It can all be much ado about business, whatever we do. In business, we all need new ideas and to seek out lessons from other business people, both current and in the past. Which got me wondering, as we celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, about his business skills and overall success. Was he as successful in business as he was as a playwright? Well, there’s a contentious idea! And so, can we learn from his success? Was he, in fact, the Alan Sugar of his day? What, another mad idea?!
Certainly, like Alan Sugar he was innovative, highly successful and took a few risks. He probably had his own way of finding apprentices and actors to join his theatre group. Unlike Alan Sugar, he was not from the East End of London, although he did rent rooms in various parts of London, including the East End.
Shakespeare’s father was in business and yet there were times when poverty would stalk the young Will and his family. From this, to fame and fortune. By his death he had money and owned great swathes of land in Stratford-upon-Avon. Not bad for a country lad with a grammar school education.
From school, he may have planned to take up an apprenticeship but getting his older girlfriend pregnant put an end to that (apprentices were not allowed to be married). How to support his family? How to make money? How to follow his passions? (He had already shown a great interest in plays, while watching acting groups who visited Stratford during his childhood). He probably also wanted some excitement and fun in his life; Stratford in the 1580’s mainly known for its wool trade. It may have been these factors that led him to move to London.
Was he prepared to take risks?
Well he invested in the ‘big new idea’ of the theatre in London. Like Alan Sugar, he wanted to be involved in the cutting edge ideas of his time. Some people must have thought the idea of theatres mad – who had the money and time for plays? Well, as it turned out, LOTS of people.
Although willing to take risks, I judge he was politically astute too. Unlike many playwrights of the time he kept out of prison and on the right side of the censor.
Did he segment his market?
He knew all about targeting different groups – from the groundlings in the theatres who liked to stand close and heckle the actors, through nobility who sponsored his work to royalty who sought performances of his plays at court. He even succeeded in moving almost seamlessly from the Elizabethan period to the reign of King James – some of his plays offer clues to how he did this.
This flexibility also suggests he was good at building relationships and engaging with very different types of people. Which of us in business does not need to engage with many people and demonstrate our relational skills?
Was he a good team leader?
I imagine he was both a good team leader and a good team player. Some days he would be acting and others he would be writing and organising the actors. He would have to develop young, would-be actors while also encouraging his established players.
As a good team leader he would know how to maintain high standards. So, like Alan Sugar, he would have sought to work with the best and said ‘You’re fired’ to the less talented.
Did he have a collaborative style?
Well he wrote many plays in collaboration with other playwrights. Why? Well, possibly to meet time pressures, the opportunity to gain new ideas and also to play to the strengths of others. Like business to-day, collaboration can open new doors.
To-day others collaborate and set up small businesses based upon Shakespeare and his work as shown in this brief YouTube video.
What about his plays?
He wrote some fine plays that were popular then and still are to-day. During his life-time he will have entertained thousands and generations since, around the world. And yet, during his life he never had his plays published, despite the fact that publishing was a thriving trade in London. It is thanks to his good friends that we have his plays. This may tell us many things about him and his thoughts on business. His plays are full of famous quotes that many of us use in our daily lives, so let us give him the last word on business.
“To business that we love we rise betime
And go to’t with delight.”
(Antony and Cleopatra: Act 4).