[Liveblog] The Business Romantic, or fighting algorithms with mystery

By Adam Tinworth

24/09/2015 |

Tim Leberecht, the business romantic

Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar. This post will be improved over the first 48 hours after publication

What would the romantics make of "you can only manage what you measure". Or Uber's surge pricing during a terrorist situation? Or data analysis of your sex life, services to dump people by text - or fake boyfriends?

Where's the strangeness, the strangers, the magic? Are we at risk of managing the romance out of our lives?

200 years ago, the original romantic movement stood up against the enlightenment and reason by championing mystery and romance. We need a movement now against the quantification of everyone?

Who are the enemies of romantic business?

  • Enemy 1: Cynics know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
  • Enemy 2: the data cruncher, who thinks data is the whole truth
  • Enemy 3: is the exponential organisation. We need more exponential humans

1. Find the big in the small

The average American has only one close friend - and the number is declining. It's the crisis of friendship. There's a difference between togetherness and intimacy. And we need more intimacy. There's a grassroots organisation in the US called "Let's have dinner and talk about death". I am here days get people together for eight hours to explore a neighbourhood - without digital devices. It's "thick presence" as opposed to "thin presence".

What would "thick days" look like at work? Eight hours on one project, without devices? The most productive meeting tend to be walking meetings.

Nostalgia is often thought of as wishing for a lost time, but if you look at the roots, it's an aching for something that we've lost - which we shouldn't have done. Brain Pickings is an example of the curator - a human's taste, rather than an algorithm.

Somewhere tries to disrupt the idea of endorsing people for skill they don't have by giving non-linear ways of exploring who a person is.

Fortify allows you to listen to the tracks never played on Spotify - the lonely end of the long tail.

2. Keep the mystique

Radical transparency means that mystique and mystery become more important again. Surprises. Look at subscription boxes like Birchbox. The surprise is the product. Mystery screenings like secret cinema that follows the same model. Etsy has a Ministry of Unusual Business. No-one really knows who they are.

Maybe virtual reality will be the romantic tools of the new era. Leaders at the WEF meeting in Davos were given virtual reality headsets to "visit" refugee camps, fostering empathy.

3. Suffer a little

There's a dark side to romance. But that's the opposite of romance. Why do we camp out in front of Apple Stores? Why to 50,000 people go to the desert for Burning Man? Our brains are still wired for the stone age. We're still looking for extreme experience that prove our fitness.

Ikea has perfected the art of suffering. Frustration is part of the equation. We never cash in our frequent flyer miles. It's a permanent unfulfilled longing. Very romantic.

The greater the labour of love, the more meaningful the experience. Make people wait. Frustrate them. And they will desire what you offer.

Embrace the ephemeral. Emotion is as important as reason. And some parts of us should be unquantified. Learn to value what you can't measure. That's part of a humane business.

The keys to a human business

  • Feel more.
  • Feel good.
  • Do good.

People will forget what you did and said - but not how you made them feel. We overestimate the tip of the iceberg - the hard facts - and underestimate the soft factors, like relationships and feelings.

You can become the Amazon of your industry, and become brutally organised and optimised. Or your can be AirB'n'B, and create mystery and living in other people's lives.

If your employees are uninspired, then give them drama and mystery. Don't just design for convenience, but also for friction. That makes them more beautiful - and meaningful.