This is a significant issue for management science once we leave the factory floor. The are plenty of attributes relevant to business processes that we can measure easely enough. But there are also plenty of unmeasurables: for example, the need for creativity, enterprise and adaptability within an organisation. The problem for management scientists it that it is frequently the unmeasurables that make all the difference. Science has played an essential role in helping businesses to work better, but it’s important to be realistic about the limits of analytical approaches. They can identify marginal improvements, but they aren’t a source of greatness.
Business professionals seek inspiration through creativity. Jim Stengel, former marketing director at Procter & Gamble, coined the term “corporate artists” to describe executives with the ability to instil a sense of enthusiasm. Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, admires the arts and athleticism of classical dancers. Even Warren Buffett – heralded as a staunch defender of scientific methods – said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m an artist.”
The concepts of harnessing the power of creativity through a less formal process are important as they promote creativity in logic-based businesses that seek to provide elegant, streamlined and cost-effective solutions to the problems of everyday life.
“Design thinking” is not just about spending less time and money on difficult or dangerous tasks. It is about demonstrating one’s own expertise in creating and choosing strategies to make the world work better.
The paper clip, shopping bag and doorknob are all elegant solutions that reflect this approach. Someone described Twitter’s Vine application as an elegant solution to a problem that no one has ever encountered. This was tantamount to saying that the app stimulates creativity per se, without a practical purpose. But the users and the brands that have adopted it are making very good use of it, in the field of information.
These creations are easy to appreciate and sometimes lead to banging one’s forehead and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Some simple and elegant recurring innovations and solutions only become evident when they are revealed. Awareness awakens the genius within us.
Think for example of a strange egg sculpture in San Antoni, Spain. According to the Italian historian Girolamo Benzoni, in reference to Christopher Columbus’ 1565 book History of the New World, he was dining with a group of Spanish noblemen, one of whom wanted to downplay the importance of the discovery of India. He claimed that many great Spanish men and scholars could have taken to the sea and achieved the same feat.
Christopher Columbus responded by taking an intact egg and challenging his interlocutors to make it stand upright without outside help. All tried and all failed. Columbus took the egg and crushed one end. He put it upright and made it stand. The lesson was clear: once a feat has been accomplished, everyone knows how to reproduce it.
Like Columbus’ egg, the simplest inventions are the result more of a creative approach to problem solving than of the use of human logic. They are the result of an artistic process involving finesse, sensitivity and imagination.
Creativity is not a quality that companies can synthesize into a simple process without taking away its magic and power. A company’s ability to solve problems and find elegant solutions is more often hampered by cultural rather than process shortcomings. As such, creativity must be encouraged and taught, not mandated or prescribed. The arts have a wealth of lessons in problem-solving that can be applied to the business world. Here are a few examples:
- The arts remind us of the importance of seeing the world from multiple angles, as there may be many solutions to the same problem.
- They encourage us to make qualitative judgments in the absence of rules.
- The arts prepare us to improvise when complex problems change in response to circumstances and opportunities.
- Neither words nor numbers alone can explain everything we know: the arts act with subtlety and show that small differences can have a big impact.
- They encourage us to develop our poetic sense and enhance our ability to inspire and describe.
- The art market is global and informs business through its expressions.
The process of design thinking aims to eliminate the undesirable aspects of creativity – failure, unpredictability, conflict and circularity – while retaining the values, behaviours and positive results it can produce. Design thinking uses the tools of creativity – awareness, formulation, facilitation, visualisation and prototyping – while avoiding participants becoming victims of their emotions.
Seen in this light, running a business could eventually become as much an art as a science.
Jean-Baptiste Danet co-authored a book entitled Business Is Beautiful, L’art de cultiver la différence (LID Publishing, 2013).
There are measurable factors for a company’s success that management science has not yet recognized. Perhaps due to a lack of technology, investment, insight or imagination, or there are intangible success factors that defy measurement. We will see this through a TEDTalk hosted by Jean-Baptiste Danet, Co-President of the Embassy.
The TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences are a series of conferences organized internationally by the North American non-profit foundation The Sapling foundation. Its goal is to disseminate “ideas worth spreading”. The concept is simple: the speaker is given 12 minutes, which according to studies is the maximum human capacity to keep his or her attention, to present the idea. Often avant-garde, the speakers open up debates on ways of thinking, ways of approaching work and ways of looking at society in a different way.
In 2015, on the occasion of the release of the book “Business is Beautiful”, the Co-President of the Embassy Jean-Baptiste Danet explained how business is a major turning point for society.
The reasoning developed leads to the identification of five concepts that defy conventional ideas: integrity, curiosity, elegance, know-how and prosperity.
Each of them reflects its interpretation of what makes a “Beautiful Business”: not just numbers, but something slightly different, another way of looking at success in today’s world.
Any self-respecting “beautiful business” has a well-defined goal. A clear and unwavering conviction that translates into firm principles on how best to succeed. This is where the soul of the company in question lies. It is what gives a business openness and honesty, qualities that should be indispensable. Business is defined as much by its sacrifices as by its actions.
In order to create authenticity and define the standards of a business, it is essential to adhere to well-established principles. But standard does not mean standardization. The ideals around which a business is built must not stifle innovation and progress. On the contrary, they should serve as a springboard for creativity. If necessity is the mother of invention, curiosity is the father.
Elegance in business is not just a matter of aesthetics. It is also a solution to many problems, a proof of empathy with your audience. It allows companies to defy time and extend their influence for decades to come.
Technology offers many opportunities for optimization and savings to companies. The range of possibilities is constantly evolving. However, the number of things people want is not as volatile, because we humans do not evolve as quickly as technology does. We like to see the human handprint in the products and services we buy, a tangible proof of care that then drives us to take an interest in a business.
We all know that a business that doesn’t “pay off” is not viable. Profit is essential in the short term for survival and in the long term for innovation and growth. Profit allows for bold decisions. But the decisions we make as businessmen and women have consequences that go beyond profit and loss. They affect the businesses around them. They affect the environment. They influence us culturally, exposing us to languages, images, products and services that structure the way we think, feel and behave. It would seem absurd that none of these considerations are part of our definition of a successful business.
While the assessment of short-term profit is necessary, it is not sufficient. As John Maynard Keynes said, “in the long run, we will all be dead”. But since we still have a long time to live, let us accept that corporations ensure the sustainability of our quality of life and that it is therefore in everyone’s interest to ensure the sustainability of corporations. Sacrificing long-term prosperity for short-term profits makes no sense. But this does not mean that long-term value creation is not compatible with some immediate profit. Profit is also a consequence of influence, and influence is created by engaging with people, communities, cultures and even today the environment. This is a tangible motto that brings meaning to the success of a business. This is what is more commonly known as “goodwill”.
And you, what did you do this morning to make your brand more influential?