Had a great time at REMIX NYC a few weeks at Google, MoMA, and Bloomberg. Fantastic program, bringing together leaders from the cultural sector with tech entrepreneurs and the creative industry. My highlights were Fabien Riggall, the mastermind behind Secret Cinema; Dan Goods of NASA; and Randy Weiner of Sleep No More and The Box. And I had fun projecting an image of good old Max Weber at the venerable MoMA, being a panelist on “mission-driven business.” Had a great time at REMIX NYC a few weeks at Google, MoMA, and Bloomberg. Fantastic program, bringing together leaders from the cultural sector with tech entrepreneurs and the creative industry. My highlights were Fabien Riggall, the mastermind behind Secret Cinema; Dan Goods of NASA; and Randy Weiner of Sleep No More and The Box. And I had fun projecting an image of good old Max Weber at the venerable MoMA, being a panelist on “mission-driven business.”

Had a great time at REMIX NYC a few weeks at Google, MoMA, and Bloomberg. Fantastic program, bringing together leaders from the cultural sector with tech entrepreneurs and the creative industry. My highlights were Fabien Riggall, the mastermind behind Secret Cinema; Dan Goods of NASA; and Randy Weiner of Sleep No More and The Box. And I had fun projecting an image of good old Max Weber at the venerable MoMA, being a panelist on “mission-driven business.”

The romantic underground, the romantic in the midst of busyness.

How can work be delightful—perhaps even magical? The Business Romantic offers a radically different view of the successful enterprise and inspires you to find more meaning in business.

It’s an indispensable part of our lives, from the long hours we work to the products and services we buy—and yet business seems divorced from the full expression of our humanity. For many of us, something is missing, something both essential and immeasurable that lets us see the world with fresh eyes every day: romance.

In this smart, playful, and provocative book, Tim Leberecht, one of today’s most original business thinkers, argues that we underestimate the importance of romance in our lives and that we can find it in products, experiences and organizations that connect us with something greater than ourselves.

In the face of eroding trust in capitalism, pervasive technology, and the desire to quantify our behaviors,The Business Romantic reveals the power of business to elevate us above mere rationality and self-interest toward deep, passionate exchanges that honor our most complete selves. From strategy to the workplace, from product innovation to branding, customer relationships, and sales, Leberecht presents ten “Rules of Enchantment” that illustrate the value of choosing intimacy over transparency, mystery over clarity, devotion over data, vulnerability over control, delight over satisfaction, and love over liking.

A data analyst who is enamored with the intrinsic beauty of spreadsheets; the “voice” of Twitter; an Argentinian couple who reinvent shoelaces in a quest to reimagine the obvious; a performer who helps innovators through fake corporate seminars; rebels-in-residence who challenge their company’s conventions; a pop-up magazine that exists for just one night; a legacy brand built on absence; a secret society that catalyzes organizational change—these are some of the fascinating characters and groups you will meet in this witty and rousing ramble through the world of Business Romanticism.

Whether a consumer or producer, employee or entrepreneur, The Business Romanticurges you to start the most sublime of revolutions: Expect more. Give more of yourself. Fall back in love with business and your life.    

Pre-order “The Business Romantic”

Business and romance? I asked several New Yorkers how they feel about this strange couple. 

video by daydream reels (http://www.daydreamreels.com)

The modern urban romantic, via edgeofarabia

In Defense of Sentimentality

Business must embrace the full range of human emotions, even if some seem too sweet


Recently, online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter caused a viral sensation with its#WorldMostLovedCEO video that featured an over-the-top farewell celebration for its departing CEO, Mark Sebba.

In a flash-mob-esque event that was performed and broadcast across its offices worldwide, thousands of employees were joined by a choir, samba dancers, a mariachi band, and more to give Sebba a final honor. They were singing, dancing, clapping, and hugging to the tune of Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” as Sebba walked the long path from the lobby of the headquarters to his desk.

While the employees’ performance was pitch-perfect, it was a genuine expression of not only their respect, but their love for their CEO who was retiring after 11 years on the job. The firm’s employees generously paid tribute to Sebba’s legacy and allowed themselves to be sentimental for a joyful moment.

Watching the video made me wonder: Why isn’t there more room for sentimentality in business every day?

Our Sweetest Fear

Sentimentality is our “sweetest fear,” as the writer Leslie Jamison points out in her essay “In Defense of Saccharin(e).” It reflects our horror of our very own banality, our revelation that we are not at all distinct from one another but rather feel the same universal feelings, like Pavlov’s dogs.

Most of the time business is a powerful tool for fighting sentimentality, and our fear thereof. It strives to be devoid of double meaning; it is, at best and at worst, explicit, unambiguous, and literal. “Business-like” behavior is the very opposite of sentimentality, and sentimentality is the antidote to “professionalism.” For good reason: We don’t want an airplane pilot to be sentimental, or a lawyer, or a prison warden.

Yet something is missing in our work lives. “From a professional viewpoint, unfortunately, I had to make the decision to let you go.” There is little sentimentality, little sweetness in these lines; and HR departments will always advise you to keep it that way: “no sugarcoating”—“no pity please”—“stick with the facts.” “We maintain this brand merely for sentimental reasons,” also is a familiar line. In our fiercely competitive markets, clearly, too much love will kill you.

Big Hearts

Bruce Mau, the design visionary, recently gave a commencement speech at theRhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a lot of “love” in it:

”Imagine a world where we all worked on the things we love the most.”

“The work you love needs you.”
“Be prepared for the love of your life.”
“Everything you have learned here at RISD is in preparation for a life of love.”

This was probably not what his audience had expected, but Mau reminded students of a simple truth we all seem to have forgotten: that every education must be a sentimental education.

We generally believe we can afford sentimentality only once we have accumulated enough victories and scars or long before the soul-numbing routine of “the middle” kicks in. For most of our professional lives, ridicule lurks around the water cooler. We are afraid of being accused of losing control over our rational command on things. We are afraid of being less sophisticated than we thought. Being sentimentally attached to something that means a lot to us makes us vulnerable.


Jason Wisdom is a cofounder of The Design Gym, a boutique consultancy that offers design thinking classes for Fortune 500 organizations. He stresses the importance of vulnerability in innovative business environments to his clients.

“The most sophisticated methodologies, the heaviest R&D, the most immersive customer research won’t get you far with your innovation if there is no trust,” he says. And trust is the product of vulnerability. Design thinking requires design feeling, and, in that sense, sentimentality is the lubricant for ideation. In fact, any big idea is a sentimental cause: something both foolish and obvious that might initially embarrass us, but also something profoundly true that connects us with others.

A Human Right

In times of big data and quantified selves, sentimentality has only grown in importance. It is our bulwark against cold and increasingly artificial intelligence, putting easily accessible, trigger-happy fabricated feelings against machine-made moods and sentiments.

“The great question isn’t whether machines can think, but whether human beings can still feel,” Manohla Dargis pointed out in a New York Timesreview of the movie Her, in which the protagonist falls in love with hisoperating system.

Maya Angelou’s famous words come to mind: “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Business has perfected the art—and increasingly also the science—of making us feel; it has systematically commoditized emotions and serialized sentimentality. But just because something has successfully scaled, it needn’t be less precious.

Sentimentality is the suit that fits us all, and yet each of us wears it differently.

As leaders and employees: Let’s not be afraid of the full range of human emotions, even if some of them may seem too sweet. In fact, let’s make sentimentality a unique value proposition, a competitive advantage, a core tenet of our businesses and careers. Let’s use it as an easy access point to those rare emotions that are deeper and more hidden, hoping that they will make our companies and economies more human. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

This article was first published by Fast Company.

Soft-Edged Cities


New Values Like Purpose and Happiness Are Reshaping Urban Living — For the Better?

Aristotle once famously remarked, “People gather in cities first for security, then for economic opportunity, and then stay for ‘the good life.’” In today’s Western societies, this pattern may have been reversed. It seems people now move to cities first and foremost for “the good life,” or, to be more precise, “a good life”: a life of purpose and happiness. But will they find it?

Purpose-seeking Millennials

One demographic that is often associated with this shift are Millennials, the age group between eighteen and thirty-three. A quick look at some stats shows that this generation obviously has a seminal role to play in our urban futures: while 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, 50 percent of it is also under 30 years of age. Millennials will represent 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020 and 75 percent of the global workforce by 2030. For this new generation of workers, consumers and citizens, the choice to live in cities is no longer economic, but cultural [PDF]. Unlike their predecessors they move to cities for new opportunities that transcend wealth and self-interest: active lifestyles, sustainable living, like-minded communities and meaning. They pursue experiences that connect to social impact and greater purpose.

Millennials are looking for meaning and connection in cities. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Millennials look to cities for meaning and connection. (Courtesy of Flickr)

This new sentiment is also altering Millennials’ expectation toward business: “sense of meaning” [PDF] is becoming their single most important indicator of a successful career. Purpose and social impact are moving to the core of business rather than being addressed through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or non-profit arms. Some companies even become Benefit Corporations or B Corps, like Etsy or Warby Parker, with the triple bottom line incorporated in their legal structures. Moreover, many Millennials are leaving safe corporate jobs and launching their own purpose-driven start-ups, typically in cities. It seems like we are indeed entering an age of purpose, in fact, a whole new “purpose economy,” as social entrepreneur and author Aaron Hurst puts it, with more socially-minded “conscious capitalists” eager to do well by doing good. This purpose economy is reshaping our ideals of urban living, and policy-makers, urban planners and companies are all paying close attention. From Atlanta to Cleveland to Dallas, several U.S. cities are interested in trying on the mantle of a “Purpose City.”

Happy Cities

Purpose might be one key ingredient of a good urban life; happiness is another. While purpose and happiness are linked — “True happiness … is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose,” as Helen Keller wrote — happiness is in reality often the more appealing of the two, as it is less elusive and often considered more instantly (and mechanically) achievable.

Fueling this trend are behavioral economists and neuroscientists who have claimed some remarkable breakthroughs in the field of happiness research in the past few years. We know now not only that money doesn’t buy happiness, but a study published in Psychological Science last year also showed that happiness is specifically associated with the level of respect and admiration we receive from peers. Those who felt accepted, liked, included and welcomed in their local hierarchy were happier than those who were simply wealthier. Scholars have also found a positive correlation between happiness and self-employment in the U.S. and in Europe and identified mental health as the biggest contributor to happiness in all countries. Furthermore, a lack of perceived equality apparently decreases happiness levels. Compassion, kindness and (more so for men than for women) parenthood are all positively correlated to happiness. Finally, recent research claims that happier people earn more in their lifetime, are more productive and are better citizens. No wonder happiness is moving to the core of our economies — and consequently to the core of a high-quality city life.

Suburbs: soulless or solace? (Courtesy of Flickr)

Suburbs: soulless or solace? (Courtesy of Flickr)

Rather than just viewing them as engines of wealth, many now regard cities as systems that can be smartly programmed to achieve happiness. A prominent ambassador of this new urban thinking is Charles Montgomery, who, in his book Happy City, intersects neuroscience and behavioral economics with urban design and planning. Montgomery explores the stimuli for feelings of wellbeing and contentment and how they might be applied in different spatial environments. He describes some interesting correlations between urban aesthetics and emotions: for example, how blank, cold spaces (the big-boxes so typical of malls and commercial outlets) suppress a sense of conviviality. He makes a case for dense urban living as a catalyst of happiness and wellbeing and dismisses suburban sprawl, the dispersed city, as a danger to “both the health of the planet and the well-being of our descendants.”

Montgomery’s claims are not uncontroversial. In a comprehensive rebuttal, John Muscat accuses him of ignoring the benefits of suburban life (noting that suburban growth, since 1940, has constituted almost all urban growth). He points to a Pew Research survey from 2011, for example, in which a far higher percentage of suburbanites rated their communities as “excellent,” compared to inner-city dwellers. Another study found that for each 10 percent drop in population density, the likelihood of people talking to their neighbors once a week rose 10 percent. According to Brookings Institute research, suburban areas generally also have substantially lower crime rates than “core cities.”

Social Inequity

This brings us to the issue of social inequity. How inclusive can the Purpose City be? And is the Happy City a luxury item only for those who can afford it? The forces of supply and demand have made housing in some of North America’s densest and arguably most attractive cities — San Francisco, Vancouver or New York — the least affordable. The Washington Post piquantly observed in a recent article: “The people designing your cities don’t care what you want. They’re planning for hipsters.” So-called “Luxury Cities,” the article argues, focus on the needs of the well-heeled, whereas fast-growing “Opportunity Cities” such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Salt Lake City or Phoenix, offer affordable housing and family-friendlier policies. In San Francisco, the backlash against what is increasingly perceived as a winner-take-all-city is palpable, and social tensions between bus-drivers and bus-riders, between all-access tech knowledge workers and those with limited access is rising. Diversity is shrinking, too. San Francisco’s black population is roughly half of what it was in 1970.

Moreover, income inequality is growing in Western societies. As we’ve learned from Thomas Piketty and his much-discussed book Capital in the 21st Century, wealth distribution is increasingly tilted towards the 0.1 percent of households, almost back to pre-industrial levels. The middle class is losing ground. According to the Pew study, Millennials in particular have higher levels of student loan debt, unemployment and poverty, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) had at the same stage of their life cycles. For the first time on record, a generation is economically regressing, rather than progressing. This raises the question: is the turn to a soft aspiration like purpose and happiness caused by “hard” economic factors? It would be interesting to conduct a study that looks at the correlation between economic downturns and the rise of alternative aspirations over the past fifty years.

Where Did the Romance Go?

Finally, one may ponder the fundamental philosophical question, whether such programmatic aspirations as purpose and happiness actually make cities attractive. In other words, purpose and happiness may not be accessible for everybody — and are they even desirable as primary urban attributes? Do we want to live in cities designed for purpose and happiness? Ironically, a too-rigid fixation on purpose and happiness might undermine the very urban qualities of cities.

Singapore: livable, but is it lovable? (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Many New Yorkers will say that they’re “in love with their city” or at least have a love-hate relationship with it. Ask people in Aarhus, Geneva or Singapore, and it’s unlikely you’ll hear such extreme sentiments. Cities are places to experiment, to try ourselves, to stretch ourselves amidst serendipity, messiness and challenge, with strangeness and strangers in our face, a bump on every road. We might build purposeful and happy cities — but what if they are utterly boring? Will life be good in a city of do-gooders? Will we be able to experience happiness if we are constantly surrounded by its nudges? We might come to miss our old “sin cities” from time to time as we routinely go about our happy, purposeful lives.

Perhaps neuro-scientific stimuli, behavioral nudging, and “digital determinism” present our connected age’s version of the industrial age’s “great disenchantment.” Perhaps it is a myth to believe that optimizing something makes it better. Purpose and happiness: as our cities become smarter — more focused, more resourceful, and more efficient in catering to our needs — we might run the risk of depriving them of their very character. When everything is mapped, tracked, rated and easily accessible, our new norm might be the unhappy medium. When a city is found and found out, we might no longer search for its meaning. When comfort and coziness have softened our urban experience, we might get homesick for the friction, unpredictability and danger — the romance — that attracted us to the city in the first place.

This article first appeared on nbbX.

Galleys, postcards, business cards, pillows, sheets,….!

Galleys, postcards, business cards, pillows, sheets,….!

"Of all the pasta taxonomies ever conceived, George L. Legendre’s is certainly one of the most original and poetic."

- Paola Antonelli, senior curator, Museum of Modern Art New York.