A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK

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Beauty and the Beast

I had lunch the other day with a marvellous friend of mine called Paul Dickinson. Paul is a very bright guy and founder of the Carbon Disclosure Project a great project that has for some years been encouraging large corporations to become more conscious of their CO2 emissions and general sustainability.

Paul has also written several books. We talked about one of these, Beautiful Corporations, published back in 2000. In it, Paul suggests that corporations should embrace beauty and style as a differentiator. And also as an antidote to all that is ugly in the world, including threats to our sustainability through climate change, for example.

I agree wholeheartedly with this idea.

You see, I think our fundamental problem is that many of us have forgotten the paradigm we live and work under. Since the Enlightenment we have steadily been forgetting that life is not a purely intellectual process.

Business is especially prone to this. Business focusses on ideas and thought. These are mental processes residing in the brain.

And the world is run by men, literally top heavy with their big brains (Gates? Buffet? Slim?). Business, and most other domains too, celebrates thought and intellectual achievement. So does our education system.

It’s true that sometimes emotion can get in the way of our our thought processes. If our brain is the tool we need to use, then reducing that emotional heat is probably a good thing.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust our emotional and feeling selves. At root we are just as much emotional beings as intellectual ones. We are whole, physical beings, much more than just a “brain on legs”.

Paul is therefore right that beauty is a key; the reason is that beauty helps us access our emotional and feeling side. Appreciating art and beauty is not an intellectual activity. Beauty goes straight to our emotional core. It thus helps us access and understand our real selves.

Most people (most men, and I speak as one) are crippled by and blind to their lack of emotional sensitivity. We think (!) we are not, because we are great thinkers. But we are blind to this lack. We think we are in charge of what we say and do.

Despite our current peril there’s real hope for the world I believe (I could say I feel, I know instinctively) because we can quickly wake up and come alive to the problems we face if we can get in touch with what we feel.

We cannot lie to ourselves about what we find to be beautiful. Nor can we lie to ourselves about what is right and true – in terms of life, and in terms of survival. Our non-thinking sides would not allow us to destroy ourselves. 10 million years of human evolution simply would not allow that.

But in my view it’s essential that we let our whole selves steer. Listening only to our thinking brains, however useful they are in some domains, is probably our greatest peril.

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News from the front-line

I rarely watch TV news. Actually I hardly follow the news at all. Once every couple of months I might pick up a paper (usually the FT because I like their style). Sometimes at the station with time to kill, I look at the newspaper headlines.

This is all because news depresses me. The endless negativity. The partisan nature of the analysis. The time it wastes. The way even sensible people are depicted as idiots – under the pressure of lights, time and deadlines, I’m sure it’s really hard to get a coherent and sane message out, let alone start a useful or enjoyable conversation, which I much prefer.

I studied the news. In fact, I wrote a dissertation about online news at the BBC. Actually, I confess, I worked for BBC News.

And overall I like the news journalists I have met. As a bunch they are bright (sometimes terribly bright), articulate, caring and funny people. I say caring because despite the bluster or detachment which they probably need to do the job, many, many are really caring individuals. I’m sure they care far more than me about global issues, politics, big business and all the really IMPORTANT things.

Things I grew up thinking were important anyway. Like many middle-class kids I was encouraged to read a newspaper. Although I never got beyond the little snippets in the inside pages – “thieves steal 1000 left-footed shoes”.

The major headlines: war, famine, earthquake, disaster – all these fascinated me in a way, but never really engaged me to do anything. Is that a terrible thing to say?

But when I watched the TV news (Channel 4) the other day, just to do something different, I really enjoyed it.

I was struck again by the sheer entertainment value of it. The great music. The amazing graphics. The tension. The suspense. The build-up. The baring of teeth. The bloody combat amongst the protagonists – “no holds barred”. The skill of the referee – goading and urging them on. The silky warm conclusion and the seductive invite to “join them again”.

And overall the absolute art of the piece – drawing me in, and pulling me to the front of my chair, hooking me in.

Like Damien Hirst’s work it may just be a cow cut in half. But, you’ve got to admit, it’s very well done.