The Arts Experience is a unique leadership development programme using top performing artists – actors, theatre directors, musicians, dancers and conductors – to demonstrate their performance skills and to interact with delegates, offering a visceral understanding of the techniques and mindsets that the artists use in preparing and delivering outstanding performances.

Watching top artists perform at such close quarters is inspirational. Being able to talk to them about their approach to performance offers a privileged insight into core aspects of the artists’ work: creative rehearsal; ensemble behaviour; improvisation; shared and allowed leadership and the ‘artistry’ that turns technical mastery into a truly great performance.

The programme uses our framework of 10 Lessons From The Performing Arts to help delegates translate their experiences into personal behaviours and business strategies.

The Arts Experience is based on Dr Mark Powell’s ground-breaking arts-based programmes at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, where Mark spent 10 years as Associate Fellow. These programmes formed the basis for the business novel, Perform To Win: Unlocking the secrets of the arts for personal and business success, a lightly-fictionalised account of four board directors’ experiences as they work with actors, dancers and conductors in the course of the programme, drawing their own lessons from the performing arts to help solve a very real business problem of their own.

“I think there is an intuitive understanding at a lot of senior levels that in order to get extraordinary results you need to do something extraordinary, and getting people outside of their comfort zones and getting people to try something that is extraordinarily unusual for them is where we got the best realisations from those people about their own environment, their own behavior, their own transactions and relations with others.”
HR Director, Oxford Saïd Business School programme

Both Mark and Jonathan have had parallel careers in business and the arts. In addition to his career in business consultancy, Mark is also a former world champion Latin ballroom dancer. Jonathan is a business writer who spent many years playing saxophone in jazz, blues and soul bands while working for national newspapers and magazines. They both share the conviction that an understanding of the techniques and mindsets used by performers to deliver outstanding performances can be used by business leaders to deliver winning performances of their own.

“I realised that the way of working together that my dance partner and I used to deliver championship-winning performances was different from the kind of relationship that I had with my business partners, or the kinds of relationship that I saw in the companies I was consulting for. I also realised that the way that we worked together as a dance partnership could be broken down and analysed. And the more I worked with other artists – actors, conductors, jazz musicians – the more I realised that we were all using very similar techniques and mindsets and that these could be communicated to other people and used very effectively in the world of business and even in everyday life.”
Dr Mark Powell

The focus on ‘experience’ is an essential aspect of The Arts Experience, as the title of the programme suggests. Most development programmes are ‘information heavy’ – but being given new information is unlikely to change our core behaviours. Experiencing something that affects us at a gut level stays with us and colours our daily behaviours.

In the course of these programmes, delegates always ‘get’ some aspect of what the artists are doing and grasp how they can adapt it into their own leadership and business style. They see how jazz musicians pass leadership around the ensemble as they improvise around a shared framework; how actors work together to create a great ensemble performance; how theatre directors set up conditions in rehearsal that help to create trusting, innovative ensembles; how conductors wordlessly give the lead to choirs and orchestras, conveying complex ideas and emotions via their embodied leadership.

The half-day version of the programme gives a dramatic flavour of the arts experience, typically working with one set of performing artists: actors, jazz musicians, dancers or conductors. The one- or two-day courses allow the use of a wider variety of artists and of experiences and the opportunity to role-play aspects of the programme to explore the potential application of new ideas and concepts to delegates’ own business situations.

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