Slated to speak at the Wharton Leadership Conference in Philadelphia on June 7, Dana Gioia (pronounced Joy-a) talked with Knowledge@Wharton about the connection between business and poetry saying that he "came into business as a poet" rather than arriving at an appreciation of the form during his business career at General Foods.
Asked in the online interview how "business managers might benefit from poetry," Gioia doesn't hesitate:
I think that if you come into the business, with an arts background, you have a tremendously difficult time initially. This is because it's a very different world, it looks at problems differently and by and large, they don't necessarily respect your background.
For that reason, I did not let anyone I worked with know that I was a poet. This is because, let me ask you a question, if you had a poet working for you, wouldn't you check his or her addition? So privately I went through a very difficult time. That being said, as you rise in business, as you get out of the lower level staff jobs and the quantitative analysis, and you get into the higher level of problems, I felt that I had an enormous advantage over my colleagues because I had a background in the imagination, in language and in literature.
The learning process works in the other direction too. Reflecting on what business taught him now that he is the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, he says
...I think the thing that I've learned from business, which most artists never learn, is... the ability to create win/win partnerships with other agencies and with individuals - so that by doing a worthy project everybody comes out ahead.