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What Modern Business Can Learn from Shakespeare

By John Burns

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. But his plays remain popular, with productions, festivals and film adaptations happening every year. Four centuries represent a long history of brand loyalty for actors and audiences. Why the fascination with an English playwright who died in the 17th century? One reason for his continued appeal is in the way he dramatizes timeless aspects of the human experience that we can recognize in ourselves and those around us. In the motivations and actions of his characters, he reveals insight into behavior and psychology that are not bound in time to Elizabethan England, but rather universal in the way they daily life and world news in the 21st century.

Modern business can learn from Shakespeare as well. In fact, with respect to my own area of expertise, innovation, he has a lot to offer. Excessive pride, naïveté, indecisiveness, selfish egotism – these and other timeless human flaws doom the heroes of his 400-year-old plays. In the world of modern business, these same human flaws often contribute to failures in innovation. Although companies and business authors are good at discussing the business and technical reasons for innovation failure, few spend time examining how human flaws can lead to failures in innovation.

Our upcoming AMS webinar What Can Shakespeare Teach Us About Innovation discusses four real-world business cases showing how human flaws – the same described by Shakespeare centuries ago – contributed to innovation failure. It then presents questions for innovators to think about to avoid the same fate:

  • Are we overly prideful in believing that customers will embrace our innovation?
  • Are we naïve in listening to the opinions of industry experts or luminaries?
  • Are we indecisive despite clear evidence about what we should do?
  • Are we listening too intently to the desires of one or a small number of customers?

Reflecting on these questions can help ensure your innovation ends in triumph, not in tragedy.

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