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”

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.

“Your beauty will hold a mirror to their ugliness.”
— Bruce Mau in his commencement speech at RISD
“He’s a businessperson. He’s not a romantic.”
— From a BusinessWeek article on Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner 

More Romance…

Here are the slides from my talk at @MLove a few weeks ago: 

Old passion which I’m finally able to (sort of) master

The Business Romantic - it’s official!

I’m excited that my upcoming, first book, THE BUSINESS ROMANTIC (HarperBusiness, January 6, 2015), just got listed online. I can’t wait to see what readers will say! 

In the meantime, here’s the short description:

"In this smart, playful, and provocative book, 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 and through business—by designing products, services, and experiences that connect us with something greater than ourselves.

Against the backdrop of eroding trust in capitalism, pervasive technology, big data, and the desire to quantify all of our behaviors, The Business Romantic makes a compelling case that we must meld the pursuit of success and achievement with romance if we want to create an economy that serves our entire selves.

A rising star in data analytics who is in love with the intrinsic beauty of spreadsheets; the mastermind behind a brand built on absence; an Argentinian couple who revolutionize shoelaces; the founder of a foodie-oriented start-up that creates intimate conversation spaces; a performance artist who offers fake corporate seminars for real professionals—these are some of the innovators readers will meet in this witty, deeply personal, and rousing ramble through the world of Business Romanticism.

The Business Romantic not only provides surprising insights into the emotional and social aspects of business but also presents “Rules of Enchantment” that will help both individuals and organizations construct more meaningful experiences for themselves and others.

The Business Romantic offers a radically different view of the good life and outlines how to better meet one’s own desires as well as those of customers, employees, and society. It encourages readers to expect more from companies, to give more of themselves, and to fall back in love with their work and their lives. “