Poetry, Business, Synthesis, and Les McKeown’s Predictable Success

As I have said before, some of my favorite revelations burst forth from the pairing of seemingly unrelated events. In this case, I had the pleasure of meeting Les McKeown on Friday during an all-day workshop he gave for our company on the business principles contained within his much-anticipated first book, Predictable Success. And just now, I finished drafting a column for the poetry social networking website Read Write Poem, about how to nurture and sustain a poetic mindset. The relationship between poetry and business is a topic that I have been simmering for some time. Recently, though, it has developed into a broth worth serving into words.

Predictable Success outlines the life cycle of any organization, and especially businesses, just as surely as a developmental psychologist can tell you, in broad terms, that you are going to be going through certain stages in your individual growth. And as just much as it can help to be told that you are not alone in the tumult of adolescence (or really any stage of life), this book is likewise a balm.

But Les goes further in explaining how businesses at any stage of growth can progress to a state where success becomes predictable. This remarkable set of practices strikes me as equally applicable to the development of an artist. Even as a business learns to create necessary structure, in such a way that it still fosters collaboration and innovation, so, too, does any artist dance between discipline and creative abandon in learning to create and sustain a life steeped in art.

One of the key aspects Les mentioned in our workshop is a critical “fourth element” viewpoint, able to take the viewpoints of visionaries, doers, and procedural types and synthesize them into something greater. This is apparently going to be detailed in his soon-to-be-much-anticipated second book. Les is brimming with good ideas. But the importance of the synthesis he described on Friday has resonated with me deeply since, as both an executive and a poet.

A few weeks prior, a colleague passed around an article in CLO Magazine entitled “The Power of Paradox.” It lays out, rather eloquently, the importance of embracing an “and” mentality, instead of assuming a business must settle for this or that. That is, it points out how healthy businesses eschew polarization, and strive for synthesis. I couldn’t help myself. I had to reply to my work colleagues as a poet, to point out that we poets also strive to embrace paradox in making art–a quality John Keats termed “negative capability” nearly two centuries ago.

Poetry is a medium capable of tackling the complex and contradictory nature of human consciousness. A business–and really any group–is composed of complex beings all striving under a purpose that they (hopefully, and by degrees) all hold in common. Therefore it makes sense that those organizations prone to excel are those most able to embrace the complex nature of achieving sustainable success–marrying intuition with great data; risk-taking with process; a supportive, fun culture with a solid bottom line.

As I am finding my way in art, in business, in life, these moments where the world seems to conspire around me to push through a revelation such as this are precious indeed. Many thanks to Les and my sharp-as-tacks colleagues for helping me to glimpse the bigger game that lies ahead.