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The Five Principles of Performance Thinking

performance thinking  

Because of the Industrial Revolution, when everything was primarily based on manufacturing, we became obsessed with process and efficiency, an obsession that has characterized businesses up until the present day, when we tend to think only about numbers. This way of thinking ‘transformed’ people into machines, and we are constantly worrying that we might lose some potential efficiency.

The industrial mindset hates risks and because of this, it punishes failure. The constant fear of failure restrains people to come up with new ideas or to find new ways of doing things, and this leads to reduced organizational performance in the long term.

The aforementioned machine paradigm also emphasizes how emotions and feelings should generally not be considered important. However, we have to take into consideration the fact that our customers are humans, not robots. The relationship between the company and its customers has to be an emotional one, in order to engage them. We have to become more artistic, instead of being so scientific, when it comes to business.

Mark Powell and Jonathan Gifford, in their book – The Five Principles of Performance Thinking, bring together a set of unique perspectives and methods for anyone in the business world who wants to shine in their work.

Dr. Mark Powell is a two-times world champion ballroom dancer and KPMG partner, who focuses on using performing arts to deal with today’s business challenges.

Jonathan Gifford is an ex-Fleet Street advertiser, with a background in Philosophy from the University in Kent, and a business author whose writing focuses on the human aspects of business, management and leadership and on the lessons that can be learned from history.

The five core principles they recommend are the following:

  1. Adopt the Artistic Mindset

We cannot describe a business only with metrics. It would be like describing dance in technical terms, without taking in consideration the emotional impact of the performance. Nowadays, all organizations that achieve success are the ones that engage with their costumers on a deeper level.

Creativity is not process-driven, like businesses in general, because it focuses on the end point and the way to get there could very well be circuitous. The industrial mindset devises steps that make processes timely and cost efficient, but the creative mindset always explores new directions, which undeniably takes longer, but the final performance can be better.

performance thinking

  1. Build Connected Ensembles

Every great performance is based on collaboration between people, so it is essential to create not only a group of people, but an ensemble. Businesses, often unknowingly, create ‘teams’ even in those cases when there is no actual reason for their employees to interact with one another.

However, it is not enough for an organization to see its members of staff dazzle their customers & stakeholders; they also have to connect with each other in order to create something truly special. Its ensemble has to engage in performance thinking, whereby it strives to create something together that is more than the sum of the individual parts.

An added benefit of this strategy is the fact that in an ensemble, the level of trust is high, so everybody can deal openly with their issues.

  1. Create Compelling Narrative

Every well-performing company has a purpose and a good story to tell. The story has a recognizable plot, is emotional and also memorable. We can forget everything, but we cannot forget a good story.

Organizations don’t only sell services and products, but also myths with a hero in it. This prompts the habit of retelling their narrative over time – a feature that all great stories share. This retelling could lead to new solutions, which are essential to an audience-delighting performance.

  1. Rehearse Creatively

When we talk about performance, we usually use the word practice, and not rehearse. Practice is something pleasant to do – we repeat the same thing until it becomes good enough.

In contrast, rehearsal is painful, and it involves risk and failure. Nonetheless, ‘failure’ is essential in this case, because it allows teams to develop processes and figure out the best way to deliver performance.

performance thinking

Rehearsal means organized risk-taking and it has the purpose of exploring boundaries. Business is practice-focused, it constantly perfects processes and develops an individual’s skills, but it leaves no room for creative rehearsal.

One way in which companies can practice creative rehearsal is brainstorming, but not just any brainstorming. The type of brainstorming the authors recommend is one in which every idea is thrown around until it is exceedingly clear that it will not bring any realistic, positive contribution to a company’s vision, mission or goals. Until the last option is exhausted, a team has to constantly engage with each other’s ideas, to ensure that all of a scenario’s possible facets have been explored.

Such an activity is but one of the many ways in which one’s employees can engage in performance thinking.

  1. Deliver Brilliant Performances and Delight the Audience

One of the most important elements in a ‘play’ is preparing ourselves for the performance. We have to put in a lot of time, in order to give our best in front of the audience. We should rehearse until we can perform without thinking about it. This helps free up our minds and allows us to focus on the connection with our audience.

Another important element is controlling the environment. Businesses often forget to micromanage performance spaces – also known as the locations where their play will take place. There are a lot of locations where customers interact with an organization – stores, showrooms, advertising spaces, websites, and every little detail has to be well-prepared.

Furthermore, the ‘role’ that the organization itself takes must be performed on every single level: the individual, the ensemble and the organizational one too.

Final thoughts

When employed properly, creative thinking has the power to transform businesses and make their performance better. It is always important to take into consideration the implementation of new technologies in our organizations, but we mustn’t forget the good habit of thinking differently, in order to build a deeper, personal connection with our customers.

In modern times, the best businesses are those who show a true human face. While disengaged corporations might be very efficient at what they want to achieve, in the long run, people will want more than simply receiving a good product or service. They will want to feel part of the universe that is slowly building around them. Those businesses that recognize this desire will be leaps and bounds ahead of their competition.

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