Romantic. Business Romantic.
Tim is featured in the new issue of Pullman magazine, the publication of the global hotel chain. He speaks about human companies, the future of work, and the romance of travel.
This article first appeared in Pullman Magazine (written by Jaimie Stettin)
Tim Leberecht is a marketing consultant, a two-time TED Talk pro, an author of an international bestseller, and a hardcore romantic, especially when it comes to business and the future of work. With two master’s degrees (in applied cultural studies and communication management) and years of experience as a chief marketing officer at global design firms, Leberecht is a tried and true marketing pro. He writes regular columns and articles, and he speaks and consults all over the world. From 2012 to 2016, he served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Values and continues to collaborate with the program. Based in his years of marketing experience, Leberecht wrote his book, “The Business Romantic: Give Everything, Quantify Nothing, and Create Something Greater Than Yourself.” In the process, he realized that the principles of meaning-making (in business) were all romantic principles. The book, developed in response to the rise of big data and the quantification of everything, ultimately helped Leberecht to see himself as a romantic. He has since fully assumed that identity. We had a few questions for The Business Romantic himself.
Tell me about how you developed the term, “business romantic.”
Initially, I set out to write a book about meaning, and specifically the power of brands to serve as one of the few remaining arbiters of meaning in our Western societies. As I was looking into the principles of meaning-making, I realized that they were all, in effect, romantic principles: keep the mystique, foster intimacy, embrace solitude, seek adventure, suffer (a little), and so on. I had a sort of epiphany: “Wow, I am a romantic!” In fact, I realized that romance had been the defining quality of my career—I just hadn’t been able to articulate it.
What would you put on a “business romantic” Valentine’s Day card?
I love working with you. (laughs a little)
More seriously though, what does it take to become a “business romantic”?
Romance is first and foremost a way of looking at the world. A romantic is an idiosyncratic adventure-seeker who believes in the possibility of another world—not necessarily in a better world, but definitely another world. For the romantic, the rational, empirical reality is not enough, and that is the very source of his or her hope. Accordingly, business romantics object to the notion of an objective, data-based truth and reserve the right to be erratic, inconsistent, and deeply emotional. They have the guts to defy data and
follow their intuition. They value all those critical qualities of the human enterprise—imagination, empathy and love—that are not measurable. And it’s exactly those qualities that are becoming ever more important success factors in a business landscape disrupted by AI and automation.
With innovations like AI and automation on the rise, how is the digital age transforming work?
Immersive experiences (like virtual reality), AI and digital platforms—the three big exponential technologies of our time—will change everything. Much research predicts that about 50 percent of the human workforce will be replaced by software and robots in the next two decades. While jobs may disappear, the need for meaningful work won’t.
How do you envision the future of work and the need for it to be meaningful?
The nature of work itself will change: with all the work that can be done more efficiently taken over by machines, the most important, and perhaps the only work left for us humans will be the kind of work that must be done beautifully—with empathy, imagination and love. That is the undisputed domain of the romantic. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, critical job skills by 2020 will prominently include “critical thinking,” “creativity” and “emotional intelligence.” These requirements clearly favor workers with a background in humanities, a discipline that teaches us about how to relate to the other. We will see the rise of the neo-generalist, the synthesizer, the anti-expert who knows a little bit of everything and who can seamlessly commute between different worlds.
Do you see the future of work as dystopian or utopian?
Utopian. Because otherwise I wouldn’t make it out of bed every morning.
And in terms of the future of work, what kind of job market do you hope for or envision for your daughter and her peers?
I hope that instead of being reduced to mere data and as a “quantified self,” my daughter will be recognized as the creative, empathetic human being that she is. I want her to do work that feels meaningful to her and to do it with people who inspire her. I would love her to experience the world as romantic—as an infinite landscape of possibilities.
What kind of companies will provide those opportunities?
More human companies. A human company is a company where people feel at home because they are allowed to bring their full selves to work. Th human company is a vulnerable company—an organization with high emotional intelligence, unconditional imagination and a culture of intimacy that nurtures relationships, not just transactions. A human company is a garden, not a machine, a movement, not a process.
What projects, formats, or platforms are you currently working on to ensure the growth of more human companies?
I write essays and columns and I run workshops and seminars about the human future of work. I also give keynotes at conferences and leadership retreats. With my company, The Business Romantic Society, I help organizations and leaders envision their future and translate that vision into powerful stories and experiences. We bring together philosophers, artists and researchers to work with Fortune 500 and smaller companies on both long-term transformation journeys and focused short-term sprints. Finally, we produce the House of Beautiful Business, a pop-up co-working and experience platform that piggybacks on major tech conferences to develop a positive, optimistic vision for the future of business.
Do you ever disconnect? What does disconnecting mean to you?
On long plane rides. And with my family at the little farm house where my in-laws spend summers in Sonoma County, California, where there’s only wind and water and serenity. But the most peaceful place for me has always been my parents’ house in Germany. I walk through the door and feel a sense of relief—from everything.
You travel quite a bit for work, how do you feel about business travel?
I still feel like it’s a privilege—because it is! I still believe in and feel the romance of travel. Plus, I cherish all the travel routines I’ve built over the years. When I travel, I’m mostly alone, but never lonely.
What do you think about the future of business travel? And traveling for work in general? How are those things changing in the digital age?
Some say that virtual collaboration will increasingly replace face-to-face meetings. But ultimately, there is nothing, I mean, really nothing that can replace those interactions. My rule of thumb is this: important conversations require actual human presence. Also, I’d like to think that ultimately, our desire to travel will supersede efficiency and cost-savings—precisely because travel is the most amazing way to waste time. And if we are no longer able to waste time, we will have become machines.
When you travel, what do you look for in terms of accommodations, amenities, comforts?
I love hotels with lobbies where you can watch people and rooms with a view. I appreciate cleanliness and also the right level of lighting. I try to book hotels with a pool because a morning swim is often the only exercise I get. My favorite hotels have a certain aura, a mystery. They are familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I honestly could live my whole life in a hotel!
What items do you always bring with you when you travel?
A stuffed animal from my daughter, a t-shirt from my wife, a notebook, my laptop and a Barca (FC Barcelona) jersey.
If you had to describe yourself in a way other than as a “business romantic,” how else would you describe yourself?
A fan, who burns for something, and a friend, who is committed to someone. At least I hope to be like that. And I wish to remain an amateur who is always open to doing things for the first time.