Word On The Street

Bard At Work

Whose words these are, I think I know...

By Karin Moeller

Lovers use it to woo, politicians use it to inspire, and now business owners can use it to stimulate communication. What has the power to influence topics as divergent as love, politics and business? Good, old-fashioned poetry.

Jim Armstrong believes in the power of poetry. In the newest twist on human resources specialists, Armstrong's Longmont, Colorado-based CorPoet seeks to put some of the "culture" back in corporate culture with its poetry workshops--or "wordshops."

"I try to tear down the walls of how people perceive poetry, as an intimidating, intellectual ivory tower," says Armstrong, who holds a master's degree in poetry and creative writing.

Armstrong encourages creative expression by sharing examples of poems written by people in the workplace--from janitors to CEOs. Wordshop participants are eventually asked to write poems of their own--but forget about iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets and other traditional poetic parameters.

"Our wordshops allow [employees to express] their feelings about the company," says Armstrong. "They also enable upper management to express their mission for the corporation to everyone in the culture."

At the conclusion of the wordshops, Armstrong compiles an "Annual RePoet"--an anthology of all the poems penned during the wordshops--which can be distributed throughout a company in booklet form, on audiotape or CD-ROM, or even on the business's intranet.

While CorPoet's fee depends on the length of the wordshops and the number of participants, a full-day wordshop usually costs about $1,500. The value of CorPoet's services, however, is harder to quantify.

"It's difficult to put a pricetag on this," says Armstrong, "but we've seen in business that by improving communication and creativity, productivity goes up."

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Word On The Street.

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