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How to build a Human Company in the Age of Machines


We don’t often associate business, organizations and competition with romanticism, emotion, affection and other such sentiments. Well, that is where Tim Leberecht, CEO of Leberecht & Partners, comes in to shed some light on this matter.

In his book “The Business Romantic: Give Everything, Quantify Nothing, and Create Something Greater Than Yourself”, Tim Leberecht underlines the importance of those very human traits that the business world has shunned from the beginning.

He asserts that by rediscovering romance, beauty and serendipity in the products we design, in our experiences and organizations, we will “fall back in love with our work and our life”.

Following this line of thought, Tim Leberecht explains, in a very inspirational TED Talk, how it is possible to build a human-centered company in this age of machines. He tries to impress upon his listeners’ minds the idea that in this time of artificial intelligence, people need to create organizations and workplaces that celebrate authenticity instead of efficiency, and questions instead of answers.

Leberecht proposes four subjective, but nonetheless viable, principles for building inherently beautiful organizations.

  1. Do the Unnecessary

By ‘unnecessary’ Leberecht refers to any small or big human act that is not based on any ulterior motive or taken as a reaction to an action. He refers to an act that can have an emotional impact on the members of a company.

An act such as granting stock to employees, or celebrating the launch of a new brand by giving balloons to each member of the company. All these acts may seem unnecessary, but Leberecht believes that “leading with beauty means rising above what is merely necessary.

  1. Create Intimacy

Every workplace depends on the existing relationships between coworkers. Leberecht stresses the fact that real and healthy relationships are built on intimacy, and not on connectedness.

He further explains that organizational intimacy can be achieved only by erasing hierarchy, by openly discussing personal relationships and by creating situations in which all members of a company can become equals, can break down those invisible barriers and create lasting bonds.

  1. Be Ugly

Tim Leberecht’s third principle cuts into the organization’s desire for artificial and superficial beauty, a type of beauty that only goes “skin deep”. He emphasizes the fact that performance can only be achieved by revealing the ugly truth and then trying to find solutions to it.

Authenticity equals ugliness, but it also equals success. For an organization to become beautiful it must remain incomplete, it must constantly ask questions, it must not fall into the ugly pit of complacency.

  1. Remain Incomplete

Through this fourth and final principle, Leberecht tries to remind his audience that the most beautiful organizations start as ideas, ideas that are worth fighting for despite their uncertain outcome.

“They are movements; they are always imperfect, never fully organized, so they avoid ever becoming banal. They remain mysterious; we can’t take our eyes off them. We find them beautiful.”

These four principles are not only the key features of a beautiful company, they are human traits, and the humans are the ones who breathe life into any organization. Without these traits, without its people, the organization loses its creativity, its authenticity, its intimacy, its ingenuity, its ugliness, and most of all, it loses the beauty of its human pulse.

Tim Leberecht, CEO of Leberecht & Partners – a strategy consulting firm, former CMO for NBBJ, a global design & architecture firm, and Frog Design, is a humanist in Silicon Valley, who argues that in a time of artificial intelligence, big data and the quantification of everything, we are losing sight of the importance of the emotional and social aspects of our work.

Video source: T. Leberecht (2016),  4 ways to build a human company in the age of machines, TED Talks

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