In a time where technology has enabled us to create quickly and efficiently, we have become focused on functional completeness rather than beautiful artistry. Beauty stirs and evokes the heart. It is a powerful motivator and uniter and it is something that generates pride in those who are working with and within it. When we work together to create something beautiful, others also acknowledge the contribution. It is more likely to stand the test of time and more likely to attract others to it. At this point, you may have conjured up pictures of working together with others to create something tangible, as we often do when we use the term beautiful. Instead, I’d like to explore what a beautiful business might look like.
This is not a novel concept. There are people already deep into this exploration, Tim Leberecht is one of them. See a previous article on beautiful business here. The perspective I’d like to bring to this discussion is that of a human centred designer…me. I have spent the majority of my career designing beautiful intangibles, and my business is one of those radically human beautiful intangible things I have designed. In this article I share with you the distilled principles that make a business beautiful.
Beauty is not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. It exists in many dimensions such as simplicity and elegance. There is beauty in a simple solution to a complex problem, there is beauty in something working so seamlessly that it is practically invisible. The practice of beauty comes with attention and intention to create something truly special. Designing for beauty also allows people who will be working within and without your business to fall in love with it. It allows for heartfelt connection and meaning. It creates the possibility of a real sense of purpose to emerge and take hold.
I’ve listed seven principles that capture the elements of a beautiful business. You can almost consider these as design principles. Things to make sure you are considerate of when making decisions about your business.
A beautiful business knows it doesn’t exist in isolation and is deliberate about curating and nourishing its human connections. It doesn’t bias its focus towards where the flow of money comes from because it understands there are multiple forms of value to be exchanged, beyond financial. It believes that business is personal, because business exists with people within it, outside of it and all around it.
A beautiful business is full of exciting, memorable and meaningful stories. It sees itself as a community of people first, and so storytelling is an essential activity to bring the community together. Whether they are stories of strategy, values or purpose, or they are stories of funny accidents, or embarrassing moments, a beautiful business’ stories are valuable and important.
A beautiful business is empathic. It has a culture that can move with the times and hold whatever emotions need to be held at that time. When a beautiful business is enjoying abundance it is lively, energetic and creative. When a beautiful business is weathering a down turn, its mood is pensive, careful and concerned. The culture of a beautiful business is flexible, resilient and accommodating. There is no such thing as a fixed culture, a beautiful business’ culture can sense and shift as it needs to.
A beautiful business is concerned intensely with the unseen, the mysterious, the gaps in experience. It notices what isn’t there that perhaps should be. It is never satisfied with itself and constantly seeks to improve by filling the gaps it sees and meaningfully, deliberately creating new ones, to allow for growth. It creates gaps to allow for the growth of people working within it, or sees gaps to stretch into to establish new markets and service offerings.
A beautiful business has depth and meaning. There is nothing superficial about it. The brand is authentic as is its culture, its leadership style and its offerings to market. It is honest when it screws up and it is humble when it shines. A beautiful business walks what it talks and values authenticity, in its people, its relationships and its products and services.
Scale & balance
A beautiful business has a tenuous relationship with growth. It is less interested in becoming big and more interested in becoming meaningful. It has ambitions of impact rather than profit. It scales carefully and slowly, deliberately and tenderly. A beautiful business values its culture, relationships and quality of work so will make decisions about growth in line with enhancing these aspects, rather than putting them at risk.
A beautiful business has integrity. It has human and structural integrity. Everything fits together deliberately, there is a reason for everything to exist and there is little waste. Many superfluous elements are designed out because they don’t contribute meaningfully to the business’ completeness. A beautiful business has elegant simplicity and it has articulate brevity.
Creating a beautiful business is a life long pursuit. It is an endless love, a romantic relationship full of unexplained stresses and emotions and an undeniable drive to keep going and never, ever give up. It is a business that requires all of you as a leader and one that will be the vehicle and platform for you to contribute something truly meaningful, beautiful to the world.