Last week I gave this talk at a seminar in Milan called Art For Business.
“On my way to this conference on art and business, two Erasmus University business school students (a Russian and a Dane) came to meet me in Amsterdam. They came from “Team Aesthetics” . We talked of Aesthetics, Innovation, Complexity, Meaning, Value. They asked me: “Is there a market at the intersection of aesthetics and business?”
Now there’s a question. Meeting these young MBAs triggered me to give them a warning. When the economy is booming, aor expanding like a bubble, like now, the minds of business will indeed turn to higher things – such as aesthetics. But the second the going gets tough, these elevated concerns will go straight out of the window.
One day I will write the story of my Bubble Economy years in Japan. Suffice to say here that, in January 1991, I expected to be incredibly rich by Christmas. I had invented a form of consultrancy that I called “cultural engineering” and some huge projects with prestigious Japanese partners were ready to be signed.
By April 1991, I pretty much went bankrupt when the bubble ecomnomy bust and every last one of my exotic cultural projects was put on hold. They were never re-started. Aesthetics, I learned, is a fair weather market.
And it’s going to get tough again. Unimaginably tough. Think of climate change. Resource depletion. Catabolic collapse. The global money system. Unsustainable food systems. Each of these is bad on its own. When they start to interact with each other….well….
Is there any point in even considering the connection between aesthetics and business at such a time?
The answer is yes. There is a connection, indeed a crucal one. There is a crucial aesthetic-cultural dimension to the transition to sustainability.
The ways we respond aesthetically to our environment now are horribly constrained. Urban man, industrial man (and woman) lack the visceral connectons to the biosphere that helped hunter gatherers survive.
Most of our inputs are mediated. We are blinded by a synthetic spectacle that envelops us all.
Modernity as a whole has been fuelled not just by cheap energy, but also by a cultural lust for speed, perfection, control.
We are bewitched, as a culture, by a high entropy concept of quality.
We would do well to remember the laws of thermodynamics. All order and control has an energy cost. It takes astronomical amounts of energy to acheve the pure, minimal, buildings, products, transport systems and infrastructures that we now aspire to and regard as emblematic of progress and quality.
We need new cultural-aesthetic ways of looking at – and acting in – the world. A new aesthetics of sustainability so that, when we look at things, we will think in totally new ways about whether a thing is “right”.
Think of an airport, for example. What might it mean to be aesthetically triggered to be aware of the amount of energy embodied in the artefacts, structures and processes that surrounded us in such places?
This is where aesthetics comes in.
(to be continued….)
discussed your post with a friend today who mailed it to me…
first of all: most of us working on the intersection of management and aesthetics had their waterloo one time or the other (again)… mine was 2001/02.
looking forward i guess in general there are three possibilities we are facing here:
a) as suggested by german author thomas mann: absolutely no hope for people who cannot decide whether to be on the art or the business side of life… no hope at all… they are ridiculous figures (thomas mann “tonio kroeger” 1903)
b) in germany the sales of new automobiles in 2007 were as bad as never before since the reunification. – in-spite of an economical up-swing people seem to be waiting for new hybrids and for political security to make automotive investments.
… waiting for a new aesthetics, for a new order of things?… could be.
at least i’d like to believe that. – at least i’d like to believe that the next recession – so it will come – will not be one where people are looking back in despair but are looking forward for new things to take shape.
c) all that we are talking about – and especially the way we are talking about it – is completely irrelevant because the next wave is coming from places like china and india and will hit old europe in such a way that we cannot even describe it.
the way we discuss our problem-solving patterns and management styles is so hopelessly euro-centric and grounded in a culture that exactly brought us to the point we are now, that the next wave will come from a totally different direction, in a totally different way that our game and the rules of our game will change for us in an also culturally unforeseeable way. – in that case our discussions here are nice but utterly irrelevant.
make your bet.
the ball is still rolling.

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…sachlichkeit is not a style.
it’s an attitude.