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Artful Business Strategies

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Business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos were treated to a series of enlightening talks uniting the usually separate spheres of business and the arts.

ANNA CHAMBERS discusses Elizabethan lessons for twenty-first century businesses.

Treading the boards and bursting forth in song don't come high on the agenda of your average CEO, but they shouldn't be completely dismissed from the agenda. Business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos were treated to a series of enlightening talks uniting the usually separate spheres of business and the arts.

Richard Olivier, son of the legendary thespian Laurence Olivier, spoke on lessons to be learned from Macbeth, while Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra lifted spirits and opened minds with song.

Olivier set up his company, Olivier Mythodrama, to deliver seminars using Shakespeare's plays to highlight leadership issues. His Davos speech was designed to target the causes of the economic climate.

To rehash the plot, Macbeth gets a tip off from three witches that he is to become King. Seduced by dreams of grandeur and egged on by the ruthless Lady Macbeth, he sets out on a murderous path to take the throne at any cost, until his unnatural reign is cut short by the true leader Malcolm.

Olivier focused on the way Macbeth's ‘vaulting ambition' propels him to rapid over-expansion and ultimately destruction. "Macbeth is a noble warrior who apparently believes in serving his kingdom, but is spectacularly derailed, caught by his own ambition. He is never happy with what he has got and always wants more."

Macbeth never set out to be evil, but becomes ruled by ambition and ignores the natural order of things. As Olivier advises, "People cut off from nature will make unnatural decisions," and it's easy to see the relevance of his comment to bankers whose detachment from reality has landed us in the current financial crisis.

Olivier went on to promote As You Like It as a positive model for business. In the play, members of the court are banished to the forest - a sort of Elizabethan team building experience, if you will - to heal rifts in the nurturing pastoral scene, before returning to rule more efficiently.

While Olivier looked to drama for inspiration, Benjamin Zander, used music to open the minds of business leaders to new possibilities.

During his seminar, he transformed 500 economic magnates into a harmonius choral throng singing ‘Happy Birthday'. It's a tune we all know, but tend to sing with the enthusiasm of a funeral dirge. On this occasion, he had them standing on chairs and belting out a sterling rendition.

What did this experience have to teach them? ‘You don't have to do everything the way you've always done it,' answers Xander. "Crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity and it's only when there is a crisis that people's antennae are really attuned that they can think of new things, they can be creative."

So, next time you are making a tough business decision, don't be blinded by raw ambition. Heed the cautionary tale of Macbeth, open your mind to the realm of possibility and let yourself be guided by the muses.

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