When I initially set out to write a book on Aesthetic Intelligence, I had one fear. It wasn’t the usual fear of a first-time author like writer’s block or rejection. What frightened me was the prospect that the book would be deemed frivolous. Or, as my grandparents would say, “Mehr scheinen als sein!” (more style than substance).
Serious businesspeople don’t talk about style. They may appreciate its relevance to the domain I once inhabited — luxury goods — but they generally don’t see applications to their own line of work.
Even the term luxury is not all that dignified. It comes from the Latin word luxus, which means excess. In Shakespearean times, it was associated with lechery and lust, as in the line: “She knows the heat of a luxurious bed.”
How could my writing possibly appeal to businesspeople in weightier sectors like healthcare, finance, or technology? I tried to preempt that question by including case studies of non-luxury companies — specifically, ones that had excelled in and even transformed their industries through their distinct and compelling aesthetic strategies.
I also tried to stress the fact that most businesses, not just those in luxury, sell goods and services that are non-essential and/or fungible. That’s why so few successful companies retain their competitive edge. (As of 2020, the average S&P 500 company survived for only 20 years.) Most are overtaken by new entrants offering cheaper and more convenient solutions.
Aesthetic businesses, on the other hand, retain their advantage, as it isn’t based on their products’ utility, but on their brands’ emotional resonance with customers.
As I look at the broader marketplace, I see opportunities to build stronger emotional resonance in virtually every company and every sector. Below are 5 sectors that, I believe, are most ripe for aesthetic transformation. In the coming months, you’ll hear more from me on each of them. For now, here’s a preview.
The science is clear, as are the economics. Beautifully designed medical facilities, devices and experiences improve patient outcomes by reducing stress levels and promoting healing.
So why hasn’t the healthcare industry done more to help humans thrive and help its own ecosystem flourish?
Carl Benz introduced the first gas-powered vehicle in the late 1800’s. (His three-wheeled car was called Model No. 1.) In the early 1900’s, Henry Ford started massifying auto production with his Model T. By the mid-1900’s, Japanese inventor Sakichi Toyoda revolutionized automation of car manufacturing. And, finally, in the 2000’s, Elon Musk popularized electrification.
I see two common threads across all these pioneers: (1) they solved practical problems facing the industry, and (2) they were men.
At long last, I think auto companies are revving up to solve some not-so-practical problems. How do cars make people feel? How could the emotional and sensorial experiences of buying a car, driving a car, and riding in a car feel better? Oh, and what role could women play in paving the way for the next big breakthrough?
When it comes to digital aesthetics, we’re still in the primordial stages. The concept remains largely confined to the perception of pixelated images. As a reminder, aesthetic experiences aren’t just built on visual appeal. The word derives from the Greek ‘aisthetikos’ – which is about delighting all five senses.
The metaverse may transport our collective imagination, but will it ever transport our bodies and the biophysical connections to human experience? And, if so, what is the sensation of smelling a digital bouquet of roses? Or sipping on a digital glass of Bordeaux?
Financial Services refers to a multitude of offerings within the finance sector – from insurance to wealth management to payment processing.
Now that most of the financial functions have migrated online, customers are able to manage many of the basic processes on their own. And when it comes to the more sophisticated functions, most firms take pretty much the same approach.
What differentiates one financial services firm from another? I think it comes down to the quality of their reputation and relationships. These qualities aren’t based on math and modeling skills — that’s just table stakes! — but on the values, personalities and styles of the firm’s people. In other words, its aesthetics.
Contrary to popular belief, bricks-and-mortar retailers are not dying. They’ve just lost their way. They’ve become formulaic and, what’s worse, forgettable.
A retailer’s appeal isn’t based on its ubiquity or consistency, but on its originality and curation. Instead of creating experiences that are conducive to lingering, browsing and discovery, most retailers offer conventionally designed spaces, poor customer service, and long waits. No wonder Amazon.com has forced so many of them to shut doors and file for bankruptcy.
To survive, retailers need to go back to where they started. They need to offer compelling reasons for people to enter their physical spaces. They need to offer few, but better choices. They need to create more immersive experiences. And they need to convey a stronger point of view about who they are, what they stand for, and what kind of customers they want to cultivate.
All of that calls for radical curatorial intervention! The results won’t please everyone, but they will resonate deeply with some. And that resonance is invaluable, as it can’t be replicated by others, especially not online.