What can business learn from dance?

As OnPR is a sponsor of an international youth dance competition, I spent a few hours on International Dance Day trying to get the news out to potential applicants via social media (hopefully at least a few of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s 900,000 Twitter followers are potential young dance stars, as she favorited my Tweet!)

It got me thinking about what business can learn from dance. Here’s my top five:

  1. How to be creative

One of the biggest issues for business these days is creativity (or lack of it). For decades, people in business have been taught to think, to analyze, to base decisions upon logic, information and market research. Today, knowledge and logic are not enough, not least because a business may only get information one nanosecond before its competitors, such is the impact of new technologies.

Many business leaders now believe that competitive advantage will come through their staff coming up with new ideas which lead to new products – that is, through creativity and innovation. But if they have spent all their time training staff to be logical, numerical and analytical, how can they now get them to change their mind sets and start being creative, imaginative and lateral thinkers?

Choreography is a great metaphor for creativity and leadership. Choreographers make something out of nothing; they have a vision and a purpose which they must communicate; and their principal mode of communication is a group of skilled dancers who must work as a team if they are to succeed. So how do they do it? What are the processes and techniques they use? And can they transfer those tricks to the world of business?

  1. Taking risks is necessary

Creativity itself, whether of the performer or the choreographer, is made up of a huge range of elements that are essential in the arts world and increasingly sought by business. One of those is risk – something to which business can be remarkably averse. The whole point of rehearsal, for example, is to take risks in a safe environment. First you try a routine one way, then another. You move forward, very often, because one of the dancers, tries something differently, with more intensity, more risk. There is still discipline – the music may not have changed, the step may be fundamentally the same, and everyone knows that the first night is on Tuesday week. This is actually the process of creation from which business could really learn.

  1. It takes teamwork

In the performing arts, performers, musicians, stage management, designers, composers, choreographers, front of house and all the other specialists come together to make a creative product. They know their roles and they give way to each other when occasion demands it – they are a classic example of cross-functional teams.

One of the fundamentals of good teamwork is trust. Dancers play trust games – literally putting their safety in another’s hands. And there is something about good teamwork in the arts that is non-hierarchical – everyone’s input is valued and many a great scene is the product of everyone’s contribution, not just the choreographer’s.

  1. Be open to new ideas

While having an open mind implies waiting for something to come and fill up the gap, creativity demands a more proactive approach than that. “Creativity is a state of mind that is restlessly looking for new ways of doing things” as Mark Leonard of Demos wrote. If you are constantly looking for new ways, different ways, and if you are open to making connections, particularly those that have not been made before, you are going to find yourself with ideas coming from somewhere unexpected … such as musing on what business can learn from dance.

  1. Feel, don’t just think

I’ve been doing some Executive Coaching over the last year, and one of the most interesting aspects – to me anyway – is when my Coach asks me: How do you feel about that? What will it feel like when you have achieved it? What will success feel like? These are such powerful, deep-routed questions that I can’t often begin to answer for a few days after each session.

My coach uses Ontological Coaching “To establish the distinction between phenomenon – as in occurrences or facts perceived through our senses – and the explanation, why it happens. We create a new connection between all aspects of our Self, removing any artificial separation of Body, Emotions and Language (BEL). We believe that the combination of these elements, existent in each of us, defines our being and how we deal with problems. That is why we work the elements simultaneously to expand our capabilities of new perceptions. The interaction of these new perceptions, or notions, allows us to step out of our current ‘script’ or ‘story’, provoking new awareness and long lasting changes.”

Despite working in a so-called creative industry, I agree with Sir Ken Robinson: Sometimes we have to ‘unlearn’ how we were taught to think, to analyze, to base decisions upon logic, information and research, and to cultivate creativity by acknowledging multiple types of intelligence – including physical intelligence and how that links to emotional intelligence.

In a hyper-connected and networked world, I think that might come in quite handy.

Ronna Porter

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