Business V Performance

Last week, I received an email from someone called Ed Will. I have met Ed on and off over the years on various cricket pitches. This is because a friend of mine and I have each raised a  cricket team to play an annual fixture called ‘The Co Cup’ in some of the South-East’s most picturesque grounds. Ed has played for the opposition: ‘The Market Porters’ against my team ‘The Lord Brocket XI’. Ed is a useful batsman and I am a fairly poor bowler. Over the years, he has dispatched my bowling to the boundary with irritating regularity. I met Ed, a couple of months ago, at a party to celebrate the Christening of my God daughter’s son. We discussed the possibility of passing on the mantle of organising the annual cricket match to the next generation, after a quarter of a century of fixtures and increasing numbers of injuries amongst the ageing teams: this is now in process.

Ed’s business, when he is not on the cricket pitch, is ‘building brands’ through a company he founded about the same time as the first ‘Co Cup’ fixture took place. His email to me was a request to review a book written by two clients which links to brands. I found the book fascinating. It highlighted what the world of business might learn from the performance industry. Businesses should delight their clients by engaging them emotionally, as performers aim to do when they take to the stage. The business of education hinges on inspiring delight. Children are engaged when their passion for learning is ignited. The best learning is a business requiring emotional connectivity. If you capture your audience you will get a response. This is true of the best teachers who unlock a passion for their subject. I experienced this with several teachers at the schools I attended. My Prep School Headmaster, Mr Higgs, inspired my love of History and the enthusiasm for literature of my secondary school English teacher, Mr Hunt, captured my imagination and love of reading. A successful independent school will articulate the story of what it aims to achieve for the pupils in its care. Bickley Park aims to provide an education that is built on research into what inspires a boy to learn. BPS also aims to respond to what experts say will be the skills set and mind set the children of today will need to thrive in the very different adult world they will enter in the future.

Underpinning outstanding performance lies hard work and resilience. The book includes many examples of this, none more so than the remarkable journey taken by James Dyson who famously produced 5126 prototypes before achieving success with his 5127th attempt. Dyson told ‘Wired’:

‘There are countless times an inventor can give up on an idea. By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child was born, by 2627, my wife and I were really counting our pennies. By 3727, my wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. These were tough times, but each failure brought me closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the first prototype that made the struggle worth it. The process bore the fruit. I just kept at it.’

Dyson told ‘Forbes’ that long distance running at school helped teach him the importance of perseverance:

‘I wanted to give up almost every day. But one of the good things I did when I was young was long distance running. I was quite good at it, not because I was physically good, but because I had more determination. I learnt determination from it. In long distance running, you go through a pain barrier. The same thing happens in research and development projects, or in starting a business. There’s a terrible moment when failure is staring you in the face. And actually, if you persevere a bit longer, you’ll start to climb out of it’.

The perseverance and hours of rehearsal that underpin great performances, combined with the emotional engagement the best artists convey through their compelling story telling, are lessons that can be learnt in business: no more so than in schools.