LILIES & CHIQUITA THE BANANA: BEAUTY IS AS BEAUTY DOES
I see about 15-30 new plants every year, year in and year out. Hundreds in a decade. It’s my work. And when I go, I almost always do a visual site assessment, against a set of hard criteria.
Categories of visual function. The Ten Doorways. I spent the past 35 years developing conversion methodologies that teach people how to let their workplace speak. But I am always alert to something else. Something that is rarely there: Beauty, the topic of this series.
When I told a colleague I wanted to address the matter, she appreciated my thinking but urged me to use a different word. Don’t use beauty, she said. People won’t get it about their plant. Especially men. Why not use a word like clarity or openness? Hmm, well, that’s not exactly an equivalent. Loveliness strikes closer. But even I have a hard time identifying with that term.
So I am going with beauty—beauty and how and where to find it at work. The import ance of this was brought home to me once again just a few weeks ago, at Easter—in the overhaul and repair plant I mentioned in the first article.
I happen to love overhaul and repair (O&H) facilities but that may be because I never had to work in one of them, year after year. It’s a pretty brutal environment. I had been on site for five days, working with the local team on visually converting a machining cell—one of the cleaner operations in O&H. Everything upstream from that requires de-greasing and de-griming. Very goopy work.
I arrived the Thursday before Easter and happened to see a beautiful Easter Lily on my way to the hotel. A spreading stalk of pure white lilies, trumpeting the coming of the Spring. I bought it. A week later, on Thursday night, I made a last visit to the factory to talk with third-shift operators about what was going on. I would fly out in the morning. Not wanting to abandon the beautiful lily in a lonely hotel room, I brought it with me, planning to leave it in the department where we were doing the conversion.
I was amazed by people’s response. Operators gathered around the lily as though it was an adorable puppy. Or a new born baby. A thing of beauty. I was moved. Not just by their thanks but by the realization that beauty was such a rarity in their work lives. A living beautiful thing inside the factory walls was never part of the plan. I felt a familiar question bubble up inside me: Why not? Why not beauty inside the plant? Why not bring beauty into where we spend so much of our lives?
A cynic might comment: “Why not—I’ll tell you why not: People won’t take care of beauty once it arrives. They won’t water the plant. Or remove it when it withers. Or they will want management to pay for it….” My response? A red herring, a marginal concern at best and not the core of today’s conversation, which instead is: Why don’t we ensure a place for beauty at work? Said another way, what good things would happen if we did—intentionally, as part of the plan, as part and parcel of our journey to excellence?
Sometimes we forget. And sometimes we forget that we forgot: Humans populate the workplace. If beauty pleases us outside of work but we never think to bring it closer, perhaps we should think again. If only for ourselves.
Yes, I know what you know: commonly accepted items of beauty do not include pin ups. But potted plants? And yes, if you work in a Class 7/10,000-part clean room, potted plants are not an option. Yes, you and I can find so many exceptions. But all I want you to do right now is take on the concept of beauty and imagine it.
Imagine it in your work area. A thing of beauty close by, in your sight line. A thing that pleases you. Imagine it and now check: Did you feel the lift, the lift in your spirit? It doesn’t take much—but it does take something.
I remember Darby, who worked in the bowels of an aluminum casting plant. A master of his trade. He ate a piece of fruit every day and put the little sticker on the far wall of his shop. A wall covered with Chiquita the Banana stickers. To Darby it was a thing of beauty. I liked it too.