that his investment firm was looking for a new partner.

He linked to a blog post in which he wrote they wanted to get "some new perspectives in the Firm to help us look at opportunities through a different lens."

I thought immediately that Roger should hire a poet. Why?

"For one, poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity," as John Coleman, co-author of Passion and Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders wrote in the Harvard Business Review blog last November.

Coleman observed, "Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman once told The New York Times, 'I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.'"

Second, poets are -- despite the seeming loneliness of their primary pursuit -- more sociable beings.

Coleman referred to a 2006 study conducted by the Poetry Foundation, claiming the "number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was 'understanding' -- of the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts."

Further, poets and poetry readers may have more finely developed "qualitative and creative" skills and "creative judgment," which would enhance the more quantitative skill sets that IA Ventures already possesses among its partners.

Finally, as Coleman noted, referencing Clare Morgan's book What Poetry Brings to Business poets and poetry readers possessed "greater 'self-monitoring' strategies that enhanced the efficacy of their thinking processes.

"These creative capabilities can help executives keep their organizations entrepreneurial, draw imaginative solutions, and navigate disruptive environments where data alone are insufficient to make progress."

In an earlier HBR blog post, Tony Golsby-Smith, an Australian business design and transformation consultant, pointed to four key attributes humanities-focused people such as poets bring to any organization.

These include an ability to understand customer needs, an emphasis on creativity and innovation, communication and presentation skills, and analyzing complexity and ambiguity.

Such individuals tend "to be curious, to ask open-ended questions, see the big picture," Golsby-Smith wrote. "This kind of thinking is just what you need if you are facing a murky future or dealing with tricky, incipient problems."

For building relationships with customers (or Limited Partners, in the case of IA Ventures), Golsby-Smith offered, "you need keen powers of observation and psychology -- the stuff of poets and novelists."

So, to Roger I say, hire a poet for your new partner at IA Ventures. You will get someone with different, yet complementary attributes to those your Firm already has on board.

A poet will certainly be passionate, articulate, and interested in engaging in constructive debate as well as building partnerships with your portfolio companies. 

At least, I know one poet who fits that description.