Company Culture
3 min read

Tim Leberecht wants to bring romance to work

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Lou Pardi

Strategy Director, Agency Marou

Walking into The Business Romantic conference in Melbourne, Australia, it’s obvious this isn’t your usual event. There’s an artist filling canvases with paint, a station where you can write letters to a stranger and a live band on stage putting sweet beats under MC Mykel Dixon’s meanderings.

It sets a scene to explore new ways of thinking and is a fitting environment for Tim Leberecht, author of the book, The Business Romantic, to share his views. He muses on whether we’re facing a fourth industrial revolution and a new rising movement of romantics. “At the workplace we are expected to be flawless, consistent productivity machines. Increasingly we find ourselves in competition with ever-smarter [actual] machines.”

For many years we’ve been predicting a future with more machines. One estimate is that half of the human workplace will be replaced by robots in the next two decades.

At the same time, Leberect reflects, “We cannot imagine a life without work. We make or break ourselves at work. We form our identity at work. Work is where we integrate the individual to society. Yet many of us are disenchanted at work.”

At the intersection of jobs perhaps reducing, and work environments that are perceived to be bereft of emotion, is Leberecht, suggesting that we should be more romantic at work, and in life.

Romance has different meanings for different people. Leberecht borrows from common quotes on optimists and pessimists in his explanation. The optimist sees the glass as half full, the pessimist sees the glass as half empty and the romantic, Leberecht reports, ponders, “Isn’t this glass beautiful?”

There’s tension too between romance and business in embracing the unknown and taking risks. “Business is all about quantifying and minimizing risk. Romance is about risk, non-confrontation,” says Leberecht.

We’re all familiar with the Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It may seem like rather a romantic notion, but as a parallel, he shares a quote from a blog from business consultants Forrester, “Emotion is the #1 factor in customer loyalty.”

Leberecht shared three of his rules of enchantment. 

Rules of Enchantment

1. Waste time

The Richard Bach quote goes, “The opposite of loneliness is not togetherness, it's intimacy.” You can experience intimacy with strangers or yourself, but inevitably it takes time. Our busy lifestyles are full of activities, but often loneliness. Wasting time gives us the space to make meaningful connections. According to an online reviews firm, the rising move towards slow marketing and companies like Zappos rewarding Customer Loyalty Team Members for how long they spend with customers, rather than how efficient they are reinforce that ‘wasting time’ can have great rewards.

2. Know nothing, tell no one

Although we say that we dislike ambiguity, it seems that secrets and mystery can make experiences more meaningful. In the consumer world the rise of pop-up stores, secret cinemas and apps like Snapchat, Detour and Pokemon Go point to the attraction of ambiguity, secrets and fleeting moments. The popularity of AirBnb, although it is data-driven and at the forefront of technology is largely due to its inherently romantic value proposition. You never really know what’s going to happen and there’s an element of discovery. Secrecy can also be powerful – at Etsy there’s a ministry of unusual business whose mandate is to disrupt everyday business.

3. Suffer (a little)

“Suffering is the source of passion and meaningful experiences,” says Leberecht. The human attraction to discomfort, and the resulting value placed on outcomes attained through discomfort, is well-recorded. “Why is it that we camp out in front of Apple stores? Why do more than 50,000 people go to Burning Man – a week-long radical self expression? Why do people do bull runs?” muses Leberecht. “If you talk to evolutionary psychologists – they’ll tell you we’re still living for existential events. We need them to derive meaning in our lives,” he says. The convenience, comfort and instant gratification of modern business works against this.

In closing, Leberecht shares, “If it’s true that software is eating the world, then maybe the greatest innovation of our time is to maintain our humanity. If it’s true that software is gaming the world, with fake news for example, the most important thing is to insist on a profound deeper emotional truth.”

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