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Archive for September, 2018

This is a short (and bit weird) morsel on not understanding a clue anymore, to have the feeling to encounter a completely foreign world.

I happened to me several times last months, that I read or meet something/somebody and I really don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

  • A friend shares with me her business plan for a new app, and I have no clue what it is about, even not after having (tried to) read the associated white paper
  • The book “What Algorithms Want” by Ed Finn
  • The “God is in the Machine” post by Carl Miller
  • The 1000 dimensions of algorithms in James Bridle’s “New Dark Age
  • Eddie Harran’s (aka Dr.Time) Temporal Labs, Research lab investigating time’s impact on humanity

From the “God in the machine” post:

We sat there, looking at the computer, his creation laid out in multi-coloured type. “This is all to do with complexity,” he said contemplatively. “Complexity of input. Complexity of analysis. Complexity of how outputs are combined, structured and used.” 

 “Truth is dead,” he sighed. “There is only output.”

 After some 1-1 conversations with some of the authors, it looks like I missed a whole generation of aesthetic language that is only found in apps, games, and Netflix-ish series like Black Mirror, Mr. Robot, Tangerine, Ratter, and Skam.

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Black Mirror – Season 4 – 2017

It feels like digital incest. Trying to hide from your virtual self. A virtual loop of digital identities and personalities. Not knowing what is real and what is fake or sliced/looped faith.

It also makes me think of this extract from Bill Gates’ review of Capitalism without Capital:

It took time for the investment world to embrace companies built on intangible assets. When we were preparing to take Microsoft public in 1986, I felt like I was explaining something completely foreign to people. Our pitch involved a different way of looking at assets than our option holders were used to. They couldn’t imagine what returns we would generate over the long term.

It feels like I cannot imagine what these new aesthetics can mean on the long term, and how they are already influencing now Generations X, Y, and Z.

I am missing the @swardley’s situational awareness map, about movement and position. Where is the anchor? What is edge and what is commodity?

Visit Roger Raveel museum 28 Sep 2018

If you are still in for it, here are two soundscapes of my visit to the Roger Raveel Museum;

Still with me? Where am I? What’s next? Where is this going? How fast? How? When? With whom? Who is cheating? Who’s not?

Are we entering a digital matrix? Where real and surreal blur into an new perception?

Tell me if your understand.

Are we all lost?

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I am going to do some shorter, snappier posts, just seeding an idea or an interesting (as in A.F.E.A.R.) point of view.

Google “Get out of your comfort zone” and you will get about 160,000,000 results. That’s solid framing!

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But is it true?

My cousin – yes, the senior curator of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium – surprised me the other day by stating the opposite: he performs (as in doing his best work) best when he is IN his comfort zone.

Just a couple of days later, I see this Tweet from Niels Pflaeging:

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Niels is a management exorcist and a real myth-buster. I always listen to him.

So maybe the trick to do your best work is to find your comfort zone? Or is it all apeshit – or pop psychology – as Niels suggests above?

Let me know what you think.

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still life Song Han

Still life by Song Han

The trigger for this post was an article on the nexxworks site about right & wrong in corporate innovation. The first paragraph focuses on the need to obsess on solving a customer problem. My friend and ex-colleague Kevin commented via LinkedIn:

“Fantastic article! I’ve been banging on for years about starting with the problem, that people care about but this is so much more articulate than me.”

We started a quick exchange on LinkedIn:

linkedin with kevin

The nexxworks article is about much more than problem solving, but problem-solving is what I will be focusing on in this pamphlet/manifesto for creating what you want. As that is where I am coming from.

Not being problem focused seems almost a blasphemy these days. But we don’t realise we have been mis-framed for decades to be problem solvers and solutionists (“there is an app for that”).

It already happens in start-up pitches to start with. Start-ups are coached to pitch in a standard way. It goes back to Guy Kawasaki’s 10 slides to pitch: start with the problem, what is the solution, the team, the business model, etc, etc.

There are the Maddlibs to perfect your one-sentence-pitch. There even are Maddlibs to generate your strategy statement, based on a collection of blah-words (Thx to @swardley).

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Everything is “modelled” and vocabulary is standardised: we need MVP’s, lean start-ups, scale-ups, etc. It’s cool, but you then have to explain this new vocabulary to the rest of your troops.

Everything is “role-modelled”. And we get inspired by always the same use cases: Haier, Semco, Apple, Amazon, Uber, etc. We don’t seem to realise that these are exceptions. Only exceptions make the news. The exceptional is normalised, check out hyper-normalisation of Adam Curtis, albeit in another context.

“In the film, Curtis argues that since the 1970s, governments, financiers, and technological utopians have given up on the complex “real world” and built a simple “fake world” that is run by corporations and kept stable by politicians.”

Everything is based on a Silicon Valley solutionist style, a reactive/responsive orientation, something our MBA’s and entre/intra-preneurs and leaders/managers have been trained for at nauseum: define the problem, articulate the solution, make a plan to execute, execute the plan with rigor, and be effective and efficient in doing so.

It may be a style semantic. Ex-Trump-PR-guy Sarramuci said: “you may dislike his (Trump’s) style, but he is very effective.” But one can be very effective at doing the wrong thing. One can be very effective at being a problem solver.

I think it’s more than about style. We have become so politically correct. To please everybody, we say things like “It’s probably a bit of both”. That way, confusion about the real intention creeps in. I say we must be opinionated, and we must be judgemental, we must choose sides.

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We say those politically correct things because we don’t have skin in the game. Read Nicholas Taleb’s latest on that subject. For that reason Taleb hates consultants, professors at high schools, some managers and executives, and by extension heads/consultants of innovation. They can say whatever they want, it has no consequences, at least not for their existence or that of the organisation they represent.

I recently heard Nektarios Liolios from Startupbootcamp venting his frustrations on stage, as all the innovation efforts of the last decade have apparently not changed much, or at least not shipped anything substantial. They even start bypassing heads of innovation and innovation teams in general, as they are more and more seen as barriers between customers and the business units. They want to solve real business problems.

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Innovation Powerhouse Philips Eindhoven – Architect Janne van Berlo
A renovation respecting the building's patrimonial structure.

But I am afraid that a focus on real business problems won’t help. The only way to enable real change and lasting innovation is changing the structure of an organisation.

Structure is about more than reporting lines and P&L units. Structure is about the coherence of narrative, motives, and governance.

  • The narrative is about purpose, about patrimony (tacit knowledge), “just-do-it” kind of mantra, action oriented. A narrative is rallying the troops to play the game in a certain way, in a certain context. In war, the game is to win. In business, I would hope it’s about more than winning a finite game, and there is some sense of moral, aesthetical and spiritual advancement, an infinite game across generations.
  • Motives are about why we are doing this. There are primary/primal motives like prestige, promotion, reciprocity and tic-for-tac rewards/punishments. Once you add moral, aesthetical, and spiritual advancement, you are driven by second level motivations that have to do with care, tradition, craftsmanship, beauty, proportion, etc. In that sense, I believe that problem solving is a primal motivation. A more advanced intention of creating something great is a second level motivation. So the question should not be “what problem are you trying to solve?” but “what do you truly want to create?” If not, “solving problems” becomes a doctrine, just like “customer first” is a doctrine, or “FNAO”, or “Lean” or “Agile”. Applied across the board without thinking whether it makes sense. Being effective at doing the wrong thing.
  • Governance is about how you organise and coordinate high quality flows to play the game in context. This is what real leadership is about. In that sense, innovation is a discipline. And there is nothing wrong with discipline. All great things/products/artworks have been a result of discipline. It is about “getting things done”. Jan Chipchase has an awesome fieldbook and practice for revealing – usually in plain sight – real customer needs. He articulates these needs as “desires on getting things done”. “Getting things done” is something quite different than “solving a problem”.

Artists don’t solve problems. Neither do real innovators. Did the iPhone start with solving a problem? Did Amazon ? Did Facebook? I don’t think so. They started with what they wanted to be, and what they wanted to create. They started with structure, if anywhere at all. But not with the problem.

A customer is IMO not looking for a problem to be solved. A customer is looking for a superior experience.

With that perspective, one could ask “Can organisations change?” to make that happen?  Or “Can people change?” and the more critical question, “Why would people change?”

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Sheep in boxes - drone photograph by Dean Lewins

The answer again is structure. Change the structure, and change will not be hard, it will be natural.

That’s why the whole idea of the dual approach (separation castle/sandbox, or core/innovation) is flawed. It is the wrong structure.

The preferred structure would probably more resemble a Khasbah or Souks, an open city plan with many innovation cells/areas with maximum transparency for all, so that everybody is inspired and motivated to join those projects too. And “brutal force” (see below).

It’s a paradox of course. Already in 2002, Storey & Salaman said in their Theories about Process of Innovation:

“paradox is at the heart of innovation. The pressing need for survival in the short term requires efficient exploration of current competencies and requires ‘coherence, coordination and stability’; whereas exploration / innovation requires the discovery and development of new competencies and this requires the loosening and replacement of these erstwhile virtues”

Problem-solving is like design thinking: it is fundamentally conservative and preserving the status quo.

“Rational-experimental problem solving begins with a presumption that the search for a solution starts by relying on existing data about the problem. Design thinking, in a slight divergence from the original model, suggests instead that the designer herself should generate information about the problem, by drawing on her experience of the people who will be affected by the design through the empathetic connection that she forges with them”

Remains the question: can it be done in a big or conservative organisation? Yes, of course. And it is done through what I would call the “brutal force attack”. It is the only thing I have seen working in a bigger organisation to actually SHIP innovation into the market and seeing it picked-up by a substantial part of the target customer base.

The brutal force attack requires two things:

  • A visionary that is able to articulate in a compelling way what he/she wants to create (and it does NOT start with the problem to be solved). Often this person is somewhat hidden in the fabric/structure of the organisation
  • A CxO, usually a CEO with metaphorical balls who will do whatever it takes to make the vision happen. With skin-in-the-game. Even against some part of his/her executive team and/or against part of the Board. His/her position may be at risk. He/she is committed like a pig. (For an omelet with bacon, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed)

You then build a team to make this happen. A squad of the best of best in your company. And the project lead has a direct red telephone line to the CEO to call in case somebody puts barriers or antibodies to make the vision happen. Usually, it suffices just to threaten to pick up the red phone…

It can be as simple as that: just do it. Just build and ship what you want to create.

If you want to have some romanticised innovation story to go with it, sure, go ahead and organise start-up competitions, create innovation labs, bootcamps, accelerate, incubate, and make a lot of noise and corporate communication about it. Just be aware they are a lot of fun, give a lot of exposure, prestige, and status, but are not needed.

That’s why my mantra is “To inspire other people to dream”. To dream and imagine what they truly want to create.

Like in this Nike promo:

Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.

Don’t buy the tyranny of the problem solver. Don’t settle to be a problem solver.

Create what you really want.

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Here is my Sep 2018 update. On what happened the last couple of months, some new insights, some updated plans.

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© Petervan Performance “Get out of your prison cell” – Sep 2018
Picture by Eduardo Morales

Many people ask me what I am doing, and I usually answer “nothing”. But if you look at the overview below, there is not yet something close to “nothing”.

The luxury of time and silence has given me the possibility to let emerge and mature some concepts that were brewing inside me for quite some time.

My ambition has not changed: to inspire other people to dream. Not “realise” their dreams, or realise their potential, but just “dream”. It’s a mantra, like Guy Kawasaki’s two-words mantra “Empower others”. Mine is a five-words.

And I think I have found a way – a tactic – to articulate that ambition. The tactic of a “job”. In that sense, I think my job is to create “Time Capsules”. These are interventions, interruptions and provocations that lead to higher states of alertness and aliveness. Formats can be artwork, installations, performances, immersive learning experiences, writings, soundscapes, recordings, documentaries, arrangements, compositions, or just casual conversations that resonate at another level than the pure cognitive.

It seems it took me two years to peel the old corporate skin and re-invent myself into something more artistic and closer to my real self.

Family

Life is rippling slowly onwards with some small and some bigger family events.

Astrid is back at school, 2nd year secondary school. She went on summer camp at Lago Trasimeno in Italy. She struggled over summer and still now with an ingrown toenail, and like the other toe, it will probably require surgery. She started horse riding lessons, as well as trampoline and tumbling courses at the local athletic club. In addition she stays very creative, alert and energetic with a good sense for aesthetics.

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Astrid horse riding and appreciating contemporary art - summer 2018

Mieke turned 50 in May, but she doesn’t seem to age (I will score some points with this one). She keeps being super-patient with this unpredictable guy, and makes sure I don’t get out of the house like a vagabond. She keeps us tidy 😉

Our father in law made a nasty fall from the stairs in his house and broke his wrist. Out for the next 4 months or so.

And we lost our dear uncle Toon, who was also my godfather. He’d grown old, the body was used up, but his mind was still alert when he passed away quietly in the presence of his wife and children. Farewell, my dear uncle…

kerk toon Ver-Assebroek

Uncle Toon passed away
The old Marian pilgrimage church of Ver-Assebroek near Bruges

The Artschool Project

The 2018-2019 season of the Ghent Art Academy restarted in September, entering my 4th year painting. I initially tried to get a cross-over year combining painting with digital media, but that did not work out for the academy. So, no cross-over, and it’s probably better for me to keep it simple, and to focus on doing one thing right.

Despite the ambitious plans for summer, I have not done any painting/sketching during summer, but improved a bit my video editing and soundscape creation skills in preparation for the performance.

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My new spotless spot at the start of the 2018-2019 Art Academy year

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©Petervan Artwork 2018 – Landscape #1 – Acryl on canvas – 100x120cm

Prison cell performance

Finnovista invited me to do a performance at the Finnovista Summit in Mexico-City on 12-13 Sep 2018. I was invited last year, but the event needed to be cancelled halfway due to the 7,4 magnitude earthquake on 19 Sep 2017. So the organizers were so kind to invite me again.

The working title of the performance was “Get out of the prison cell! – An artistic reflection on listening, learning, and leading”

Petervan Performance moving walls

@Petervan Performance 2018 – Peter moving prison walls

I already documented the overall narrative in my “Get out of your prison cell!” post.

This time – in addition of the multi-media approach – I included props on stage, a life camera feed, even some vestimentary attributes like suite, hats and masks, and a lightning script for the light technician.

Here is a link to the slide-deck I used during the performance

As soon as the video and (professional) pictures of the performance will be available, I will post them here.

PLACEHOLDER OFFICIAL VIDEO/PICS

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It was a fantastic experience preparing, executing, and getting feedback on something I wanted to do for the last two years. I felt at home on stage in this new vulnerability, an encouragement to continue on this new journey.

Many thanks to Andres Fontao and Fermin Bueno and their Finnovista team for taking the risk of letting me do this.

Time Capsules Project

There is something new brewing: a sort of documentary starting with a navigator and a spark. It is an evolution of the Studio Oxygen idea, and working title is “Petervan’s Time Capsules”. This project is also somehow a natural continuation/evolution of the performance project.

Time Capsules are encounters with an interesting person. Open ended expeditions, with no agenda. The purpose is to scratch beyond the surface, to go under the skin of the guest, to appeal to his/her unconscious beyond the cognitive. The spark – the start of the journey – for each Time Capsule is a tangible artistic object (painting, sculpture, clothing, music, poem, dance,…). The spark sparks a high quality conversation – where information can flow freely. This conversation is guided and facilitated by an expert and/or a professional facilitator and leads to a found learning (vs. searched learning). This learning is recorded, edited, produced, and externalised in a new tangible artistic object (painting, visualisation, sculpture, clothing, music, poem, dance, video, ) and thereby made shareable for internalisation by an audience.

A more in-depth blog post is cooking in the kitchen on that one.

The first Time Capsule will be an art-historical dissection/critique/buildup of Beyoncé’s latest APESH*T video. One could call it “Beyond Beyoncé’s Apeshit”.

The aesthetics in the video are great, and the background of the Louvre museum gives it some extra credibility, but from an art historical point of view, it is all plain wrong and misleading. S**t sold as culture.

My cousin Joost will be our navigator for this first Time-Capsule. Joost is Senior Curator at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels. He is also the Co-Founder and Project Leader of the international multidisciplinary Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project (JVDPPP) and the Project Leader for the establishment of the visitors centre at the Brueghel House, Brussels.

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My cousin Joost and JVDPPP team in Lazienki Krolewskie Museum in Warsaw

The second Time Capsule is planned on the immense property of a count and countess in Austria. It’s a documentary of two very wealthy people who still live in a very traditional way in the Austrian Alps. A real time machine expedition resulting into another time capsule. Also here, Joost will be our navigator.

We have some cool ideas for our next guests and navigators. But by no means, if you have an idea for a subject, guest, or navigator, please contact me via email.

Little Drops

The Silence-is-Broken Project (see previous update) resulted in some more silence-scapes.

@Petervan Silence-Scape 2018 - The sound of grazing cows

I am also experimenting with an alternative calendar: A year would start on 27 April, a week would be 11 days, the 11th day is a rest day, a month has 7 weeks, and we have 17 months.

How would a year look/feel like? How would you plan for it? How does that change your priorities? How more/less stressed would you be? How much stress/pressure would you get from normal-calendar-people?

Exhibitions

There are not so many art exhibitions during summer. The season really restarts mid September.

I went to one very small exhibition, titled “Gemeubelde Kamers/Furnished Rooms”, in Ressegem (Herzele) of all places, truly Flanders centre for the arts. It had works from Pirò Pallaghy and Luc Degryse.

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Combined artwork by Pirò Pallaghy and Luc Degryse in Herzele, Sep 2018

Chickens and Pigs Project

With such an exceptionally warm and sunny summer, our garden was a real treat.

We enjoyed our first organic harvest of salads, tomatoes, carrots, spices and herbs. The fruit trees just did fantastic. One of our apple trees gave us more than 1,000 apples. We gave away a lot for free to our neighbours and family.

Unfortunately, the hot weather also had its consequences for the chickens. They were plagued with blood lice, and we tried to battle those terrible insects in natural and not so natural ways. The battle will continue till deep in autumn, when temperatures will get consistently below 10°C.

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One of our apple trees gave us more than 1,000 red apples – Summer 2018

Finding interesting work

All the above is non-paid work (more play than work to be honest), and something needs to pay the bills at the end of the month. Maybe one day a company or institution wants to be a patron of my work.

But I am standing two feet on the ground, and finding a job is probably a more realistic option.

So, I am looking for “job(s)”, more along the lines of what I did before in events (immersive learning experiences) and/or what I am doing now (using art in support of content) or other interesting work.

So, if you know of somebody who can use my talents, please contact me via email.

Eternal gratitude will be your reward.

What’s next?

The plan for Sep – Nov 2018 is to work on:

  • Finding interesting paid work
  • V1 of “Time Capsules”
  • Paint, Paint, Paint
  • Publish my first fairytale – surprise !

So, that’s it for this edition. If there is something worth reporting, next update is for Nov-Dec 2018.

Warmest,

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