The Aesthetics of Management

As a writer, painter and Christian, I resonate on a number of levels with the 13th Century philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas.

For the purpose of our ongoing discussion on building and leading cultures of innovation, I want to focus on Aquinas’ premise that three qualities are required for beauty: integrity, harmony and radiance.

INTEGRITY is the quality of standing out from the background. HARMONY is how the parts relate to the whole. RADIANCE refers to the pleasure we feel when we experience beauty.

And, according to Aristotle, the language of beauty is aesthetics.

While the world of art and culture are fluent in the language of beauty and aesthetics, the world of business is not. At least not yet.

But it soon will be.

According to Marty Neumeier, author of the book, The Designful Company, which has also been the source of much of the content in my last three posts, “The same principles that activate other forms of art will soon be essential to the art of management.”

He believes that the more technological our culture becomes, the more we will need the sensual and metaphorical power of beauty.

While we can easily apply the principle of aesthetics to the design of a web page, the contours of a type font and the textures of a painting, Neumeier says we can also apply them to the principles of management.

“For example, when you increase differentiation, you are using the principle of integrity. When you optimize synergy, you’re using harmony. And when you enhance customer experience, you’re using radiance.”

Businesses and organizations striving to create and foster a culture of innovation need leaders who not only speak the language of business, but who are also fluent in the language of aesthetics.

Here are the elements that make up the discipline of aesthetics to which Neumeier has applied his Aesthetics of Management:

CONTRAST: How can we differentiate ourselves?

DEPTH: How can we succeed on many levels?

FOCUS: What should we NOT do?

HARMONY: How can we achieve synergy?

INTEGRITY: How can we forge the parts into a whole?

LINE: What is our trajectory over time?

MOTION: What advantage can we gain with speed?

NOVELTY: How can we use the surprise element?

ORDER: How should we structure our organization?

PATTERN: Where have we seen this before?

REPETITION: Where are the economies of scale?

RHYTHM: How can we optimize time?

PROPORTION: How can we keep our strategy balanced?

SCALE: How big should our business/organization be?

SHAPE: Where should we draw the edges?

TEXTURE: How do the details enliven our culture?

UNITY: What is the higher order solution?

VARIETY: How can diversity drive innovation?

The language of beauty and aesthetics may sound strange to the ear of business, at least it will at first. But only because it hasn’t been listening to those who have already been speaking it, some for quite a while now.

Buckminster Fuller, the renowned American architect, author, designer, inventor, and futurist said, “When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

I’ve got a way to link aesthetics to business in a very powerful way, and it will only take two words.

These two words can literally weld aesthetics and business together in a seamless bond that will stand the test of time.

Simplicity and efficiency.

Not only are these two words the twin threads that run through the discipline of aesthetics, they are also the goal of every business and organization on the planet.

If you want your business to run efficiently as it fosters innovation and manages change, forget bringing in the so-called efficiency experts. Just hire more
third-brain thinkers.

And, if you’re interested, all three of mine are for rent. Winking


How to Lead a Culture of Innovation

For the last two weeks we’ve been talking about innovation—what it’s made of, where it resides, why companies and organizations need more of it and what can kill it.

This week I want to talk about leading a culture of innovation.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and author of the book, “Supercapitalism,” said the job of leadership is to help people overcome denial and cynicism so they can “close the gap between the ideal and reality.”

This is the gap we discussed last week that lies between “what is” and “what could be.”

This gap can be hurdled by people in a company or organization when their leader articulates a compelling vision that gives them the courage to innovate — a vision so enticing, so soul-stirring and inclusive that it rivets everyone’s attention.

A compelling core vision of what a company or organization stands for and where it is headed can inspire a surprising amount of passion.

Deep, soul-stirring passion results in a culture that releases the talents of its people and, given enough time, will exceed its own expectations.

Unimaginative leaders reach for a vision from the ready-made rack and then wonder why their leadership has no followship.

Few people feel inspired by safe and easy.

Howard Shultz, the founder of Starbucks, put it this way: “Who wants a vision that is near-fetched?”

While a culture of innovation must be led from the top, it doesn’t necessarily need to start at the top.

The spirit of innovation and revolution already exists in the hearts and minds of motivated employees.

Often, a leader needs to only act as a managing editor, shaping the ideas to align with the shared vision.

But here’s where it can get tricky.

A moment ago I mentioned that innovative cultures will invariably exceed expectations, but the key to this is “given enough time.”

Two weeks ago I mentioned an ad agency I worked for that had created an environment completely counter to innovation.

But this agency didn’t start out that way.

When I came onboard it had a deep, soul-stirring vision of the future and it wanted me to help it get there. They said this was the very reason they hired me.

But the agency’s leadership couldn’t maintain this vision when times got tough.

It backpedaled, reverting to its old ways of thinking and working, defaulting to the comfort of the familiar rather than continue down the unchartered terrain of the future.

The spirit of innovation can be a tenuous and fragile thing and will die if not fed.

Building and leading a culture of innovation is not for the fainthearted.

It requires leaders who will not back down in the face of adversity or retreat to safe and easy when met with external and internal resistance.

And I guarantee that resistance will indeed come. Usually sooner than you think.

The market may not yet be ready for what you’re offering. Customers will resist change or not yet see the value. Fellow employees who fear change will grumble and voice doubt.

This is when leaders discover what they’re really made of.

Will you adhere to the far-fetched, awe-inspiring vision of the future or retreat to the near-fetched, spirit-crushing myopia of the past?

There’s only one right choice if you are looking to maintain and lead a culture of innovation.

I know it’s not an easy choice. Particularly in the heat of shrinking margins, lost clients and uncomfortable change.

If it was easy then every company and organization would be fostering a culture of innovation.

But it is truly worth the effort.

Just ask companies like Google, Facebook, Starbucks and Apple.

So if you lead your people with vision and courage, holding steady to the course needed to foster innovation, then one day you will be adding your company or organization to the above list.

(When you do, call me. I could use the work. Winking