The pandemic has laid bare the crying need for elegance in business. I’m not talking about the kind of elegance shown by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in formal wear, but elegance in the best of software engineering, computer programming, industrial design and experience customer. Elegant solutions solve tough problems – customer service centers prevent connecting to someone who can answer a question; terms of service agreements that span dozens of pages; organizational processes mired in bureaucratic thickets—achieve a desired result using the minimum amount of time, effort and material. They feel seamless and almost intuitive. They bring clarity and ease.
Indeed, elegance in business is needed more than ever due to the increasingly complex challenges faced by leaders. Leaders must respond to the changing demands of workers as well as customers, and are expected to intervene on social issues. Climate change and geopolitical uncertainty introduce new and greater risks. Emerging technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrencies are upending assumptions about how business will be conducted. Such conditions require elegance.
Elegance can be found everywhere, if you just stop to look. It is full of nature: the dive of a raptor in pursuit of prey. The ingenious scalability of the fractal structure of nautilus shells. The many interdependencies of a healthy ecosystem. And elegance abounds in the business world. Sleek laptops and smartphones have replaced their bulky, boxy predecessors. There is elegance in instant moves and counter-moves in well-functioning financial and commodity markets, holistic strategies of regenerative enterprisesand even a high-performing warehouse team that combines human talent and technology to deliver both volume and precision.
Elegant solutions alleviate stress in the system while promoting flow, a sense that individual and collective efforts are optimized to achieve desired results. But achieving elegance is not easy. Serena Williams’ tennis stroke, Rory McIlroy’s golf swing and Lionel Messi’s fluid movements on the football pitch are all the result of countless hours of training and a commitment to continuous improvement through loops. of feedback. In business, Google’s search engine and Amazon’s e-commerce business see steady improvement through their own robust feedback loops: every user’s activity is integrated to improve the experience of future users.
The most elegant professional solutions solve several problems simultaneously. Stakeholder capitalism is an ambitious pursuit of an elegant solution that does just that: rather than individually pursuing the goal of increasing shareholder value, companies have worked to meet the needs of all stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, governments , communities and investors. Each facet of a challenge can provide new insights into potential opportunities and pitfalls while accelerating learning. For example, member companies of the Higher Ambition Leadership Center believe that committing to creating financial and social value in tandem helps “refine strategy” and is “the best way to build organizations that outperform in the short and long term.”
A fundamental challenge for leaders today is to reset and refocus their organizations to move forward with hope and confidence into an uncertain future. Elegance is a framework that facilitates this journey.
Another characteristic of elegance is simplicity. Albert Einstein said: “Most of the fundamental principles of science are essentially simple and can, as a rule, be expressed in a language understandable to everyone. If this approach can work for Einstein and science, it certainly should apply to your products, policies and procedures. And that’s important, because over the past few decades, the systems, functions and processes of many large companies have become extremely expensive and complex. The digitization of business models and operations has only exacerbated matters, as companies have increasingly created ecosystems with a myriad of new partners to help them expand their reach and capture new profitable growth. More recently, the business challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced organizations to climb the digital adoption curve at a breakneck pace while dealing with workforce disruptions that appear to linger beyond the pandemic. This results in the need to solve several problems simultaneously.
Unfortunately, many react to complexity by increasing complication – and therefore increasing inelegance – through extensive bureaucracy with a rule for every eventuality. Instead, leaders would be wise to seek elegant simplicity: as few rules as possible or, better yet, a few rock-solid principles. This enables and empowers individuals and teams to respond quickly to the inherent dynamism of complexity. For example, look Netflix’s Five-Word Spending Policy: “Act in the Best Interests of Netflix”— or Metro Bank’s customer service principle that requires only one person to answer “yes” to a customer request, but two people to answer “no”. Authors Marc Effron and Miriam Ort, in their book, One-Page Talent Management: Eliminate Complexity, Add Value, say, “Simplicity plays on basic human desires and cognitive processes. We crave it. Insisting on simplicity rewards concise and coherent thought and action; elegance recognizes and works with our fundamental humanity. How to better engage and energize your employees?
A fundamental challenge for leaders today is to reset and refocus their organizations to move forward with hope and confidence into an uncertain future. Elegance is a framework that facilitates this journey. With elegance, one can embrace beauty and fluidity while avoiding waste and complication. As you examine hypotheses and discover innovative alternatives, ask yourself, “Is this the most elegant option?” Go in search of elegance and you may find an age-old goal: excellence.