Business Lessons from Shakespeare

Shakespeare is known to have had a wide range of experience in different areas of life, which made him especially suited for telling masterful tales of everything from …

Shakespeare is known to have had a wide range of experience in different areas of life, which made him especially suited for telling masterful tales of everything from love and lordship to skullduggery and scandal. Now, on The Bard’s birthday, business experts examine what they can learn from one of the greatest playwrights of all time. A few lessons for business success teased from Shakespeare’s life and plays include being innovative and thinking outside the box, maximizing the exposure of your work and learning from your failures. For more on this continue reading the following article from TheStreet.

"Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them."

William Shakespeare’s famous quote from Twelfth Night could not be more fitting for a column on entrepreneurism, which makes him the latest personality to be featured in TheStreet’s monthly column.

On what is considered to be his 448th birthday (ironically, he died on the same day at age 52), what business lessons can we learn from the famous playwright?

March to the beat of a different drummer.

College classes are dedicated solely to Shakespearean works of literature, numerous plays have been adapted for movies and television and select verses have been referenced everywhere from Star Trek to My So Called Life. All of this shows how much the playwright was able to resonate with his audience – even those that lived hundreds of years after him.

It’s inspirational for any entrepreneur who has the latest and greatest invention.

Shakespeare "changed the way people looked at literature," says Craig Libis, CEO of Executive Recruiting Consultants and a history buff. "He revolutionized the way people looked at the English language. How many other authors do we know … are as popular today as they were when they were alive? That’s a pretty strong testament."

In reality though only few can achieve this lofty goal.

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We are still able to relate to Shakespeare because his writing touched upon basic themes of human nature – power, love, and conforming (or more often not) to society – yet they were presented in a fresh (at the time controversial) way.

"He honestly tried to do things always a little bit differently than what everybody else was doing and he was not afraid to take that step. He faced a lot of criticism, the Puritans came in and tried to run him out, but he always kind of beat to his own drum," Libis says.

So what can entrepreneurs learn from this? That being unique, being different and not going along with the crowd is one way to get your product or service noticed. "He truly tried to reinvent the wheel in his own way. Not every business needs to invent the wheel, but we can’t be afraid to change," Libis adds.

Maximize exposure

Today Shakespeare is most well-known for his plays that spanned from comedies to tragedies including famous works like As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth and of course, Romeo & Juliet, yet he was also a businessman.

Shakespeare was a part of a London theater company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later renamed the King’s Men), which had the exclusive rights to perform his plays. The group later built its own theater, the renowned Globe Theatre, of which Shakespeare was also a part owner. With standing room close to the stage and stadium seating, the circular theater was said to hold several thousand and was arranged to be accessible to patrons of all classes.

Patrons grew to look forward to days when the plays would be performed. From advertising via color-coded flags to promotions to the trumpet sounding as the play was to begin, performance days were seen as a big event, experts say.

Entrepreneurs can take a page from the theater’s book by doing anything and everything to get their product or service noticed. Today, that means making sure your business is prominent on social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Google+. It also means taking an active role in your local community (go ahead and sponsor that soccer team) and pitching your business story to local media.

Learn from failure

Another central theme running through Shakespeare’s plays is learning from failure, says Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants and adjunct professor at Fairfield University, who teaches various professional and business writing courses.

"There are more failures than successes in the outcomes of Shakespeare’s leaders mainly because we learn better from watching the struggles and defeats of others," Magas writes in an email.

Business owners can learn a lot from their failures, which hopefully inspire people to get it right the second (or third or fourth) time. "Consider how human beings learn through trial and error," she writes. "No one wants to befriend failure, but if we do, we certainly don’t forget its visit anytime soon."

Get to know your employees

Magas also points to Shakespeare’s play Henry V in which the king disguised himself on the eve of his Agincourt speech to learn the true feelings about his own men regarding his role as leader. He realized that he needed to learn how to be a good king from his subjects, not from other kings, she says. (Does this sound like a precursor to today’s Undercover Boss on CBS (CBS)?)

In order to be a good manager and for employees to be most productive, take this lesson to heart. Understanding the needs of your employees and creating more employee-friendly policies is the best way to maximize employee performance.

"Your success as a manager hinges on the direct support of your staff. Just as Shakespeare’s development of subplots directs our attention to the vital role of support staff, your role as a manager should be to learn from your staff, develop their potential and reward innovative ideas," Magas says.

This article was republished with permission from TheStreet.


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