From the discomfort zone: Bathing in disruptive aspiration

To establish their supremacy, French kings wanted control over nature too.

Untitled-19 Pyramide du Louvre seen at night.
Written by Shombit Sengupta | Updated: August 31, 2014 5:42 am

all day,” they laughed, “because when no one is looking, shoppers get tempted to be naughty to put the middle finger up!” I was lured to buy this beautifully designed mannequin. As an object of art on my table, I can see how every guest is attracted to play with different gestures of the fingers.

In Place de la Madelaine near Place de la Concorde, where Queen Marie Antoinette was guillotined, there’s a crystal objects-of-art store called Baccarat. One day, as I was explaining to my wife how Indian Maharajas were among the biggest Baccarat customers, the salesman heard me. I too could surprise my wife by carrying Baccarat every day, he suggested. I dismissed him, saying its glass breaks. Undeterred, he displayed a range of exquisite glass rings in different colours, saying they were marvellously crafted to match beautiful Indian saris draped by beautiful Indian women. I was left with no choice. Baccarat rings burn your pocket less than diamonds do, but I can tell you their elegant, disruptive looks will turn more heads than diamonds ever could.

To establish their supremacy, French kings wanted control over nature too. Their palace gardens were designed with total disruption. Outstanding human handicraft was used to maintain hedges in incredible geometrical shapes that have rounded architecture, unlike skyscraper buildings with sharp edges. When you walk down half a kilometre with French gardens on either side to enter a French castle often surrounded by a majestic water reflection, you feel you are in another world. Visiting 16th-century Château de Chenonceau with my author friend Abhijit Bhaduri, I indicated to him the embellishment factor in French culture. The stained-glass design on the window has exactly the design of the wooden floor, so you can see just one contiguous idea being driven from floor to window. The French frequently use a driving force called “fil conducteur” for big ideation. This is a sensitive nerve that harmoniously creates coherence among different subjects. In 2003 I had written a white paper on how business needs a fil conducteur to grow with coherence.

Here’s my analogous learning. A company’s strategic team has to be like an English garden where plants of different shapes and sizes thrive independently to bring different ideas on the table. When strategy comes to operations for implementation, the French garden’s stringent, uniform design can be compared to a company’s operational processes and its workforce. If operations are driven like a French garden with no choice to deviate from the structured pattern it is set in, business result will be achieved with coherence and consistency.
Aspiration and disruption factors are so profound in France that with the passion to embed them, you bathe in them. I’ll continue next week on how I’ve imbibed knowledge of design from the four other countries — Germany, USA, Japan and Italy.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at

First Published on: August 31, 2014 12:02 amSingle Page Format
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