5 Innovation Lessons Learned From Dance

Fearlessly Human, Unexpectedly Irreverent.

This is one of our core values at Prophet, and the one that I, as a senior associate, former dancer, current aspiring cook and everyday human, value the most. Our people bring their whole selves to the job every day, and it makes everything we do better – the work we deliver, the offices we hang out in, and the relationships we build.

Bringing Life Experiences to the Workplace

We’ve got an incredible team of brand, digital and growth gurus, but it’s how their unique interests and experiences intersect with the work we do that makes Prophet one of a kind.

  • Merritt Robinson, a senior innovation director, runs a gorgeous food blog, Merritt Makes Vegan. She lent her hand to shoot dozens of dreamy images of baked goods for a client’s brand book.
  • Ryan Detwiler, a program manager, keeps a small farm in the city of Chicago. I have been happily eating his homemade plum jam just about every day for nearly three months.
  • Adia Williams, the Atlanta office manager, has the voice of an angel and sings the most magical rendition of “Happy Birthday” when a Propheteer is lucky enough to find themselves in the Atlanta office for their celebration.

Those are just a few examples of how our colleagues bring their whole selves to the workplace. Leveraging all our idiosyncrasies allows us to draw on life experiences, big and small, to find unexpected connections (between let’s say, last night’s cooking disaster and today’s attempt at articulating a brand’s DNA – you’d be surprised).

“Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.” – Tom Freston

What I’m able to draw upon most frequently is my time as a Dance Minor at the University of Virginia. As a student of theory, choreography and performance, the discoveries made and lessons learned are applied to all of the work I do at Prophet, often in the discipline that demands the most unbridled thinking: innovation.

5 Principal Innovation Lessons From Dance

There are five principal innovation lessons, complimented by key lessons from dancing, that I utilize as a creative practitioner at Prophet:

  1. Understand, then build

Small kernels of ideas become “hey-we’re-onto-something-big” when the intent is first understood and then built upon to become as whole and powerful as possible. This is as true for choreographing an evening-length piece as it is for creating a product pipeline. Both can start with just one thought. Like asking what happens if one of the dancers wears a blind fold? In exploring that idea from every angle, seeing where it can lead and allowing it to progress – a full body of exciting, creative work unfolds.

  1. Define process, not the answer

Creativity and structure are not at odds – in fact they depend on one another. Setting a clear process, but not an end destination, frees up the mind to work through the actual work. Ambiguity in the final answer is welcomed, but how you get there shouldn’t be foggy. For example, if a company is looking to redefine how 30-somethings today purchase cars, how that question will be researched, ideated against and solved should be defined – but the final solution should be unconstrained.

  1. Iterate and let go

Try things. All sorts of things. When a dancer in your piece suggests a pineapple as a prop – go for it. When a teammate proposes a new fix – see where it leads. But when things aren’t going as planned, don’t be afraid to walk away from what once seemed brilliant. Because in reality, maybe what the piece needed was bananas, not pineapples.

  1. Recognize there is a right and wrong time

A dress rehearsal the night before opening is not when you question and dismantle what you’ve built, but rather make small tweaks to strengthen the (likely) incredible work you have. Certain behaviors are required at certain points in the creation and innovation process. The beginning needs you to think expansively and stay possibility-oriented. The middle requires that you think critically and become reality-oriented. And the end is no time for doubt, but for executing and celebrating.

  1. Appreciate and amplify what others do best

Recognize that you have the privilege of working with astounding, brilliant individuals. Notice what they love and what they’re great at, then let them do those things. Everything you create will be stronger for it, and more than anything you could do on your own.

Final Thoughts

The lessons I learned from dance are still highly applicable to my professional career. They have made me a better thinker, coworker and innovator. Working on a team and in a place where personal expertise is appreciated and applied, makes every day enjoyable and the work created a whole lot more interesting and innovative.

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One thought on “5 Innovation Lessons Learned From Dance

  1. Such a thoughtful post, Tara! I love how you have pulled your lessons from dance into your work here at Prophet. I’m particularly drawn to your point around timing and to be aware of this during the creative process. I also love #5 around amplifying people’s strengths. Tapping into what people love and then letting them go can be awe-inspiring! Thank you for this.

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