In putting together our book 'Business is Beautiful' I and my co-authors at Dragon Rouge looked at businesses all over the world, from Hong Kong to Tanazania and from electric car makers to textiles. In doing so we were able to outline a number of rules for the successful businessperson, whatever your sector.
Build around a purpose
We speak of teachers, doctors, counsellors and firemen "answering a calling". We expect that they are driven by a sense of purpose to choose their profession. So why not expect the same of people in business? Businesses that are serious about attracting the best talent do not simply offer the highest incentives. They offer a sense of purpose that motivates great people to believe their talents will be meaningfully employed.
Articulating a purpose isn't enough. Unless you are prepared to sacrifice potentially lucrative sources of business to achieve your vision, it's extremely easy for audiences to grow cynical
about bold statements of ambition. This is about what you choose not to do, making tough decisions to remain true to your central purpose and values. Businesses can be defined by the actions and opportunities they avoid in the single-minded pursuit of their long-term ambition. It's easy to talk about the importance of focus; it's much more difficult to embrace the virtue of sacrifice.
Business can be sustained in the short-term through incremental improvements in the way we do things, based on knowledge of what works and doesn't work. But in the long-term, a greater level of invention is required. Innovation begins with an act of imagination: an ability to project ourselves beyond the world we know, to create hypotheses, to contemplate possibilities, to visualize opportunities, unencumbered by the limits of our knowledge.
How can a business organise itself to be more imaginative? Creativity, imagination and innovation are impossible to enforce through a system of processes or rules. Mediocrity isn't
something any business aspires to. It's something that businesses allow to happen. And it is frequently the result of an over-emphasis on harmony and consensus in decision-making. Harmony is a seductive idea in theory, but in practice it relies on a combination of indifference, surrender, submission to authority and compromise. Encouraging dissent is a way of letting employees know that management is curious about and willing to act upon their opinion.
Take art classes
The arts encourage us to see the world from multiple perspectives. They teach us that problems can have more than one solution. They require us to create maximum impact with a limited set of materials. They prepare us to improvise when complex problems change with circumstance and opportunity. They demonstrate that neither words nor numbers alone can adequately explain everything we know. The arts deal in subtlety and unleash our ability to inspire as well as
Design with empathy
Businesses that design their products, services and environments with careful thought demonstrate an empathy that sets them apart from everybody else. Aesthetics isn't about providing superficial decoration for a business. It's about creating emotional meaning and substance. A keen sense of empathy helps a business navigate between the extremes of dehumanising austerity and glitzy corporate kitsch.
Sweat the details
When it comes to people, we may find imperfection to be a source of charm, character and individuality. But the faults and foibles we come to cherish in the people around us become evidence of sloppiness and ineptitude when we encounter them in a business. When businesses overlook details, they reveal some of the worst aspects of humanity: laziness, carelessness, sometimes even contempt. But when they make the effort to get these small details right, they provide us with a valuable spark of humanity that draws us to them.
Put your signature on everything you do
When we add our signature to something, we demonstrate our belief in its worth. Painters are expected to sign their work for the same reason. When we put our name to something we've created, then we do our best to make sure it represents our own definition of what great looks like. It becomes a statement about who we are and what we believe. We become identified with the work that bears our name and we are judged as a result. The prominence of the company's mark on its products communicates a confidence in their quality and establishes a sense of pride in their creation. When a company provides such a visible demonstration of the value it places on its own work, then the people who view or buy that work are more likely to value it themselves.
Value what matters
At a very basic level, success in business is about finding new ways to do more with less.
This doesn't have to mean cutting costs or cutting corners. John Elkington isn't an accountant, but he is responsible for reframing the idea of "doing more with less" in more positive, meaningful terms. He coined the term "triple bottom line" to suggest a bigger concept of value, encompassing the economic, environmental and social impact of business. Forward-thinking businesses are beginning to adopt these ideas to create greater transparency and accountability. Embracing a broader definition of success opens up new opportunities for value creation.
Think of leadership in terms of collaboration, not competition
Strong reputations allow businesses to attract talent and to bring together dream teams of collaborators. We are culturally richer as a result. This is what true leadership in business is about. Leaders stand apart, but not alone. The ability to influence rests upon a willingness to see beyond the four walls of our own business, to demonstrate a willingness to engage with the world and to make it better.