Is Your Business Beautiful?
Hello Aesthetics Advocates!
Thoughts about business quickly turn to finance. Businesses need to make money, or they cease to exist. Recently, it has become more popular for people to consider and ask whether a business is good or ethical. Many people would prefer to support businesses that do not exploit people and the environment, even if we don’t always put this into practice with all of our purchases. But rarely, if ever, will people ask if a business is beautiful.
One reason for this lack has to do with the idea of beauty. It’s perceived as ambiguous and subjective. A business’s profit margin is measurable. And, while we may dispute certain ethical claims, we can also measure, to some degree, the number of people harmed by a company or the amount of waste that they dumped into the ocean. While beauty might play to a more qualitative aspect of a business’s success, it is worth considering at least as a way to disrupt business as usual.
In conversations with philosopher Tom Morris, he discussed his book, If Aristotle Ran General Motors, which explains to those in business what philosophers refer to as four transcendentals: truth, goodness, beauty, and unity. He mentioned that when he started getting feedback about this book, people emphasized the aspect of beauty in business more than he anticipated.
In my own thoughts about beauty, I regularly go back to the medieval philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas and his three conditions of beauty: proportion, wholeness (integrity), and radiance. These concepts provide an entry point to applying beauty to business.
First, we have proportion.
Proportion carries the notions of balance, symmetry, and harmony. Comedian Mitch Hedberg once observed that McDonald’s commercials say that prices and participation may vary. So, he retorted that he wants to open up a McDonald’s and not participate in anything. You got cheeseburgers? No, we have spaghetti … and blankets! This joke is funny because it distorts what a good business model should be. The reason chain stores and restaurants work is because there is a harmony between them. You know what you’re going to get whether you’re in New York, Arkansas, or Oregon. Applying proportion to business could apply to practices, scalability, relationships, structure, and so on. In each of these contexts, there should be balance both in itself and in relation to the other aspects of the business.
Next, we have wholeness or integrity.
Sometimes we watch a movie, for instance, and something feels a little off about it. Either it felt like too much or too little of something, even if we can’t pinpoint exactly what was off. Now Aquinas believed that everything has a particular number of parts, determined by its nature. So, a three-legged dog, in his view, would be less beautiful (not ugly) than its four-legged twin. We may not hold onto this kind of strict ontological absolutism, but we often have the sense that more or less is/was needed. And sometimes we have good reasons to think that, for our purposes, we need to either limit the parts or add more. Integrity, in this context, could involve efficiency, which requires experience (and making some mistakes). In order to maintain this kind of integrity, those leading the business need to regularly address what is working well and adapt accordingly to develop and preserve an internal harmony.
Radiance is the final condition of beauty for Aquinas.
Have you ever known a person that you simply enjoy being around? You feel good when you are near them. This helps illustrate the idea of radiance, which also carries the idea of light. When an object appeals to us, we might say that it ‘shines’ before us. Radiance is more ambiguous than other aspects of beauty, but it is the aspect that makes us want to continue experiencing an object or experience it again. What draws us to an object? Your business should have this kind of goal, that you want people (employees and clients) attracted to your business, in terms of its practices, products, and people. When people feel good in your physical spaces, then they are more likely to return or use your products or services (and tell their friends and family).
There is a lot more to be said about all of these conditions than the brief sketch I’ve presented above. But with any one of these aspects of beauty, people can apply them differently depending on needs, context, and culture. They can be applied to the physical locations for both employees and customers or clients. They can be also applied to the very structure of the organization, to the products or services, and to the communications and marketing.
These sketches are offered more as a starting point for considering the relationship of beauty and business. So, what do you think could make a business beautiful?
What I’ve been up to.
We’re about to turn in the manuscript for our edited volume on digital fashion. This version will be read by reviewers, and then we should turn in the final manuscript this summer with the book due out in Spring 2024!
I was recently interviewed on Instagram by Martina Frattura with The Beauty Movement. And she also organized a discussion about her short documentary The Beauty Movement, which I moderated. Watch that discussion here.
To invite me to speak or write to your group or organization, please email me at email@example.com