Designing Beautiful Organizations is Within Our Reach

Designing Organizations to Awaken Beauty is the Call of Our Time
"The human soul is hungry for beauty: we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves. When we desire the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are of beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul … to awaken beauty is the call of our time."  -- John O’Donohue

“The human soul is hungry for beauty.”

Not just in music, art or clothes. We yearn for beauty at work, in our communities and in the products and services we buy.

Howard Gardner defines beauty as interesting, of memorable form and inviting a revisit. “And as a bonus, it gives you a tingle.” Alexander Nehamas defines beauty as the promise of happiness. Makes me think of what I feel when I experience a memorable customer experience.

To awaken more beauty in the world, we need to design more beautiful organizations. We need to design organizations with inner beauty -- beauty of purpose, values and structure. And we need to design organizations with outer beauty -- beauty of products, services and impact.

A Shifting Dialogue

The language of business is slowly changing. Happiness is now part of the dialog thanks to Tony Hsieh who proved the value of designing a business around delivering happiness. Richard Branson has demonstrated time and time again that having fun in business pays. And the concept of doing business for good is gaining ground, with organizations like M-PESA reinventing the finance industry to bring financial services to the poor.

It’s time to include beauty in the new language of business. We’re seeing early threads of a dialogue around beauty with Howard Gardner’s Truth Beauty and Goodness Reframed, Judy Wicks’ Good Morning Beautiful Business and Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Tim Brown (of IDEO fame) posed the question on his blog a few years ago (generating some thoughtful comments) but didn't continue the conversation. And there’s Jean-Baptiste Danet’s upcoming book Business is Beautiful.

We’re in a time of tremendous disruption. Disruption can be a wonderful thing because it creates opportunity. Opportunity not just for transformation in our business models, but transformation in the language and purpose of business. What better time to start a conversation about explicitly designing for beauty in business?

The future is ours to imagine, design and create. And if we’re dreaming the future into being, why not dream of a future where business is beautiful. Where business delivers the promise of happiness. Where business is an incredible force for positive change in the world.

In the spirit of a more beautiful question, here are some questions to spark our collective imagination.

What if

  • leaders embraced truth, beauty and goodness as ideals worth striving for?
  • organizations mentored employees in designing the story of their life’s work?
  • you imagined the kind of business that could win a Noble peace prize, and then designed it?
  • organizations were designed as epic narratives?

How might we

  • design organizations for beauty?
  • architect organizations for happiness?
  • make empathy an organizational core competency?
  • craft organizations as creative forces for positive change in their communities?

Creating a great business is an art. Let’s make more beautiful art. For what is beautiful is loved. And, as Dostoyevsky famously said, “Beauty will save the world.”

Title image by mac_filko (Flickr) via a Creative Commons license

Editor's Note: Read more of Joyce's thoughts on the potential for business in Better Understanding, Not Big Data, Is the Future of Business