Elegance. It’s refined grace or dignified propriety. It’s dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style. It’s scientific precision, neatness and simplicity.


Elegance can be colorful, or monochromatic; spare and even severe, or ornate and sensual.  Elegance doesn’t dictate style, but demands intelligence, attention to detail, and a certain parsimony: a spare iron cube sculpture in a wicker-furnished Victorian sun room will be eclectic, or even dramatic.

It won’t be elegant.

When it comes to what we want from work, it’s simple.   We want to do a good job. We want to be valued. We want to belong.  Beyond the workplace, we want to provide for our families, and we want them to be proud of us.  Even for the most ambitious of us, work is a vehicle, it is a means.

The best managers create meaning.   They do it by understanding the significance of these powerful, primal wants:  they matter.

Meaning isn’t random.   If you want results, your behavior can’t be, either.   And because we work in a world of crazy random externalities — from the weather to terrorist threats — it’s a manager’s job to create work as a predictable platform from which to respond.

Walk by your neighborhood firehouse.  You’ll probably see young men and women mopping and sweeping.  You may see someone starting a chain saw, what’s up with that?  A wall with a row of coats hanging on hooks, pants stacked on boots placed around the edge of the truck bay.

And you see a hell of a shiny, clean truck.  If you’re invited back to the kitchen, it’s neat and clean.

It’s elegant.

It doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s not random.  They keep their stuff in serious order because they measure their time to respond in seconds, not minutes.   The guy starting his saw needs to know if it works.   Today.   He might need it in a few minutes, to vent the roof, if there’s a fire at your house.

This elegance, this sense of order, and disciplined training allows these men and women to step into some of the most random environments we can imagine.   Every day.

So while you may be in a creative field, in a brutally competitive market, or otherwise surrounded by chaos…it’s your job to make work as elegant, comfortable, and predictable as your neighborhood firehouse.

And you start by creating elegance, in the form of simple, repeatable processes around how you manage people and their performance.

Photo adapted from by Photo by zenera, used under Creative Commons license. Definition of “elegance” from Merriam Webster.

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