Decision Making Lessons from the Royal Opera House: Think Outside the Pit

By Linda Henman, Ph.D.

Much of my consulting and coaching work involves industries and functions that must follow the rules—exactly and profoundly. The SEC demands compliance from publicly traded companies; specific industries require adherence to prescribed protocols; and best practices dictate practical approaches. All good.

However, overusing a strength creates a weakness. People who operate in regulated industries and roles can, if they’re not careful and vigilant, start to develop rigidity in their thinking. They adhere to the status quo instead of experimenting with new approaches; they reject novel ideas without scrutiny; and they rebuff innovation on principle.

Not so for the Royal Opera House. On February 17th, it debuted “Anna Nicole,” the rags-to-riches story and cautionary tale of Smith’s rise to fame and ultimate demise.

Regular visitors to Covent Garden have grown accustomed to seeing internationally acclaimed works by the likes of Puccini, Rossini, Verdi and Mozart. No doubt many were surprised when a blonde-wigged soprano took over the main stage of the Royal Opera House amid a cast of characters who were swearing, taking drugs, and pole dancing.

Elaine Padmore, head of opera at the Royal Opera House, sees no reason why Smith shouldn’t be included with the great women of opera. “Bad girls have always been the stuff of opera,” she said. “Think of Carmen and Traviata. Why shouldn’t Anna Nicole join opera’s women?”

I haven’t seen this production, so I’m in no position to judge it.  Without question, however, I give a standing ovation to the decision makers at Covent Garden. They scheduled just six performances, and all sold out, a common occurrence for this company. But this show sold out before the run began. They took a risk, and it paid off.

Organizational decision makers can learn much from this glance into the world of opera. While much of your work may be governed by regulations, most of it is not. You can become more creative in your decision making by taking off the blinders and considering all the options, not just the tried and true ones. Continuous improvement demands ongoing change. Progress commands originality. Just think of all the companies that went under because they concentrated their efforts on making a better buggy whip.

When you think outside the pit, you run the risk of failure. But you also take the chance that you’ll play to a sold out crowd.


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