In everything, everywhere, in all relations truth must be brought out in its all-embracing rhythm and every movement of life should be an expression of beauty and harmony. Skill is not art, talent is not art. Art is a living harmony and beauty that must be expressed in all the movements of existence. This manifestation of beauty and harmony is part of the Divine realisation upon earth, perhaps even its greatest part.
– The Mother, Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
There is so much debate in the corporate world on business ethics. But there is a greater connect between business and aesthetics than business and ethics. This article describes briefly the principles of an aesthetic paradigm on business.
Towards business beautiful; aesthetic dimension of quality; path to the beautiful: development of aesthetic intelligence.
Towards Business Beautiful
We tend to associate aesthetic with art and poetry. But in a broader perspective aesthetics means creating beauty and harmony in the inner being and outer life of human beings and in every activity of human life or in other words making our whole life into a work of art. But what is the rationale for connecting aesthetics with business and economics? Business and economics have a closer link with aesthetics than ethics.
The essential process of economics or business is mutual interchange and one of the ideals of economic interchange is to arrive at the highest possible harmony or mutuality in this process of interchange. Similarly in business, a harmonious coordination of various activities, resources and stakeholders to achieve a preset goal is one of the essential processes of corporate management. The present ideal of business is to create wealth for the society through efficient and productive organisation of resources and the outer life. But if business wants to take the next highest step in evolution there must be a shift towards the aesthetic ideal which may be briefly summed up as: “A beautiful and harmonious organization of the outer life is the foundation of a beautiful and harmonious consciousness.” The main principles of this aesthetic paradigm of business are as follows:
1. Beautiful and harmonious equipment and organization of the material life from procurement of materials to product design and packaging.
2. Inner and outer harmony among people.
3. Harmonious attunement of the outer material and economic life with the ecology of material dimensions of Universal Nature.
4. Harmonious attunement of the inner life of man with the ecology of the psychological and spiritual dimensions of Universal Nature.
5. Harmonious and rhythmic orchestration of the flow of men, materials, energy, resources, information and knowledge around some higher value like truth, beauty goodness, which leads to the well-being and progress of the larger whole.
The concept of beauty is sometimes associated with simplicity. The ascetic schools of thought associate beauty and spirituality with bare simplicity of a monk. There is undoubtedly an element of beauty and spirituality in simplicity. But this is only one way of looking at beauty. There is perhaps much greater beauty in a rich and harmonious opulence and an orchestrated diversity. In the ancient Indian thought, the goddess of prosperity is depicted not as a simple ascetic but as a well-adorned, richly ornamented, and crowned Queen of Life. A rich, harmonious and integral development of all the powers, faculties and qualities of human consciousness expressing itself through a plentiful, diverse, harmonious and beautiful opulence of the outer life is perhaps the highest and integral ideal of business and economics.
The Aesthetic Dimension of Quality
There is at present an increasing recognition of the importance of the aesthetic quality of the product. There is a perceptible improvement in the aesthetic quality of the external appearance of products like cars or computers. However, as we have indicated earlier, in an integral perspective aesthetics is much more than mere product design or packaging. It means creating beauty and harmony in every activity of human life. In the corporate world it means beautiful and harmonious equipment and ordering of the material and economic environment of the organization. For example, in engineering, technology and production, it means to perform every activity from procurement of material, plant layout, engineering, design, manufacturing, maintenance or erection and commissioning to product design and packaging, with a sense of beauty and harmony. When things are organized and the activities are done with this total aesthetic sense and vision, it creates an aura of subtle beauty in the organization and around the product or service, which has a special attraction for the customer. These are deeper and invisible factors which the ancient wisdom recognised but the modern scientific mind refuses to accept. The scientific mind demands empirical proof. But those things which are beyond the discernible range of senses and the intellect cannot be proved by empirical data.
This deeper perspective is based on the relation between Mind and Matter. As Sri Aurobindo states “Mind overflowed into the inanimate.” This is not an unscientific idea. Our mind or psyche, like Matter, is also a form of energy. The eminent psychologist Carl Jung, talks about psychic energy and calls it as ‘Anima’. This mental or psychic energy is more subtle and pervasive than the physical energies of our body and therefore it can overflow into the surrounding environment; it can penetrate, envelop and pervade the material objects in the environment. When the mental or psychic energies of people who make the product are full of beauty, well-being and joy, then the product will also carry this vibration of joy, which will communicate itself to the customer. Thus a creation, product or service, which proceeds from an individual and collective consciousness of wholesome beauty or well-being, has an invisible quality or attraction, which a similar product or service created out of stress, tension, anxiety or disorder lacks.
In the future of business and management, it is this invisible factor which will determine more and more the customer pull and satisfaction. For when the technological and managerial competencies are more and more generalized and the outer differentiations between the products and services of firms become more and more minimal, it is the aesthetic psychological factors which will determine the customer choices. This is already happening. The aesthetic appearance of a product is becoming a vital differentiating factor. As Fred Landry who writes on business and related subject, points out:
“Believe it or not, aesthetic plays a vital role in business. Aesthetics could spell the difference between a successful transaction and an unsuccessful one. Just think McDonald’s and its competitors, Coca Cola vs. Pepsi and Apple vs. other computer brands. You will notice that companies like Coca Cola, Apple and McDonald’s all emphasize on the beauty and appeal of their brand, their products and their image to the greater community. Part of the reason as to why these companies are very successful is because people perceive their products as beautiful. It is not enough that a product stands out. It has to stand out because it looks great.”
However in the future even this aesthetic factor can become as generalized as companies focus more and more on product design. When this happens, it will be the invisible psychological factors, like the inner quality or beauty of people and the organisational environment flowing into the product, which will determine the customer choice.
Interestingly, Tom Peters made the following significant remark on quality; “Quality is practical. But it is also moral and aesthetic”, and quotes marketing expert, Philip Kotler as telling it is the “delight factor”. If people who make a product or give the service has this delight factor within them it will flow into the product or service suffusing it with a subtle and intangible beauty or attraction for the customer.
The Path to the Beautiful: Development of Aesthetic Intelligence
This brings us to the question, how to achieve this aesthetic ideal in the corporate life? The path lies in developing the aesthetic intelligence in the work-force. In general, cultivating beautiful, harmonious, gentle and refined thoughts, feelings and sensations and an environment which evokes such higher sensations is the discipline for developing aesthetic intelligence. Nature, art, music, poetry, literature are of great help in cultivating the aesthetic intelligence. But there are many kinds of art and music and not all of them are elevating. The truly beautiful and harmonious brings a deep calm and relaxation and an uplifting impact on our consciousness; it helps us to come into contact with our higher nature.
However, as we have said earlier, we must not rigidly associate aesthetic sense with art and music; it is not necessary to be an artist or a musician to have aesthetic intelligence. Every individual can develop his aesthetic sense by making a conscious effort to bring more beauty and harmony to our daily life and into our surrounding environment. For example cleanliness and order in organizing our life and work, beautiful and harmonious organisation of the material environment, resolving conflicts, contradictions and dualities in thoughts and life into a harmonious synthesis or mutual understanding – all these factors help in the flowering of the aesthetic sensibility.
What is the pragmatic utility of aesthetic intelligence for the professional or the knowledge-worker? The aesthetic sense, when it is understood in the broader perspective which we have outlined, leads to an intuition of the harmonious rhythms, mutualities and interdependences of life and the complementing links which connects the various parts of life. This intuition will help the knowledge-worker to arrive at the most mutually beneficial deal or relationship, what is called in modern management-speak as the “win-win” situation, in all transactions. For example, a manager will know how to strike at a win-win deal with a competitor, or how to create a team of people with complementing capacities, temperament and skills. This aesthetic intelligence can also be of great help in all tasks, which involves balancing, scheduling and synchronizing activities. For instance, Just-in-Time method of inventory management, which requires perfect synchronization of the supply-chain, logistics and inventory, is in fact an aesthetic insight of the Japanese mind, which has a natural instinct for beauty and harmony.
The author is a student and practitioner in the path of integral yoga.