Bringing The Bard to business

Richard Ivey School of Business professor Michael Sider wants his students to think differently.

“We’re pretty faulty thinkers, and we don’t think about that in business,” Sider says. “Business has this air of certainty: Get the facts lined up and, once the ducks are in a row, everything will work out and we’ll make the right decision. No decision in business is made that way.”

So how does one get this point across? Enter Sider’s former life as a English literature major.

At Ivey now for 10 years, it was a stroll down University College Hill three years ago with a colleague that Sider thought of creating his Management Communications course. “What I wanted to do was to go back in some way to the arts, which is my love, and use it now, but still do conflict management,” Sider says. “When you think about it, it’s the oldest way to learn, when you think of Plato or Aristotle.”

Sider created an interactive session model helping students unleash their creativity. He often cites leadership lessons from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the overall benefits of learning from art, literature and poetry to inspire sound decision-making and productive corporate cultures.

“I think it appeals to the idea of learning how to be a better communicator and a better leader,” he says. “If you think about great works of literature, whether it be Shakespeare or Moby Dick, you’re talking about power, and power is fundamental to leadership but also a fundamental corrupting influence. I think people get that. If you read great literature what it tells you about the operation of power is going to help you reflect in lessons about power in your own lives.”

Using not only Shakespeare, but art, music and poetry, Sider says Ivey’s students have loved how the course prepares them for the business world.

“We have revelled in the idea of how important it is to have vision, now literature is telling us that there could be some real problems with that,” he says. “How do I go out and create a virtuous organization that is not doomed to produce hypocrosy?”

As part of the course, Sider’s students produce a project in a medium they are not comfortable with – art, music, movies, short stories or dance – as a motivation to realize that through struggle comes inspiration, even in the business world.

“That’s where the creativity comes in – trying to teach them to express themselves creatively through struggle. My hope is that it is almost a medicinal value that when they get into the workplace and they meet these struggles they don’t say ‘blinders on, go back to vision, go back to mission.’ I hope when they look at their lives and their making this money, they think at what cost.”