Aesthetic Intelligence, Part 1

Beauty, and aesthetics more generally, is often considered to be nonessential. A pragmatic person may think aesthetics are unimportant, if something works. A humanitarian may think what’s really important is that people are fed, clothed, and sheltered. A medical person may believe that health is the key concern for people.

While all these elements are good, they all make a fundamental mistake. They assume that you would have to sacrifice these things, if you consider aesthetics in these situations. And this mistake seems to be highly pervasive in the context of business. After all, what does making a profit have to do with aesthetics? Maybe everything.

Pauline Brown, a leader in global business, has written a new book Aesthetic Intelligence: How to Boost It and Use It in Business and Beyond. In this book, she details the ways in which aesthetics makes an impact on businesses with a plethora of examples. I will review this book in two parts, corresponding to the two largest parts of her book: the importance of aesthetics and the methods to develop your own aesthetic intelligence.

Executives need to be attuned not only to their own aesthetic sensibilities and values but also to those of their customers. Studies show that feelings, not analytic thinking, drive an estimated 85 percent of buying decisions.

Pauline Brown, Aesthetic Intelligence, 6.

Without a doubt, people want products that work, that function well. No one wants to buy a new computer that can’t connect to the Internet. No one wants a new winter coat that can’t keep them warm. So, functionality is important. But what makes someone buy one product that functions well over another product that also functions well? One factor is aesthetics.

People make decisions based on what they can afford. But when the decisions comes down to two products that function well and are in the appropriate price range, then aesthetics (pleasure and feelings) will guide the consumer to make the final choice.

According to Brown, aesthetics means getting all of the senses (or as many as possible) involved in the overall experience of buying and using a product. The experience of the consumer is valuable for the longevity of the business, whether a business is selling a physical product or a service.

In Chapter 4 (“Designed to Last”), Brown presents some aesthetic strategies for common business challenges. She discusses the following challenges: the commoditization trap, the rut of the runner-up, the weight of history, no room to roam, and an industrial dilemma. She admits these five challenges are not a complete list, but they are common. Using real examples, she showcases how some of these challenges were met with aesthetic solutions. I will not explain all five of these here, but I will focus on one I found particularly interesting: the ‘no room to roam’ challenge.

For the ‘no room to roam’ challenge, Brown begins with a question: “What is the aesthetic process for building a new, captive, and loyal customer base notwithstanding all the competitive pressures and ‘noise’ in the marketplace?” (p.85). In other words, how can your new company break through the clutter of the market? Brown answers that the company needs to create a moment for the customer.

As an example, she cites the eyeglasses company Warby Parker. They have successfully brought buying eyeglasses into the contemporary scene by reducing costs and employing current technologies. Buying eyeglasses can be a challenge because when they are so expensive, you want to make sure they are the best for your appearance. So, you select frame that you like, and Warby Parker sends up to 5 to your home for free. You get to take you time trying them on in different lighting scenarios, with different friends weighing in, and then you make a selection. You send all five back with your prescription, and a few days later you have your new glasses (for a much cheaper price).

The overall experience of the customer or client is essential for your company’s success. And Pauline Brown has offered a wonderful presentation of why aesthetics matters to business in her book. I highly recommend this book to help you understand and develop your aesthetic intelligence.

For more about Pauline Brown and her book:

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