Beauty recalibrating how we make things and why we make them
In 2013 I gave a talk in Holland about the need to redesign the organisations that we use, inhabit and support us, that drive our economies. I spoke for beautifully designed organisations, beautiful workplaces and work cultures, beautifully designed products, stuff. I asked for a return to what I termed the Human-OS. Where the sovereignty and dignity of all humanity must be respected as a design value. That talk was based upon my book No Straight Lines. Making sense of our nonlinear world. It laid the ground work for Do Design. Why beauty is key to everything.
Beautiful Business asks what would your business look like if it were more beautiful?
It doesn’t matter if people disagree about exactly what they find beautiful: the process of debating and discussing it will lift our collective sights and help us strive for better things. It’s quite OK to ask the question is it a beautiful idea, is it a beautiful service, does this truly possess beautiful utility? Does your business create a beautiful culture in which to work? Is this, a restorative business model design? What world are you trying to create. And if not how can we design it to be so?
We demand a craftsmanship approach where the hand, heart and mind join to create. We need all three. No compromise no unicorns of disruption and global domination, no going for world peace at the expense of everything else. Only supremely designed businesses. Making money is not a dirty word it’s just a question of how you do it.
Beauty is more than a service to us. It fulfills something in us that other things cannot and enriches our lives in all kinds of unexpected and vital ways. Beauty can give shape to that yearning for something better than we currently have.
Beauty is a lens that recalibrates how we do these things.
Here are six framing principles as philosophy and practice of how to design more beautiful businesses.
When we individually and collectively live in an age of uncertainty, we must all become masters of managing uncertainty. It requires us to take a more holistic, systemic engagement with the forces that are reshaping and disrupting us as a form of diagnostic.
Diagnostically we need to detect and identify underlying patterns and hidden relationships to create meaning from chaos. Pattern recognition enables us to move from a position of perceiving potential alternatives of organising, creating, designing and building as risky and unrealistic to recognising new common sense opportunities.
Ability to adapt
We have to be prepared to continually upgrade ourselves, our business models, ways of working – we can only do this if we learn to become agile. Adaptiveness is based upon a continual process of creating, collaborating, communicating and critiquing – it is a practice that evolves a new literacy of thinking and doing because, if we cannot describe a new destination, we will never be able to get there. Today, we have tools and technologies, software and hardware, computing capability and organisational processes that mean we can now design for adaptation.
Nature’s default setting is open, it’s regenerative and resilient. The concept of being open facilitates new organisational, social and commercial capability. Playing a key role in helping participatory cultures to function properly. Openness is cultural – being open to new ideas. Openness is mutual – the sharing and redistribution of knowledge, information, data resources and wealth.
It is inclusive by design, and its by-products are organisational, fostering social cohesion. Openness as a principle and practice offers new capabilities through open platforms; higher organisational performance, as open innovation accelerates R&D and reduces costs; trading models; open source software, and legal frameworks such as Creative Commons.
Participatory cultures and tools
The insight is that human beings are designed to work in aggregate, there are many benefits of participatory cultures, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude towards intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace and a more empowered conception of citizenship. We need to embed sociability into everything, from the buildings we design to the software code we write, the processes we create, the business and organisational models we conceive, the governmental institutions we create and the means by which those institutions operate. The multi-dimensionality of humanity needs to be coded into the fabric of all those things.
To envision, create and build in a non-linear world we call on the almost forgotten art of the craftsman. The craftsman represents the trinity of creativity, the combination of the hand, the heart and the mind. Craftsmanship is as relevant for the individual as it is for an organisation enabling a deeper, more finely tuned approach to learning and the craft of innovation.
Providing an ethical framework and values based approach to commercial and business practice, by asking – is what I create for the collective good? The craftsman or the crafted organisation exists in permanent beta (a constant creative process), the craftsman is always naturally curious, sees systems, builds patterns and evolves literacy through a constant process of exploration of the possible through the interplay between expression and technique. Tellingly, the craftsman is joyful in sharing knowledge, and operates from a position of confidence and self-belief.
As we collectively face real, and significant challenges, we shouldn’t adopt a state that seeks incremental change within the existing paradigm, we must seek an epic win – a term coined from gaming. The gamer seeks, or indeed quests for, an epic win.
It is about recognising the opportunities for value creation and having the courage and the conviction to blend new and old tools, processes and language together to evolve, fresh, novel and meaningful strategies and operational approaches. Which means striving for sustainable economic success, better government, education and healthcare. It demands innovation and the transformation of all the existing organisations, legal systems, economic or otherwise, that currently frame and define our world to better serve us as humanity.
What do these companies have in common?
A car company that can build cars 5x faster and 100x less the capital cost, voted in the top 10 most innovative car companies in the world.
A much loved global company that nearly went bankrupt but then transformed itself to be more resilient with a halo of business models ensuring it stays in profit and culturally relevant to its customers.
The largest diary farm in the UK, and the largest producer of organic produce in America that have future proofed their businesses by becoming fully organic, which as a consequence also makes them more profitable.
The world’s most famous technology university and the worlds most influential automotive manufacturer who freely share their patents and intellectual property to stimulate growth and demand.
A healthcare system that transformed how it worked, delivering greater value in its frontline services and being able to create and agree on key policy decisions in hours by believing in the power and potential of harnessing the collective intelligence of its entire workforce.
An Indian company whose CEO worked from the principle that organisational performance, and therefore business performance would most effectively be achieved by putting employees before customers. Consequently becoming one of the fastest-growing and profitable global IT services companies and according to BusinessWeek, one of the twenty most influential companies in the world.
A business that exists in a virtuous cycle of multifaceted value creation while also delivering superior financial results year after year, decade after decade.
In restating the question, what do these businesses have in common? The answer is – they all represent the capacity to create and deliver lasting transformational change by seeing their problem as a design challenge and innovating by blending new technologies and ancient wisdom, production processes, business models, reinventing leadership and organisational cultures to be more purpose driven. Becoming in turn, more resilient, more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, more vibrant and creative.