by Alan Moore on 2nd December 2017
This week I talked to a friend who is working in China. Having just come back from a three day learning journey he shared his insight “Astoundingly, beautiful craftsmanship is recognised and supported by the government at a very high level”. In fact, the government is seriously supporting this the idea – the latest PRC (People’s Republic of China) congress has emphasised quality production over quantity in every possible category.
Not only has China been investing in everything to do with trade and communications infrastructure from Africa to Greece, through its Belt and Road Initiative, it has now started to look at the quality of its manufacturing from high street fashion to white goods and far beyond. Cars, AI, robotics are included in the list.
With the world in evolution, Brexit presents both a problem and a challenge.
The need, I believe, is to design, and build businesses that are beautiful in the quality of the products and services they deliver. Scale is not the only issue. Peter Childs, Head of The Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London is of the view that we need to educate engineers, makers, designers to become beautiful in their thinking. To conceive ways of making that can enhance our humanity, a meme that caught the imagination at a conference recently in Russia.
How does beauty as a philosophy and practice help us craft better products and services? Here are two examples:
Accountancy can be as ugly as nits, it can be hit and miss for SME’s. Xero, based in New Zealand, is a global small business accounting platform now valued at £1.2bn. With over 1 million customers in 180 countries. CEO Rod Drury’s philosophy revolves around beautifully written software that has a simple business model, is designed to be easy to use and utilises automation to the benefit of its growing number of users. Rod talks about being purpose driven as a company and how design plays a crucial role in creating experiences that translate into better business performance. You don’t often hear the words ‘joyful’, and ‘delight’, in the context of the practice of accountancy.
Interface is a carpet tile manufacturer and listed company, pioneering an approach to become carbon neutral by 2020. I asked Geanne van Arkel, Head of Sustainable Development EMEA, if it is possible for a company to be ethical, environmentally friendly and profitable as some see these as being incompatible. “We have no choice”, says Geanne, “we have changed our goals to become a company that is restorative”. Interface now has a prototype that deliver -2kgs of carbon for every meter of carpet tile it manufactures.
In a recent Deloitte study 74% of CFO’s now recognize the connection between sustainable business practice and financial performance. Innovation in complete supply chain and enterprise design can offer better performing products at a lower cost in raw materials, manufacture and waste. The office furniture manufacturer Flute could save the NHS £350m simply by recycling its waste into desks and office storage equipment. With the 4m tonnes of waste cardboard in the UK alone that is currently burned, landfilled or exported Flute could make 200m items of furniture worth £20bn and reduce the world’s timber consumption by 4%. How clever to move a cost on the P&L to a more smile inducing column on the spreadsheet?
Design plays a crucial role in both these businesses understanding that designing for the best possible human experience at the beginning makes financial sense in the long run. Quality and consistency of experience also count. Xero have just launched its HQ Open Practice Platform offering tools that can be utilised and shared by the Xero community. This is as Rod describes, a beautiful way of doing business, and a ‘killer business strategy’.
81% senior executives, in a recent Accenture study, place the personalized customer experience in the top three priorities of their organization. And Fortune 100 companies are elevating ‘design’ as a key priority at and executive level.
Interface and Xero talked about purpose being an essential component inside their organisations. Purpose translates into meaningful work; people make better decisions, prepared to work towards goals hard to reach. This translates into more consistent financial performance. The Harvard Business Review supports this view from the frontline where Rosabeth Moss Kanter shares ‘How Great Companies Think Differently’.
Beauty helps us see past the superficial and delve into the foundation of how things work. ‘Beauty’ as a lens, ‘design’ as a tool, ‘purpose’ the call to create things that matter, that are beautiful in their vision, execution and experience, are the only way we create a more enduring better future. I think we’ve all had enough of ugly.
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