In The Business Romantic, author and marketing consultant Tim Leberecht demonstrates that romance is not only essential to leading a meaningful life, but it can be found and fostered in business. Leberecht argues that business must be viewed not through the lens of profit margins and productivity but instead as an opportunity for professionals to fulfill their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs. To create an economy that serves people’s entire selves, professionals must become Business Romantics.
PART I: KINDLING
The New Desire for Romance
In recent years, traditional business and economic models have been met with an increasing sense of disenchantment among professionals. This phenomenon can be attributed to a number of factors. The Great Recession of 2008, for example, dramatically exacerbated the income disparity between the very rich and the poor. Meanwhile, a glut of tech start-ups with skeleton staffs has wiped out entire industries and employment opportunities for the middle class. Combined with a culture of consumerism, greed, and isolation, it is not surprising that many people today are desperate to achieve a sense of meaning and community through their work.
According to Leberecht, infusing professionals’ lives with meaning requires the introduction of romanticism to business. Instead of being exclusively data and profit driven, a “romantic” organization is one that aims to provide its employees with a heightened experience fueled by learning, excitement, and adventure. Leaders of such organizations are known as Business Romantics. Rooted in ideas of the 19th-century artistic Romanticism movement, a Business Romantic is an individual who elevates emotion over logic and wants to engage in profound experiences. Comparable to young professionals who are just starting out, Business Romantics are engaged, unfulfilled, and excited for the promise of the future.
Meet the Business Romantics
To illustrate the personal and professional characteristics of a Business Romantic, Leberecht points to the following real-life examples:
*The lovers. After moving from Buenos Aires to Brooklyn, a place they felt was transforming traditional business, married entrepreneurs Gastón Frydlewski and Mariquel Waingarten launched HICKIES, a company that sells shoelaces that turn every pair of sneakers into slip-ons. According to Frydlewski, who designed the laces, business is another means of artistic expression.
*The business travelers. The Harteau family exemplifies how business and adventure can coexist. The family funded an 18-month international road trip by raising money on Kickstarter. Along the way, they used photography and blogging to garner a large online following. They also had a series of online flash sales where followers could buy handicrafts from their latest locale.
*The outsider. Alexa Clay is a self-proclaimed misfit who started the “League of Intrapreneurs,” a group of executives attempting to accomplish social innovation work from within large corporations. Clay hosts salons for the Intrapreneurs to meet and discuss nonconformist methods for enacting sustainable change innovations.
*The voice. Karen Wickre, the editorial director of Twitter, attributes the success of her 30-year career in the tech industry to her humanities degree. She is an example of how having a romantic perspective on human nature can give business professionals a deep well of reserves to draw from.
*The guardian. Designated the guardian of Berlin’s start-up scene, Ansgar Oberholz is a serial entrepreneur who started St. Oberholz, an incubator and café that allows creatives to connect with other like-minded people. Although Oberholz is deeply involved in the world of valuations, he maintains his identity of Business Romantic by balancing numbers with heart in his strategic plans.
*The visioner. After undergoing a health crisis due to her double degree program at Harvard and MIT, Priya Parker realized that she had started valuing productivity over purpose. To help others find their purpose, Parker began conducting “Visioning Labs” where professionals learned to identify and pursue the biggest need in the world for which they have the greatest passion.
*The believer. Scott Friesen is a data analytics expert who, like all Business Romantics, can find romance in the little things like working with new ideas, clients, and projects. After leaving Best Buy for Ulta Beauty, Friesen sustained his sense of romanticism by pursuing a personal mission for excellence, honor, and loyalty.
Ultimately, the greatest threat to Business Romantics is cynicism. Cynics, who are often frustrated idealists, believe that making a difference in the world is a futile effort. Although romanticism can light up an organization, it is a fragile force and must be protected against cynicism, bureaucracy, and boredom.
PART II: RULES OF ENCHANTMENT
The Rules of Enchantment are intended to give professionals and organizations a framework for sustaining Business Romanticism and creating more meaningful experiences.
Find the Big in the Small
The first Rule of Enchantment requires Business Romantics to seek out small, thoughtful ways to make life better. Although small gestures of kindness do not always increase an organization’s productivity, they keep people connected to their shared experience of humanity. By introducing small changes around the office that prioritize joy over efficiency, Business Romantics create more authentic, enjoyable work experiences. One small change that studies have demonstrated increases general workplace happiness is the facilitation of more socialization among colleagues during the workday.
Beyond carving out opportunities for more human connection, the most effective small gestures leverage humor and whimsy. Some examples of how Business Romantics have used small gestures to inspire joy and play include:
*Name-tag day. In this social experiment, thousands of name tags were handed out to New Yorkers, enabling complete strangers to become acquaintances.
*Hong Kong airport. In an effort to humanize the airport and brighten people’s day, mints were presented to travelers upon their arrival.
*Email. Instead of opting for succinct, impersonal messages, adding personal touches to business emails often creates more lasting ties.
*15 Toasts. At a dinner gathering of business and government leaders, attendees were asked to give a toast that addressed the question “What is the good life?”
Be a Stranger
Strangeness in the form of the unfamiliar or unconventional is an essential underpinning to Business Romanticism. Subsequently, the Rules of Enchantment dictate that Business Romantics must seek out the company of strangers. This process can occur in the following arenas:
*Networking: Networking events provide wonder and hope for meaningful, life-changing conversations.
*In-house: Business Romantics welcome outsiders into their organizations. Outsiders disrupt conventional thinking by posing questions that enable their organizations to overcome myopia. Effective outsiders are contrarians that are given independence, a safe space to operate, and permission to create friction.
*Another’s eyes: Employees can switch roles for a short time to better reveal themselves and understand others. Additionally, coworkers whose departments are inherently at odds can take walks together instead of emailing in order to mend gaps in their perspectives.
*Wandering without maps: To inspire collaboration, friendship, and workplace understanding, Business Romantics can both promote intra-office wandering and arrange the layout of the workspace so coworkers are forced to interact.
*Selling: Business Romantics understand that sales is a romantic pursuit that facilitates the opportunity for genuine human contact with strangers and fosters a sense of perpetual unfulfillment.
Give More Than You Take
Because Business Romantics recognize that gifts can be powerful, generosity must become their default strategy. Organizations can adhere to this Rule of Enchantment by embedding gifting into their transactional framework. Generosity can take many forms in business, including:
*Workplace altruism. By helping others improve their innovation efforts, performances, and general personal fulfillment, Business Romantics are engaging with something bigger than themselves on an emotional level.
*Time. The greatest gift a Business Romantic or organization can give is time. Conversely, treating others to an indulgence like a cup of coffee can win their time and attention.
Suffer (A Little)
Business Romantics understand that inconvenience can be a fulfilling experience because people, to some degree, like to suffer. Specifically, most professionals enjoy working hard, conquering impasses, and making deadlines, as the outcome feels more satisfactory and earned. Some evolutionary psychologists believe this is because human beings are wired to overcome environmental challenges and threats. Because modern society has eliminated most forms of suffering, people therefore seek it out (e.g., by going to IKEA and assembling its furniture or sleeping outside the Apple Store for new iPhones). The Rules of Enchantment recognize that Business Romantics want both a little drama and suffering, and consequently encourage organizations to occasionally make their customers and employees try harder or wait longer in an enticing rather than frustrating manner. The romantic result, permanent unfulfillment, is a powerful combination of both desire and thrill.
Artifice provides a wealth of artistic and experiential opportunities for professionals. Consequently, the Rules of Enchantment require Business Romantics to explore the middle ground between truth and illusion. This does not mean that Business Romantics should lie, but instead use fakery to evoke authentic emotions and explore universal truths. Graffiti artist Banksy, for example, uses illusions to make true statements about political and social issues. This practice once included placing a blow-up doll dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner in Disneyland. Through artifice, Business Romantics can tap into feelings of irreverence, playfulness, and provocation.
According to Leberecht, positive uses of fakery in business include:
*Brand marketers creating fake campaigns to reveal true emotions.
*Executives pretending to wear different masks to work to show employees the full range of their personalities.
*Entrepreneurs selling a world that does not exist yet — as long as they truly believe it will materialize.
Keep the Mystique
As Business Romantics view ambiguity and mystery as essential ingredients to long-term brand success, they must stop meticulously engineering and codifying their organizations’ public behavior in an effort to achieve brand transparency. By opting for opacity rather than transparency, Business Romantics can tap into the enigmatic appeal of characters like James Bond. The management consultant group McKinsey is an organization that leverages the power of mystique. With the mysterious nickname of “the Firm,” McKinsey swears its clients to secrecy on the strategies it recommends instead of publicizing cook-cutter solutions. This piques the interest of potential clients.
Business Romantics can use mystique effectively with:
*Secret societies. Secret societies within or between organizations can produce a great deal of innovation. House of Genius, for example, is a leadership group that hosts events where members do not reveal their last names, titles, or the companies they work for so that they can engage in honest, unfiltered dialogue.
*Pop-up events. Customers experience a sense of buildup and excitement for spontaneous or unpredictable events, such as Secret Cinema in the United Kingdom, where the movie and screening location are kept hidden until the last minute.
*Negative space. Certain brands use a lack of presence to stand out. The fashion designer Maison Martin Margiela (MMM) goes against fashion industry’s ostentatious standards by being largely invisible. At the MMM store, there is no signage, products have no labels, and the staff wear matching white lab coats.
Too often, the end of business endeavors or transactions are met with feelings of failure and sadness. Business Romantics, however, believe in artful endings. They see the power in the endnote and embrace the idea that deliberate business break-ups provide the opportunity for reflection and transition to new and better things. Consequently, at least once a year a Business Romantic must make a point of separating from a colleague, customer, product, or campaign that is no longer functioning well.
Sail the Ocean
The beginnings of relationships and jobs are typically associated with being the most romantic of times. As the years wear on, however, many professionals start to yearn for the excitement and passion they once felt in their jobs. Although the middle of a person’s career can feel like an uninspiring lull, a Business Romantic must use it as a vantage point from which to reflect on past choices and make plans for the future. It is important that while crossing this middle point the Business Romantics does not disengage or succumb to the siren call of a new opportunity; instead, he or she can rekindle a feeling of romance toward his or her organization or career by providing it with an excess of attention, vulnerability, and commitment. When Business Romantics commit with full hearts to their work and even the boredom and service that work may include, they feel alive and in love for the long term.
Take the Long Way Home
Whether it means connecting with old friends over social media or indulging in today’s arts-and-crafts renaissance, people crave the feeling of a time when life was less predictable and fast-paced. This is the power of nostalgia, an emotional force often described as the “old wound that never heals.” According to the Rules of Enchantment, Business Romantics should not only view nostalgia as an important source of romance, but also design products and services that satiate the pain of this old wound. By creating innovations that reconnect people with their nostalgia, Business Romantics demonstrate that technology provides an opportunity to capture the beauty and mystery of life. Examples of innovations that tap into the romantic power of nostalgia include:
*Retro-innovation. Some businesses imitate experiences of the past. The Rumpus is a five-dollar monthly service that allows people to send handwritten letters in the mail from their favorite authors.
*The Maker Movement. Businesses like TechShop and other hackerspaces tap into nostalgia for hands-on building and the development of artisan and innovation skills.
*Curatorial. Certain businesses harness the past in order to satisfy people’s current nostalgia, such as the website and newsletter Brain Pickings, which provides people with a collection of interesting articles on classic and modern literature.
Stand Alone, Stand By, Stand Still
Despite the fact that the world today is one of constant connectivity through mobile devices, many people feel alone yet unable to enjoy the present moment without any digital interaction. To counter this phenomenon, Priya Parker and her husband started “I Am Here,” a monthly outing where a group of friends embark on an urban exploration adventure while leaving their mobile devices behind. The goal of the outing is to achieve a thick presence; instead of the being spread “thinly” over many devices and places, participants are in one place at the same time in the present moment.
The online shoe retailer Zappos has based their customer-service strategy on this concept of thick presence, encouraging representatives to have longer, happier conversations rather than a high turnover of calls. The emphasis of quality over quantity is one that Business Romantics take seriously. As a result, they must reject the Western business culture of speed, quantifiable data, risk assessments, and decisiveness and instead work slowly on passion projects. Ultimately, Business Romantics can do more meaningful work by learning how to pause, be quiet, and undermanage.
PART THREE: INTO THE FIRE
Measures of Success
Two potential objections to the philosophy of Business Romanticism are:
1. Business Romantics cannot achieve traditional standards of performance and success. While Business Romantics may not pursue conventional quantitative metrics of success like income and promotions, this does not matter to them. Business Romantics design their own assessments by creating career missions that establish both their place in the world and the causes they are fighting for. Their measures of success revolve around whether they can perform their jobs with honor, inspire others, and find communities in the marketplace to serve.
2. Romance is for the individual — it cannot be institutionalized. Skeptics of Business Romanticism may argue that romance is a delicate, fleeting sentiment and therefore difficult to spread throughout an organization without being destroyed. However, by implementing the Rules of Enchantment throughout their organizations, they can engender a widespread romantic spirit. A Business Romantic can combat uniformity by employing a team that includes a second-in-command Business Romantic, an outsider on the inside, a project manager who views projects as romantic enterprises, and an executive assistant that prioritizes romanticism over productivity.
The New Romantic Age
In the imminent New Romantic Age, professionals will perpetually be dreaming up and seeking conditions for a better life. Business Romanticism will not just be for an elite group of people who are privileged enough to “do what they love,” nor will it require professionals to “love what they do.” Instead, the New Romantic Age will be about finding and creating moments of love in one’s work. These romantic moments may include forging genuine human connections with colleagues and customers or fostering a sense of greatness amid mundane tasks. Ultimately, romance will become a source of hope and inspiration for people who feel depressed or commoditized by their jobs. Business Romantics will not use data and technology to increase productivity and profit but instead leverage them as tools to tell new stories and carve out new avenues of meaning.