I saw the Royal Ballet of Flanders perform William Forsythe's "Impressing the Czar" last week at the Rose Theatre in New York. It was a mesmerizing experience: a demonstration of the possibilities of the human body and its bold orchestration as part of a stampeding, Dionysian collective.
As I followed the breathtaking, ultra-structuralist choreography, especially the acclaimed "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" part, I couldn't help but draw parallels to other high-performing teams: Why, I wondered, can't businesses (and governments, for that matter) accomplish the same level of perfection? What is it they lack compared to world-class ballet ensembles (and world-class orchestras)? Why are business organizations so often so dysfunctional? Why do the regimen and the elevated standards of consistent, superior performance that apply to ballet and orchestra not seem to translate to the world of business?
Sure, one difference is that art-performing ensembles execute creativity, whereas business teams need to be creative before and when they execute. Innovation is a key ingredient of their successful performance. But still, the operational rigor and prowess that has long been a calling card of companies like GE -- has that become a nostalgic idea in the work-life balanced world of millennials? Do commitment and attention to detail still matter? Is perfection a desirable goal at all in the accelerated economy of permanent beta?
Without wanting to romanticize, there is something romantic about the stories of Tiger Woods practicing his swings for hours every day in front of a mirror, violinists playing the same note over and over again until they reach perfection, and ballerinas sacrificing their bodies for someone else's imagination.
Today's young professionals seem skeptical about this kind of work ethic: For them, good is good enough. They are committing themselves to doing good and living well rather than living up to a vague concept of excellence. Most of them are not interested in sacrifice and excess and would rather save themselves. But for what?