Theater, Jazz, and Business Success

Did you know that Lever Brothers, the consumer products powerhouse, had teams of actors working with employees and managers at all levels? After a series of interviews, the acting company put on a 40-minute performance in front of hundreds of employees, illustrating behavior–both good and bad–within the company. The project was called Catalyst.

Would you believe that dance instruction could help engineers do a better job? Since 1997, the CONNECT program at the Cooper Union Engineering School has drawn on theater techniques and movement, to help teach engineers how to better understand and communicate with their clients. Engineers who had been through this program received substantially higher ratings from job recruiters.

Did you know that Lucent’s world headquarters has brought in a five-man jazz ensemble, to demonstrate to managers how musicians work collaboratively under demanding constraints?

What all of these projects have in common is their connections to a group based in New York City called “Creativity Connection.” Their mission statement: “Powering corporate performance through arts-based learning.” Executive Director Harvey Seifter was director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for many years–an orchestra that I talked about in my book Group Genius, because they rehearse and perform without a conductor, allowing creativity to emerge from the group’s interactions.

The Lever Brothers, Lucent, and Cooper Union examples all come from a special issue of the Journal of Business Strategy from 2005. Businesses are experiencing great success by sending their staff to special workshops focused on theater, jazz, and even dance.

The reason this works is that these arts are ensemble arts, and these performers are experts at using collaboration to generate creativity. I wouldn’t try this myself–it takes skilled and experienced artists and arts teachers. But I know of an increasing number of artists who are learning the language of business, and can translate their collaborative strengths to organizational contexts.

Kudos to Henry Seifter and Creativity Connection for doing this good work.

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