One could say that art is, from a survival perspective, unnecessary. I mean, if you are stuck on a mountain in a blizzard with little food or shelter, you’re probably not thinking about art, yet art is what gives life most of its spice, its wonder, and its inspiration. In the business world, there is little talk of art, it’s typically all about tasks and results; however, when dealing with humans, art is what creates the beauty. Thus, the unnecessary is what makes one business transaction or interaction stand out from another; it’s what makes one experience magic versus another that is a bore.
Unnecessary actions, like art, are beautiful because they catch us off guard. They create something out of nothing because they didn’t have to be done at all; they just get done because someone wants to do them. Creating the beautiful, even business beautiful, means rising above what is merely necessary and doing unnecessary things too.
When I was in college, I spent a summer in Germany on an international summer-school trip. This was during the Cold War and we went to the East German border to get a taste of the “other side” and see the big fences and guard towers. It was sobering.
As I surveyed the landscape, I could see off in the distance some buildings of an East German town and they were almost all the same and very drab, just big-box apartments or offices with little or no character. When I turned around to the west, I could see a very different look. The buildings had distinctions that made them different; some were even artistic with beautiful curves, interesting glass, etc. What struck me here was that the East German buildings were strictly utilitarian, strictly purposeful with no touches to make them pleasing or remarkable, whereas the West German buildings made an attempt at beauty and uniqueness, they weren’t just a means to an end they were an end unto themselves.
I am sure those East German buildings were perfectly functional and served their purpose of shelter but the West German building did more, they were for shelter I’m sure but they also added to the landscape, they inspired something emotional in the onlooker, all for no other reason than that the architect wanted to create something more than utility.
How does this relate to the workplace or the customer experience or business in general? How many times have you experienced the unnecessary in the workplace or as a customer? How about that birthday card on your desk from a co-worker or maybe your boss? Not necessary but how did it make you feel? Think of those customer experiences where something magical took place that had nothing to do with why you came to that store or restaurant? What do you remember, the beautiful unnecessary or the functional necessary?
We have opportunities every day to make art and deliver the unnecessary. We have the opportunity to inspire with the beautiful while still providing the functional. Don’t let the relentless pursuit of the uninspiring necessary get in the way of the wonderful unnecessary. Embrace the power of the unnecessary. Do something today that moves a coworker or a customer, that inspires them to be more, think more, see more, or simply smile more. The necessary is necessary to function but the unnecessary is necessary to life.