Aesthestics as a Strategic Pillar
The quality of aesthetic judgment, exercised by the individual through the organization, will determine the extent to which business activity enhances quality of life. — John Dobson
When defining the strategic vision for a company, and subsequently deciding on how to allocate resources efficiently and effectively across supporting activities, how many executives ask themselves the following questions:
Is it profitable?
Is it ethical?
Is it beautiful?
Of all three, the third seems hilariously philosophical and ridiculously out of place. In fact, when trying to grow share, drive growth, and increase revenues year over year, this may be the least of management's concern. What leader, even within an aesthetic-driven company, has time to have a theoretical conversation over whether or not something is "beautiful" when she is under pressure to come up with hard-core, tangible tactics that will drive the bottom line?
Yet, in his academic paper, Professor Dobson convincingly argues that "when beauty is adequately defined, the third question becomes the most fundamental criterion of the three." Dobson even goes so far as to say that "the ultimate justification for [any] business activity" is "an aesthetic justification".
Dobson is a Professor of Finance. Given his background, he of all people should be well-versed on the fundamentals of money-making, so what would be his rationale for taking such a hard stance in favor of beauty above all other corporate drivers of success? He tells us in his piece ...
For sure economic criteria play a role, every firm must generate positive cash flow, but increasingly the firm's ability to generate profits rests on non-economic criteria. Managers must value what society values, and society values aesthetics.
But don’t take Dobson’s word for it.
Of the ten companies with the largest market caps, four (#1 Apple, #3 Microsoft, #4 Google, #8 GE) are well-known for their laser focus on design, integration of design into their business decision-making, and overall belief that design does shape economic value. Moreover almost all of the startups with a valuation of $5 billion or more – such as Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Dropbox – have design at the heart of their business activities.
Ok. So even if a company acknowledges the societal shift towards a preference for beauty in business, what practical steps can be taken to fully realize this within the hustle and bustle of corporate planning and execution? Dobson doesn't leave us guessing. He defines five specific aesthetic criteria that should be incorporated into day-to-day decision-making.
We pursue beauty for its own sake. Aesthetic interest is the purest form of interest and quality of life.
There is no objective beauty. It all depends on the subject's perception of the object.
Aesthetics is non prejudicial and open to all regardless of race, gender, perspective, or context.
Aesthetics is more than the pursuit of pleasure. It is educatable and involves contemplation.
The appreciation of beauty is created by the individual, unlimited in supply and not the source of competition.
Dobson's premise is really an ethical argument: an ethical company, at all times, tries to operate at the highest standards of excellence. To be excellent the company must have, and exhibit, an appreciation of beauty. Only then, will the company make good decisions that bring about positive impact. In other words, "goodness is beauty." To sum it all up in his own words:
The key words of the modernist business universe of the past 150 years may have been those of logic, reason, science, technical expertise, instrumental rationality, wealth maximization, and moral rectitude. But the key concepts of the aesthetic business era will be such things as harmony, balance, sustainability, aesthetic excellence, judgment, context, compassion, community, beauty, and art.
Those corporate cultures that recognize this shift will flourish both financially and aesthetically, and will genuinely contribute to quality of life. Those that don't will, and indeed should, flounder and perish.
Read the full paper here.