The Beautiful Business

Tom Morris, philosopher to the business world, wrote an excellent book a while back called, If Aristotle Ran General Motors. The title, as he notes early on, is meant to be more symbolic than literal, with Aristotle standing in for philosophy and General Motors standing in for any business. What Morris presents is a way of viewing business and leadership through the guise of what philosophers have dubbed transcendentals: truth, beauty, goodness, and unity.

Why should we consider beauty when thinking about business? Business and work consume a large portion of our lives, so it is reasonable that beauty could be relevant for business, if it is important for our lives. Discussing beauty’s importance, Morris asks people to consider life without beauty. Our thoughts about beauty often focus on the highest levels of beauty, like sunsets or amazing works of art, but most have considered beauty to have gradation. A lot of the lesser beautiful things in our daily lives make a difference on our attitudes, perspectives, and happiness. A world without any of these levels of beauty would not be a place we would want to live. It’s reasonable to conclude that beauty is important.

The spaces in which we work should give consideration to beauty and aesthetics. While more research should be done, it remains firm that spaces affect us. People spend a lot of time at work. Therefore, people ought to consider the spaces in which they work, for functionality and also for aesthetics. The design of the office itself to some of the details, like lighting and furniture, play a role in the aesthetics and impact of the space. People may wonder if the studies in Morris’s book are outdated. They may be, but recent studies confirm the basic ideas he presented. Gilbert Rohde claimed to D. J. De Pree that the most interesting thing about a house is people and not design, and Rohde claimed to design for those people. Businesses would not exist without people, so workspaces should be designed for them.

Beyond the physical spaces, the aesthetic dimension applies to meaning in one’s work. People often caricature the philosopher’s question as limited to “What is the meaning of life?” It may come as a surprise, but this is not actually a common question among professional academic philosophers, but the question remains pervasive among many people. While Morris’s answer might not satisfy some people as an overall answer, it seems particularly relevant to the work environment. He thinks we find meaning in creative love or loving creativity.

Have you ever had a job that was so repetitious and regimented that there was no room for any creativity? Did you enjoy it? Probably not. I’ve read about certain breeds of dogs that need challenges, or they can become depressed. How much more do we as human beings need challenges to exercise our problem-solving skills and creativity? While challenges too great for us might feel overwhelming, challenges too easy may leave us bored and feeling empty. A good leader will know (or work at knowing) what members of their team can handle and how to challenge them in the right way for excellence. Morris writes that there is a kind of performance beauty that can lead to fulfillment in one’s work. We often don’t think much about beauty in our work. If beauty is a core motivation for human beings, then it makes sense that considering beauty at work and in our work should be discussed and considered to a greater degree.

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