25 August 2009

Profit is Not a Vision

I'm reading The Devil in the White City - a wonderful book about the 1893 Exposition in Chicago that reads like a murder mystery novel threaded into a business fiction book - and yet all of it is true. Along with Larson's incredible research and writing, what strikes me is the breadth of vision for the men behind this Exposition. They wanted a profit - but more than that, they wanted to create something amazing. Olmsted, the man who was the "landscape architect" for this Exposition, created New York's Central Park and determined not to worry about any results less than 40 years into the future when designing Central Park. At the Exhibition, "a single exhibit hall had enough interior volume to have housed the U.S. Capitol, the Great Pyramid, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, and St. Paul's Cathedral, all at the same time." These guys were intent on creating something amazing.

Peter Drucker once wrote that profit to a firm was what oxygen is to a man. (And recovering from my wretched cold, I've come to appreciate anew the importance of oxygen.) Vital but by no means the purpose. The purpose of business is something grander than just profit. These guys understood that. They weren't focused on pushing the limits of profits - they were focused on pushing the limits of architecture, imagination, and the human experience.

Could you even imagine - in today's world of technology and information exchange and population what we could do with that kind of an approach? It boggles the mind.

No comments: