In the Age of Automation, we Must be in the Business of Beauty

Franz Kafka once said that “anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old”. In the future of work, the same holds true: those who can appreciate the beauty in what they do will never become obsolete in the age of automation and machine learning.

Tim Leberecht is a self-described “business romantic” and Silicon Valley consultant. It’s not the search for innovative and disruptive technology that has brought him there, but rather a quest for a new aesthetic, one that will inspire a radical humanism that will define the workforce over the next 20 years.

In his 2016 TED speech, 4 Ways to Build a Human Company in the Age of Machines, Leberecht proposes a list of concepts that make companies beautiful, and allow them to remain relevant in the face of unprecedented change.


The unnecessary is not detrimental to a company’s efficiency. It is an extension of it.

The unnecessary is unexpected, and the unexpected is surprising, engaging, and joyful. It unites by forging a sense of respect and connection that comes from creating something out of nothing.

When Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya gave 10% of company shares to his employees, cynics declared it a PR stunt. It wasn’t a stunt; it was a selfless, beautiful act rooted in what it means to be human.


Big results come from little actions.

In any relationship, bonds are strengthened not through grand gestures, but small moments. These are the moments in which trust and honesty reign.

Lebrecht tells the story of humanitarian organisation CARE, and their endeavour to launch a gender equality campaign in Northern India. To better understand the situation, the CARE team travelled to India, along with their partners, and took residency in a local temple. The team leaders then asked each member to share a story about how they had seen or experienced gender inequality in their own lives.

The conversation serves to break down barriers between team members, and better connect with those they had come to help. A lasting bond was formed; not a single member of the team left CARE over the following four years.


To see the beauty in ugliness is to dare to accept a change in perspective.

It’s not the kind of advice you’d expect to hear, but it is important. Honesty is ugly. Integrity is ugly. And as Lebrecht says, “we will be ugly…when we don’t belong”.

He is talking about how we perceive difference in people, and the uncertainty – or, often, xenophobia – that this breeds. When we accept this ugliness, rather than fear it, beauty is born.


Perfection is a limitation.

Most people can imagine an ideal version of themselves. Beauty comes from pursuing that vision, but few of us ever catch it. That’s a good thing.

In the pursuit, we formulate ideas, confront challenges, and grow.

This is life. This is what defines us, and makes us valuable. More valuable than a machine could ever be.

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