The House of Beautiful Business is a global platform and community to make humans more human and business more beautiful. Their annual gathering in Lisbon did not disappoint this year.
The theme was “Concrete Love.”
Like “Beautiful Business”, “Concrete Love” might be a contradiction, naivety, or a promise depending on who you are. Concrete and love, beautiful and business. They aren’t really contradictions...they’re more like magnetic poles. And we need both in business because we have both in life.
Business is concrete.
The outside world we’ve been closed off from the past year is concrete.
Actions are concrete.
Love is beautiful.
The je ne sais quoi that makes work rewarding is beautiful.
Words are beautiful.
But… beauty is abstract.
And business rejects the abstract because what can’t be quantified is worthless.
That is, in business as usual, the only things worth talking about are the worthy.
It’s time to see worth beyond positive numbers.
Concrete Love’s opening speaker, Nathan Langston, told the story of how he played “telephone” with art. From text to photograph to poem to dance to song to painting, one original message about banyan trees in India traveled around the world changing form over and over. The discoveries he made once the game had come full circle encapsulated concrete love.
Abstract works of any form — the visuals and sounds that we think are just noise — over and over and over were often more accurate at conveying meaning than concrete figurative forms of art. By the way, we were in a near pitch dark warehouse wearing blindfolds as he told us about his work.
Abstract is then perhaps a word for what we understand beyond the concrete. As he said, “we simply do not have the vernacular to describe how this quantity of information can be conveyed.” Abstract is then perhaps more powerful than the concrete.
While business glorifies abstract knowledge like intuition, other forms like unconscious bias are vilified as “too political” or difficult to work with. The difficulty of working with abstract knowledge should excite us, not scare us.
Nathan spoke about how evolution is not a clean staircase from the simple to the complex as it’s always illustrated. Evolution is probably more defined by extreme and often failure.
Even when it’s a success, it’s a failure. Think about this — if the point of reproduction is to make a copy of our genetic code, evolution is only possible through failure to copy perfectly.
But in business, we shouldn’t talk about that. We hide our humanity to save face.
This makes failure unnatural and success supernatural.
Business is forced positivity when life is not.
To succeed in business, we have to fail fast and fail often, as they say in Silicon Valley.
We have to love and see the beauty in failure.
“So what is the sound of the color green? What shape is the smell of a forest?...Does gravity have a texture?...What is the time signature of the waves on the shore? Can you hear me?” — Nathan Langston
The idea of genetic code being mistranslation was slightly echoed in the final speaker of the evening, Nigerian-Swedish afrofeminist Minna Salami. Her book, Sensuous Knowledge, says concrete words are only half the story. The calories and carbs in a piece of bread are equally important to know as how it feels and how it affects your day. We need abstract ways of knowing to have full understanding. And having others understand us is the core of the human experience.
“Without feeling, knowledge becomes stale. Without reason, it becomes indelicate.”
— Minna Salami
We need to know our OKRs and our KPIs and our revenue…but we also need to know how we feel and the connections to our actions.
Would economic growth come at the cost of environmental decline if we used our senses?
Would we be in the midst of a global worker’s revolution if abstract knowledge was all of the sudden viewed with tangible worth?