Bauhaus Is Not Just a Design Movement. What Business Can Learn from Bauhaus? How Can We Move from the Industrial Age – an Age of Exploitation to an Age of Regeneration?

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I’ve been a Bauhaus follower for 30 years. I am still fascinated by some of work produced during that period. A Bauhaus Summer School workshop was hosted last month by Michael Zinganel who is a freelance architecture theorist, cultural historian, curator, and artist from Austria.


The workshop was designed in a way to bring the Bauhaus sites closer to its local residents through more everyday interaction with special postcards, downtown dialogues, Bauhaus city game, and by projecting super sized figures on the walls of the 1920’s Bauhaus building. I think that’s really cool. I wish I could join them for a few outdoor workshops.

Talking about Design School, the Bauhaus was the most influential art, craft and design school of the century. They are definitely more than just design. The Bauhaus teachers were very  influential people including artists such as Paul Klee, Lászl Moholy-Nagy, Wassily Kandinsky, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. I am a big believer of multi-disciplinary thinking and Bauhaus was the first to advocate multi-disciplinary thinking with the goal that students should be able to do work from graphics, products to architecture and every student needed a combined practical and theoretical education (which was revolutionary at that time).

The result was a successful integration of design theory with the industrial process. Bauhaus reacted to social change by creating an aesthetic relevance to the requirements of the time. Bauhaus protagonists wanted to bridge the gap between the social idealism and the commercial reality and to promote a response to the emerging technological culture. The aim was to take advantage of the possibilities of mass production to achieve a style of design that was both functional and aesthetic. Objects were to be designed to have "simplicity, multiplicity, economical use of space, material, time and money which looks as modern as anything in production today. What would a revive Bauhaus movement mean within the context  of today’s social technological advances?

What is interesting and not well known is that Bauhaus was not just a design experiment, it was a political experiment a well. Some suggested that they were socialists and the Bauhaus philosophy is fundamentally a socialist philosophy. The concept of manufacturability, affordable designed objects, the stripping away of all those non-essential decorative elements (being viewed not only as poor design but bourgeois), are all elements of a socialist philosophy. I am not sure I agree with that view but it is something interesting to share. For me, it is a sound business strategy.

What we need today is a movement in business that is equivalent to Bauhaus. How do we take advantage of mass co-creation and social connectivity to create new business models that are designed to be sustainable, simple and empathetic? We’re still applying Alfred Sloan’s concept of what a corporation is since he invented the modern corporation half a century ago. His concept of the modern American corporation was a big innovation with core ideas including: 1/ Firms exist as a monitoring device to control shirking 2/Bigger is better because of the economies of scale.

In the next decade, we will need to reinvent the Modern Corporation and management as we’ve seen today. There are many flaws in the design of the modern corporation. One such flaw is the over emphasis on short-term financial performance. All the great management thinkers—going right back to Peter Drucker—have said this for years. There’s nothing wrong with using profit as a measure of your company’s economic performance so long as you look at it over 10 or 20 years. But if you shorten that time horizon too much, and CEOs become focused on minute-by-minute fluctuations in the company stock price, profit loses its meaning and self-interest comes to completely dominate collective well being. Peter Senge (MIT) wrote in “Leaders to Leaders” a piece called “The Necessary Revolution” and talked about a regenerative economy. It is another inspiration for us to think about the future of the modern corporations. Here’s a short excerpt:

Abundance of Opportunities
There are many reasons for taking the lead in creating a regenerative economy, starting with building a brand and recruiting and retaining talented people. In a world of proliferating choices, brands that stand for quality and responsibility will be distinguished from those that don’t. Moreover, the companies behind those brands are where people who have choices will want to work. As Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, points out, "In my view, the successful companies of the future will be those that integrate business and employees’ personal values. The best people want to do work that contributes to society with a company whose values they share, where their actions count and their views matter." However, branding and employee recruitment and retention are not the sole reasons for embracing leadership in the regenerative economy.

Business will be key in our ability to create a regenerative economy.
There is significant money to be saved. Companies in all sectors have saved massive amounts of money simply by reducing their waste and energy usage. By focusing on slashing greenhouse gas emissions along with associated energy use, DuPont was able to save $3 billion while growing by 30 percent over the same 15-year period. By adopting a vehicle-painting technology that applies three coats of paint simultaneously, Ford reduced CO2 emissions from the process by 15 percent and volatile organic compound emissions by 10 percent—while reducing painting time by 20 percent, resulting in significant cost savings. GE Industrial saved $12.8 million a year by changing over to high-efficiency lights in its manufacturing plants.

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