There are many things that the creative arts and business have in common. Whether it is the curtain going down or the close of a business deal or meeting a client need – each of these are just episodes in an everyday life that is full of hard work, pain, joys, dreams, successes and failures.
My next idol, fifth in the series of articles that I started sharing with you last December, is Rudolf Nureyev, a ballet and contemporary dancer and choreographer, named Lord of the Dance and the greatest male dancer of his generation.
Born on a Trans-Siberian train in the Soviet Union in 1938, his life and career took him all over the world, until his last moments in 1993 in France. His artistic skills, dedication to dance, ballet technique and his passion not only transformed the role of male ballet dancers, but also caused the news sensation of the Cold War – he was the first Soviet artist to defect from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961.
Why did he do it? There was much discussion at the time about his decision. I believe that it was his desire to live to the fullest that made him take such a huge leap of faith; in his own words:
“You live as long as you dance.”
What a powerful statement! Each of us should have our own purpose in life and know what makes us wake up every morning and live every hour authentically and without the need for justification.
Those who know me will know that I like trying to fundamentally and sustainably improve things in business and in organizations – this is my ‘purpose’.
And, this calling cannot be a one off. It’s about every day work, through which you getting better and better, bringing more and more of whatever you do to and who you are to others.
It is similar to the everyday training that all dancers need to go through, and Nureyev was especially clear about it, admitting that:
“When I miss class for one day, I know it. When I miss class for two days, my teacher knows it. When I miss class for three days, the audience knows it.”
For me, I see there a parallel with a need for a lifelong learning that is becoming more and more important for all of us. In an era when technology, such as AI, can bring great benefits, it also brings a demand to have the latest skills and ability to leverage the technology to the fullest in the most appropriate way.
And there are many different methods and approaches to learning and development. Learning from traditional and online courses, from your colleagues and even clients and partners really helps to develop your business muscles – your intelligence, wit, creative thinking – to be ready for a peak performance. It’s so important that we grasp every opportunity to do exactly that. At IBM, for example, we do have an initiative called THINK40, which challenges every employee to have at least 40 hours of learning per year, and this target goes hand-in-hand with a platform to help with that – called Your Learning – which is an AI powered environment recommending the most appropriate learnings to you, taking into account your current role, previous learnings and your career goals.
As I shared with you my views on how ballet and business are so close together, let’s think also of the art itself. Nureyev described it in a very powerful way:
“What is art? It is not just nature, it is nurtured nature. It is intelligence applied to what physical ability you have.”
For me, this is what our lives should be all about … combining the power of our minds and bodies to nurture the environment we are in. A noble, ambitious, yet an important task at hand.
Each of my previous five idols has taught me something – as Anita Roddick said ‘be courageous’, ‘aim high’ as Mikhail Gorbachev recommended, ‘live happy lives’ as David Hume challenged us, ‘don’t pretend, just be’ as Chrissie Hynde advises and, ‘train every day to be able to nurture nature’, as Nureyev showed us in his short yet powerful life.
What is a good way to train your mind and body? What can help us nurture nature?
Let me share first. I believe in daily routines, as excellence is a daily habit: morning physical exercise, such as running or tennis, early morning learning for your current role and evening readings to boost your imagination, creativity and dedication even further.
What works for you? What ‘nurturing’ can you recommend to others? And, thinking of Nureyev’s story: what is your purpose and legacy?