17 February 2023
What tips can we glean from the work of the Bard of Avon?
My wife and I were invited last month to see As You Like It at the fabulous new @sohoplace theatre on Tottenham Court Road.
We take our seats “in the round” and a man casually wanders on stage, sits at a piano and starts a gentle refrain. Suddenly a 17th century crowd bustles in and we are off to the Forest of Arden as witnesses to the trials and tribulations of Rosalind.
Part way through a sad Jaques reflects:
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…”
For some reason these familiar lines stayed with me when my mind turned to business. Many of the components of a successful play, I realised, are relevant to a business:
So what other tips can we glean from the work of the Bard of Avon? Here are some:
This is an engaging encouragement to be bold. And it reminds me of the advice which Dame Carol Black gave to her students at Newnham College Cambridge as she shares with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs:
“I tell them to “Have a Go”. If you don’t go for something you can never get it, you can only regret afterwards, so Have a Go.”
Businesses should be bold, innovative and ideas machines. But, of course, unfettered boldness will not work for most businesses and a key role of the Board is to consider the amount of risk that the business can accommodate - its risk appetite. This is described by The Institute of Risk Management as:
“The amount and type of risk that an organisation is willing to take in order to meet its strategic objectives.”
Businesses are increasingly sophisticated in risk identification and mitigation but, here at Chris Saul PLC, we try to keep an eye on two things:
This is a reminder to busy executives that it is important to be on time for engagements. There will be exceptions of course (the Tube breaks down, the internet connection crashes) but the core principle is that if you are late you are effectively saying to those you are meeting that your time is more valuable than theirs. Not good.
I remember that when a new Chair of a PLC came to my former firm to talk to a group of General Counsel, he said that the best piece of advice he had received from a seasoned chair was:
“Turn up on time, and follow up.”
This is a dark quote as it is Iago’s response to Roderigo’s frustration at how slowly Iago’s plot is unfolding, but the broader point that patience and meticulous planning pay dividends is worth pausing over.
Whilst pace in advancing business innovation is important - and the speed with which AstraZeneca and Oxford University developed their Covid vaccine is a resonant recent example - there is often much to be said for a gradualist and patient approach. The travails of the Adani Group in the aftermath of the Hindenburg Research report may be in part due to the stunning speed of the ascent of Mr Adani (his net worth was $7bn in 2014 and more than $100bn just before publication of the report). As the FT observed:
“… the pace of his companies’ growth has proved a source of increasing scrutiny at home and abroad, with critics alleging that his proximity to Modi has paid off in leniency by regulators who allowed him to muscle aside rival businesses.”
And, in M&A, transformative deals have to be carefully planned. Recent PwC research suggests that 53% of corporate acquirors underperform their peers in terms of Total Shareholder Return - with capabilities fit, rather than strategic intent, being the critical factor in success.
Here is an uplifting theme. Early in the play Timon hears that his friend Ventidius is in prison because of an unpaid debt. He says that he is not “that feather to shake off”, will pay the debt and asks that Ventidius comes to him so that he can have Timon’s support.
There are two points to make here:
This is smart advice from Norfolk to Buckingham suggesting that if Buckingham winds the King up too much about Wolesley, he could end up wishing he hadn’t.
The takeaways for me are around the art of negotiation and are as follows:
While Polonius says this with ironic flourish, as he is not generally brief, the point is an important one. Brevity and concision are to be cherished in the business world.
A board effectiveness review which does not observe that the papers are too long will be a rare item. Brevity takes time and judgement (what can I safely not tell the Board) but the effort is worthwhile. George Orwell’s 6 lessons on writing are great https://medium.com/writers-republic/george-orwells-six-rules-of-writing-62f7424c02e5 - inviting us, for example, to cut out unnecessary words and (love this) never use the passive when we can use the active. And the same goes for contributions in meetings. Better the well-judged and well-informed brief intervention that the tedious monologue.
More irony here as Orsino, the speaker, goes on to ask for too much music so that his appetite dies - as the object of his love, Olivia, refuses to be seen for seven years whilst she grieves for her dead brother.
But the point for business is that music is nourishing. So many offices, factory floors, warehouses and delivery vans are happier and more productive places because of the presence over the airwaves of Pink Floyd, Ed Sheeran, RAYE and, now and again, Mozart. And everyone will look forward to the band playing, and the dancing, at the summer or Christmas party.
Surely no surprise then that Shakespeare guests in numerous modern tunes:
“Oh, there ain’t no love, no Montagues or Capulets Just banging tunes and DJ sets…”
Answers on a postcard.
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