Tim Leberecht is an international management and marketing expert and the author of the book “The Business Romantic”. Formerly head of marketing at frog, now CMO at NNBJ with clients such as Amazon, Google, Samsung, Boeing and Starbucks, he visited us in Hamburg from his current home of San Francisco. During our DMI NightOut at Brahmskontor Hamburg, he took us in his inspiring way into the world of romance within our business life.

His work ‘The Business Romantic’ is dedicated to the question of how we can give our professional lives much more meaning again, if not magic. “Give everything, quantify nothing, and create something greater than yourself,” is the subtitle of his book. It’s not about already familiar phrases or the daydreaming of an advertising expert – no, but he has rather set out ten simple but evocative rules, including “Reconnect with what’s essential” or “Preserve the magical” and “Suffer (a little)”.

In his talk, he went into detail about these three selected theses and took the audience in a concrete way into a world of thought that may not be entirely new, but is nevertheless very tempting and even worth striving for. Learning to appreciate old values anew, being aware of the special, surprising things in daily life and giving something in return, which may also cost some effort or overcoming – that simply feels good and right according to his explanations.

To our great pleasure, Tim took the time to write an article for our blog. We are always inspired by his ideas – we hope you as well. Have fun reading!

More Romance at Work

by Tim Leberecht

We need a new romantic movement! Just as the Romantics in the 18th century – Novalis, William Blake or Lord Byron – rebelled against the exclusive claim of reason and empirical truth, we should now rebel against the de-mystification of the world through economization and now increasingly also the datafication and quantification of our identities and relationships, far beyond the workplace. We need more romance in our lives again, and business is the perfect stage and the most effective vehicle for that.

How do you ideally start being a “business romantic”?

As the Romantic poet William Wordsworth put it, “To begin, begin.” So, first of all, it is important to develop a romantic sensibility, to look at business life with different, fresh eyes, and to create different points of reference. For the business romantic, this means putting on romantic glasses, literally. In the German, this is quickly dismissed as “rosarote Brille” – but beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

In concrete, this can mean, for example, that you no longer use the word “romanticize” in a purely negative way and that you talk openly about your feelings in meetings. Or that you simply show up at work tomorrow consciously as a different person. As U.S. author and social psychologist Amy Cuddy has noted, “pretending” is often the most direct route to actually “being.”

However, it is important that business romance is not immediately proclaimed a matter for the boss or made formal throughout the company – that would be counterproductive and destroy the romance at the beginning. I also don’t believe in persuasion. As a romantic, you will have a hard time fighting cynicism with pure rhetoric. Let actions speak! Manipulate the daily work routines in small steps, inconspicuous stitches of reality.

An (un)typical romantic working day

In my book, I present what I call “Rules for Business Romantics” as well as a starter kit that suggests specific 15 steps. The rules range from “Give more than you take” to “Keep the secret” to “Pretend” to “Stand still and do nothing.” All of these rules challenge typical conventions. With “Keep the secret,” for example, I challenge the belief that transparency is always good and show how little secrets and mysteries keep the imagination on. In the end, all rules are about making the familiar strange again, even a little strange. Small manipulations, small “hacks,” small taboo breaks literally do miracles in this regard.

Let’s simulate a (un)typical romantic workday: Instead of going straight to the office, you can go dancing. Daybreaker makes it possible. It’s a kind of pop-up club that invites you – now also in Germany – to first dance exuberantly with hundreds of others at 6:30 in the morning. Ecstasy before efficiency, so to speak. Then, on your way to work, you talk to strangers on the subway. A study by the University of Chicago found that this produces an extraordinary feeling of happiness.

You can then continue this form of “little borderline experience” that pushes you a bit out of your comfort zone at the office: Swap workplaces, maybe even roles. The bank Credit Suisse, for example, has converted much of its Zurich office into a co-working space, which has been very well received by the employees. Zappos, a U.S. online retailer, deliberately designs its space for so-called “people collisions” – random meetings in the workplace. GitHub, a software company in San Francisco, encourages its employees to live together and experience new cities, working out in teams from Venice or Montevideo. This builds team spirit and personal development. And it apparently doesn’t hurt motivation either.

Or invite a colleague you’ve never met to lunch. Surprise him or her with a “random act of kindness,” as Dutch airline KLM has done with spontaneous gifts for travelers at the airport or interrupt your work for 15 minutes for a good cause – studies show you feel more productive and satisfied.

Instead of conference calls, introduce “dense days” spent with just one colleague, without being distracted by “thin formats” like team meetings and email. Teach colleague-to-colleague, on topics like tango dancing, movies and other hobbies (that’s how e-ommerce provider Etsy does it). Set up a kind of secret society that allows you and your colleagues to challenge existing practices and design a kind of counter-reality to your company that, among other things, simulates competitive thinking and gives dissenters a forum for radical ideas.

Celebrate the end of projects, but also mourn them and give yourself and your colleagues some time before moving on to the next one. In general, at a time when ideas and projects are increasingly becoming the structural principle of organizational design, it can’t be a bad thing to think of projects as romantic stories, with arcs of tension, and actually, if we’re honest, always with an open outcome as well, despite our attempts to calculate and predict everything.

Finally, end the day with an intimate candlelight dinner with your team or colleagues from other departments – as well as strangers from the outside – and talk about work issues as well as issues that concern all of you, even outside of work.

Ask yourself every day: if I were only here for six months, what would be my biggest legacy to the organization? Start working on that right away.

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