Twenty strangers sitting around a table, shuffling waiters serving dinner in silence, and soft music floating through thick air. People smiled and glasses clinked—but for an hour and a half, not a word was spoken.
That’s where I met Tim Leberecht.
During this year’s World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Tim hosted a series of events as part of The House of Beautiful Business. One evening, I attended a Socratic-like debate on maintaining our humanity in the age of machines. And then, the Silent Dinner.
Months later, I caught up with Tim at Typeform’s Barcelona office. And this time, speaking was allowed. We talked a lot about tension—between business efficiency and human creativity, between company vision and employee experience, and how it’s propelling his mission to bring romance back to the workplace.
But first, more about our silent dinner.
Business needs more romance
“I thought it was very frustrating that we have divorced the world of business from all these qualities that I'd label 'romantic'—unpredictability, losing control, and appreciation of the ambiguous, the erratic, the inconsistent exuberance of pure emotion.”
Tim has been the CMO of multiple global design firms, and served on the World Economic Forum’s Council on Values. He’s written for the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, and Wired. His two TED talks have been viewed over two million times.
But Tim is a romantic at heart.
He celebrates uncertainty, mystery, and imagination. He travels the globe urging companies to appreciate the emotional and social aspects of work. In addition to his silent dinners, his “15 toasts” dinner series create safe spaces for people to have intimate conversations on big topics.
Efficiency vs. ambiguity, ROI vs. unpredictability, reason vs. emotion. This tension between the quantified and the unquantifiable comes together in his book The Business Romantic. No, it’s not about falling in love with your boss.
Build human companies through conversations
“Conversations are the key catalyst for translating a purpose into an everyday workplace experience—not just a conversation between coworkers and manager and employee, but it’s also the conversations you have with yourself.”
Have you ever been in a workplace where you felt a disconnect between the vision and mission of the company and your actual day-to-day experiences? So has Tim. So have most people.
But Tim thinks that romantic principles can work for companies new and large—in fact, they might actually be essential for success.
He mentions companies like AirBNB, MailChimp, Cisco, and Etsy that already successfully celebrate the employee experience and nurture a culture of vulnerability.
So how do you bring these human principles into the workplace? What kind of conversations should companies and employees be having?
Vulnerability: the one thing machines can’t replicate
“Vulnerability is the gateway to the soul. It’s how the world gets in.”
So what’s the key for unlocking romance in business and life?
It’s a term that comes up a lot in our conversation. It’s what allows trust, open communication, and more empathy between workers, and between a company and its workers.
Could it also be the source of creativity, innovation, and moral imagination?
“In business the usual instinct is just to rationalize. It’s to minimize risk, to formalize, to kind of make it more narrow than the complex world of human souls usually would be. I think that is a betrayal of our personalities at work.”
Could your business use a little more romance? Tell us what you think in this 30-second survey.