Designing a beautiful business

December 31, 2011

I have recently heard people say: “I have a great job.”; “I love what I am doing here.”; “He did it in a beautiful way.”; “I work in lovely surroundings.”; “I work with nice people.” Conventional analysis of organizations is dominated by a rational tradition that ignores aesthetics, yet life is pervaded with beauty as these people proved.

Aesthetic considerations can sometimes be of decisive importance. Apple products and the Nokia N9 attract people the same way that the theory of Einstein attracts scientists – by virtue of their sheer elegance.

Organizations are social constructs. They are nothing but constructs to which people are drawn in pursuit of some purpose. Healthy organizations are a concept of relationships to which people are drawn by beauty, values and meaning, along with the freedom to pursue them cooperatively. Healthy organizations enable more than constrain.

Unhealthy organizations are a concept of relationships into which people are forced by birth, necessity or manipulation. Unhealthy organizations constrain more than they enable.

The concept of the social organization has intensified the debate as to whether competition or cooperation should rule in business. But competition and cooperation are not mutually contradictory. In the new design of work they don’t have opposite meanings. They need to be complementary. In every aspect of a healthy life we paradoxically do both at the same time. No successful social endeavor has existed without combining the two.

But sometimes things have not worked out.

The idea of cooperation went mad in socialism leading to an unhealthy and false pursuit of equality and left us with centralized, totalitarian governments enslaving their own citizens. Competition has also gone mad in many capitalist countries, which has led to mindless self-interest and left us now to cope with the results of the irresponsible abuse of people and natural resources.

We need new thinking beyond the old dichotomy: The political left lacks any convincing narrative in the post-socialist world. The right tells a story in which greed is the dominant human motivation and markets actually mean gambling.

The Internet era has proven that we are capable of working together competitively/cooperatively and building social communities that some time ago many would have dismissed as impossible dreams. Thus we don’t yet have a good idea of what cannot be done by connected people working together in new ways. Changes in existing organizations and the evolution of new ones will have characteristics in common. Just as natural systems like the human body are not vertical hierarchies with each part superior to another in ascending linear order, neither will organizations of the future be structured that way. This is not to say that all present industrial organizations are doomed but the models we use to describe the world around us are.

We need a new vocabulary beyond the models of industrial production and separatist, mechanistic concepts of a corporation.

The emerging organizations cannot be portrayed in two dimensions on a traditional organizational chart. They are closer to the networked organization of neurons in the brain. Yet, even these dimensions are not enough without the aesthetic dimension of doing a beautiful work.

The next challenge is to design a beautiful business.

Happy, Beautiful New Year!


Thank you Dee Hock and Thomas Kuhn.

6 Responses to “Designing a beautiful business”

  1. Beautiful business is a great concept. We used to have beautiful families. In some cultures they lasted for centuries. They seem to be gone now. NGOs claim to provide beauty in the form an enhanced collective sense of purpose. Wars and revolutions have been conducted in the name of the beauty of conquerors goals and the defeat of the ugliness of the aims of the adversary. Traditional business organizations seem to be debating the issues Esko brought up, in a scale never witnessed before. Maybe because we realize that the most efficient way the change the world into a better place is to create new healthy, beautiful and sustainable businesses.

  2. My heart likes very much what you wrote. Think and imagine what people could accomplish together in these beautiful organizations. Miracles!

  3. […] sustain that? The reality though is that mentality is what’s keeping us away from “Designing a beautiful business“, as my good friend, Esko Kilpi, put together on a superb blog post just recently that I […]

  4. Bogdan Says:

    Before we can have a fully functional and beautiful social business we need to educate ourselves in the fine art of independently working together towards the same goal… by completing each others work. Thanks for the post!

  5. […] and fulfilling feeling that you are, hopefully, contributing into something bigger, much larger, something beautiful, that we could then pass on to our future generations knowing that we have done the right thing: […]

  6. Nice concept. I am working on a PhD dissertation at the University of Eindhoven about the role of aesthetics in work design and organisation design. Respondents mention aspects like coherence of things, cooperation, learning, contribution to society, colleaques and goal achievement and progress as examples of aesthetic experiences or beauty bearers in work and organisation. Doing beautiful things in a beautiful way: beauty production x production beauty

    Gr Steven de Groot

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