This article by Mark Powell appeared in City AM, Friday 15 December 2017 on page 22.

City AM Strictly
There are parallels between competitive dancing and work, says Mark Powell


If you will be watching the final of Strictly Come Dancing tomorrow, I can offer a perspective that will make this a valuable learning experience from a business perspective. Honest.

I’ve had a long career at a senior level in a wide range of large organisations. Unusually, I’ve also had a parallel career as a competitive Latin American dancer. Competing for over twenty years as an amateur and as a professional, I won over 50 titles.

I danced because I loved it, and business was my career. But over time I began to see strong parallels between how I worked with my dance partners to create winning routines, and how I could work with colleagues to create winning business performances.

Top dancers have a deep understanding of the things they need to do to create winning performances. Businesses don’t work in the same way because a thing called ‘the organisation’ gets between people’s energy and ideas, and the organisation’s overall performance. All successful businesses perform extremely well, technically, and there isn’t much that differentiates businesses in the same field from one another. Businesses don’t think artistically about their overall performance.

In the world of competitive dancing (and in the world of business), lack of differentiation is death.

All top dancers are technically brilliant. What creates winners is the artistry they bring to their performance. When you watch great dancers, you don’t see the technique, you see the artistry; the things that make one pair of dancers stand out.

As the Strictly season progresses, it is the dancers with natural talent and those who show a real ability to learn who survive. All of the dancers in tomorrow’s final are, technically speaking, pretty impressive. The difference between them will be the art in what they do: their ability to tell a story; to put some of their personality into the routine.

The two dancers in tomorrow’s final who stand out for me are Alexandra Burke and Debbie McGee. They are both natural dancers with impressive techniques. As the series has progressed, they have got better and better and it’s been a joy to watch. But Debbie brings that extra bit of artistry to her performances; that extra sophistication about how she presents the story of the dance.

So – Debbie should be tomorrow’s winner, and as you’re watching the final, you can think about your business and ask yourself, ‘Where is the art in what we do? How do we create a business performance that sets us apart from our technically competent competitors?’ Now you can enjoy yourself and transform your business strategy at the same time.


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