Companies are turning to bards and artists to help their staff think creatively

If you'd mentioned the relationship between the arts and business a decade ago, you'd probably have been referring to corporate sponsorship. Mention the link today and there's a good chance you'd be talking not about what business can do for the arts, but vice versa. You would, in other words, be talking about arts-based training.

If you'd mentioned the relationship between the arts and business a decade ago, you'd probably have been referring to corporate sponsorship. Mention the link today and there's a good chance you'd be talking not about what business can do for the arts, but vice versa. You would, in other words, be talking about arts-based training.

Colin Tweedy is chief executive of Arts & Business, which has specialised in developing creative partnerships for the past 20 years. He attributes rising demand for the company's services to the fact that businesses now have to think creatively as well as analytically.

"Businesses have become more like the performing arts, so some are asking whether the processes that the arts have used for centuries can help them meet this challenge," he says. "Long ago, major companies recognised the benefits of offering their employees access to a gym. Now they're recognising the advantages of offering them a mind gym."

Lever Brothers, the household goods giant, is among the companies which have been converted to the idea of boosting employees' creative skills through workshops run by poets, musicians, actors and artists. It recently launched an initiative called Project Catalyst which it hopes will transform the culture of the workplace.

Mr Tweedy believes the proj- ect will be the biggest breakthrough yet in arts-based training. "There are so many initiatives - including a series of creative writing workshops and a new art collection - in such a well-known organisation that even the critics are bound to sit up and take note."

Law firm Mishcon de Reya was one of the first companies to get involved by sponsoring a poet in residence who conducted workshops for everyone from secretaries to senior partners. All employees agreed that writing and analysing poems helped create an environment where "deep" issues could be explored and then transferred to workplace matters. "Words are the tools of a lawyer's trade," explains a spokesperson. "So trying to think about other - more spiritual and artistic - industries where words are important has taught us a lot."

Rosamund Smith, a partner at Bates, Wells and Braithwaite, the legal firm which has formed an initiative called "Poet in the City", says: "Any good piece of writing is going to stick in your head and make you think. People who are stimulated work well, whereas people with inactive minds tend to be inactive workers."

Helen Duguid, organisational development consultant for Microsoft in the UK, claims music can serve a similar purpose. Recently, she asked Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, to speak to 300 Microsoft employees just as they were coming up to their annual appraisals. "My job is to inspire our people to do the best they can for our customers, and I'm constantly looking for interventions to help people think and behave differently," she told People Management magazine.

She believes Mr Zander inspired them to explore possibilities around their goals, beyond the obvious and beyond what seemed to be barriers to their aspirations through discussions on the use of music. "Leadership in the future will be about radiating possibilities, not about competitive thinking. Conductors have been in that business for years," said Mr Zander.

Others have a different focus. Paul Robertson, leader of the Medici String Quartet, has teamed up with Hugh Pidgeon, business director at Ashridge Consulting. They use discussions on music to explore issues such as tensions between players in rehearsal, and then adapt them to team-building within businesses. Theatre workshops tend to have a similar aim. The Globe Theatre, for instance, runs leadership workshops based on Shakespeare's Henry V. During the two-day course, participants draw parallels between the dilemmas confronting King Henry in the play and the problems they have in business. Through role-play, readings and discussion, they explore issues such as whether leaders need to distance themselves from their staff.

Many companies, including Lever, have introduced art works into the office. Mr Tweedy says: "The collections are chosen and placed carefully to enhance the working environment and stimulate staff."

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