What is it that beauty does? Why does it draw us? Why do we seek it? My answer: Beauty lifts our spirit and beauty connects us. Beauty creates a common experience. It makes us one. We see a perfect rose, fragrant and heavy with dew…our hearts open—yours and mine together. A baby, soft, pure, innocent, beautiful. We are aligned, connected. Our spirit lifts.
Beauty falls into that—an effortless connector that lifts our spirit. Connectivity. You know, I watch football sometimes (though I prefer soccer). I watch an occasional basketball game…and small doses of baseball. I watch because of the beauty of the sport, the grace and beauty of movement. For me, sports are amazing, mind boggling—and quite literally beyond my comprehension. And yet I know they are beautiful.
In far too many workplaces, beauty as a work specification is entirely absent. Why would anyone think we don’t notice? We do. As surely as we recognize beauty when it appears, we recognize its absence. Don’t think your workplace is off limits, that it does not need beauty or is immune to the need. None are.
Think. What would it be like for you to find a spot for beauty in your workplace. If you live in the USA, a response may not come easily. It might be different, for example, in Japan, a culture in which beauty is associated with Life itself. The sense of the aesthetic (a fancy word for the beauty of the thing) is part of everyday life, in temples and homes—and in food and its presentation. It occurs to me that this is one of the reasons why 5S came so naturally in the 1950s to the mind of Taiichi Ohno, whom I credit as the inventor of 5S. He tells us that he originally did it for safety reasons—noticing that people did not work so well if they felt under physical threat or risk. So he organized some steps to relieve that risk. But, in the hands of the Japanese, 5S evolved and became a template for simple order and orderliness—the fundamentals in beauty’s tradition.
Extend order and you have balance. Go a little further and you enter the realm of harmony—Feng Shui, the art and science of spatial arrangement, orienting the things of a place to maximize the flow of energy (chi). As an art and a science, Feng Shui claims that placement can trigger or obstruct favorable effects. A mirror here, a plant there. A system of laws, they say, that govern beauty. For the purposes of our discussion, let us accept as a given that some part of that is true, perhaps all of it.
What would it be like if beauty was a quantum. A quantum or content you could introduce into your company, and better work, better time, better delivery, and better sales were the result? What if beauty was an economic factor? What if that were true—beauty as a causative factor, a need, and a motivator?
Remember Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs—his assessment of human motivation: why we do the things we do, in a ladder-like or pyramid form. He did his work in the period of World War II; and his thinking holds up nicely over the decades. Remember his four basic levels plus two: 1) physical needs (eating/shelter): 2) security needs (being and feeling safe); 3) friendship and love needs (affection and affiliation); and 4) esteem needs (others recognize our contribution). These first four are outcomes that we miss if we do not have them. Maslow called them D-Needs or deficiency needs, most powerful in their absence. An unmet D-Need tends to dominate our lives. That’s all we think about. That what we need—next. We reach for what’s missing in our lives.
Later, Maslow included two additional levels to his model: +1/our need for self-actualization (being all we can be); and +2/our need for self-transcendence (reaching beyond ourselves to serve others).
And I am adding as the +3 need: the need for beauty. I am adding it because I have such a great need for it myself—and because I see it is so often missing.
When I walk the floors of your companies, I look for it and notice when it is not there, and notice even more when it is.