Archive for October, 2018

A relatively short essay on what may capture your identity: about titles, maps, codes and signatures.

What’s your title ?

Your title is what is on your business card. It is what you put in the about us section of your website, or in the profile information of your social media. But how much of that is made up?

Darth Vader business card

That title is more a promotional thing. The good side of things. In that sense somewhat related to fakeness, or to rationality as defined by Nicholas Taleb in his latest book “Skin in the Game”.

Crafting your title is a form of ego design optimisation. In many cases that optimisation only makes sense in context of the organisation you work for. Titles also somewhat assume you do work, you do have a job. No job, no title.

Those titles are also ephemeral. You change titles as you change jobs.

But they are fairly meaningless. You will learn that people are only interested in what you can give them access to (money, investment, contacts, brain picking, etc). You risk becoming nobody without your corporate title and business card.

What is your map?

A better way to think about your identity – or “onlyness” as coined by Nilofer Merchant – is to think about your identity map.

Richard Martin already did the homework on this topic, especially when highlighting the Map of Days (HD PDF) by Grayson Perry.

map perry

Fragment from A Map of Days by Grayson Perry


“In the Map, Perry presents his complex personality and plural identity in the form of a walled city. Streets, buildings and other locales represent personal traits and behaviours, indicating a self-exploration that embraces both the positive and the negative, that poses questions, as well as providing answers, binding together truth and fiction.

 At the centre of Perry’s map is a labyrinthine garden, in which a figure walks, off-centre, pursuing ‘a sense of self’.  

I am getting somewhat obsessed by labyrinths and mazes these days. Some fans also refer to my labyrinths as brains or intestines 😉 If I could fabric 3D labyrinths that fit into a skull, that would be a good metaphor for the complexity of identity as well.

Labyrinth on landscape cropped

Petervan Artwork 2018 - Digital composition - Labyrinth on landscape

What’s your code ?

Some people refer to “code”.

Code is very similar to patrimony, very close to narrative, very close to structure.

Some refer to code as to formula. Others – like Christopher Alexander in the Timeless Way of Building – talk about “pattern languages”. The code of a house, of a building so to speak.

There is also “code” in fashion.

BTW: the Balenciaga show has a fantastic soundtrack. You can fine it here.

But the danger is around the corner: that the code becomes a gimmick, nothing more than a formula, getting formulaic, turning into meaningless clichés, and ultimately loosing spontaneity and becoming irrelevant.

What’s your signature?

I believe “signature” is a richer concept. There is no face anymore, no title, but there is a signature, your unique way of creating, executing and communicating.

There is a recognition that you are part of, influenced by a bigger set of interactions and community. Like Celine Schillinger did on her latest website. She labeled that page “Together”, a list of partners in crime.

In painting, artists and critics refer to somebody’s “signature”. They don’t talk about the handwritten signature on the bottom of the painting.

In the past, painters put their signature on the painting when done. These days this is not-done. That handwritten signature becomes a disturbance, distorts the coherence of the image. The signature distorts the signature of the image.

No, they talk about “touch”, “writing style”, and “symbolic script”. In dance one refers to the “choreographer’s writing”,…

What is the signature of your work? When you architect something, will your audience immediately recognise it as yours? Not because it resembles like a copy-cat of previous work, previous collections, but because it carries your unique signature?

And how does your signature reflect your sense for ethical, aesthetical, and spiritual advancement?

robert motherwell the voyage

Robert Motherwell – The Voyage – 1949

New American Painting Calalogue2

In the beautiful 1959 “The New American Painting” catalogue (PDF) of MOMA, Robert Motherwell said on page 56:

“I believe that painters’ judgments of painting are first ethical, then aesthetic, the aesthetic judgments flowing from an ethical context …

Without ethical consciousness, a painter is only a decorator.

Without ethical consciousness, the audience is only sensual, one of aesthetes.

When are you more than a decorator? When do you touch your audience beyond the cognitive, sensual and aesthetical? When do you resonate at an ethical and almost non-conscious level? What is your signature?



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Edition-119 of Delicacies. As usual, max 5 articles that I found interesting and worth re-reading. Handpicked, no robots. Minimalism in curation. Enjoy!

If you can’t get enough of these and want more than 5 articles, I have created an extended version of Petervan’s Delicacies in REVUE. If you want more than 5 links, you can subscribe here: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/petervan

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Petervan’s Delicacies are back! After a couple of months of relative rest, I have started again my weekly curation of content that resonated at a higher quality level. In this come-back edition, also some older posts of the last couple of months that for some reason stayed alive in my memory.

This is edition-118 of Delicacies on my blog post. As usual, max 5 articles that I found interesting and worth re-reading. Handpicked, no robots. Minimalism in curation. Enjoy!

If you can’t get enough of these and want more than 5 articles, I have created an extended version of Petervan’s Delicacies in REVUE. If you want more than 5 links, you can subscribe here: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/petervan

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I am probably the antidote of fashion. My standard outfit these days is made of worn-out t-shirts, old sports shorts, and plastic sandals (sort of). Nothing poetic for sure. So, it may surprise you that from time to time, I am inspired by fashion, their designers and their shows to present the spring/summer/autumn/winter collections.

rei Kawakubo 2

                      Koan-like design by Rei Kawakubo

I like the word “collection” for a body of work, and thematic portfolio. I admire the designer and their teams for the endless patience and discipline to churn out every quarter another collection and brand new fashion show.

Some shows become “classics”, sometimes because of the extravaganza and spectacular tricks and effects, others – the better ones – because they resemble more poetry than anything else.

I was pleased to bump into this great article by Angelo Flaccavento in Business of Fashion, titled “In Paris, a Fight for Supremacy”. Here are some interesting quotes highlighting the difference between sensationalism and pure quality that may inspire you to deliver better work, not just noise.


All the theatre and gimmicks sometimes

feel like a cover up for a spectacular lack of ideas


The nth iteration of the code

convinces you it’s time for a diet, or a detox.


Turning codes into a cliché is dangerous.


Honesty, focus and professional humbleness

are truly disruptive these days. 


Moving forward no longer seems to be a priority.

It’s just the endless drops of products

that give the impression of constant renewal.


The impression of constant renewal. Think about that.


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As part of my search for a new job, I was introduced to an organisation focusing on using design-led engagements to support innovation and understanding customer needs (needs, not problems, see my previous post on the tyranny of the problem solver)

Clouds above the sea

Lyonel Feininger - Clouds above the sea - 1923 - Oil on Canvas

Steve Jobs used to say “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

So, in preparation for the job interview, and to know what to tell the recruiter what to do, I started diving a bit into design-thinking and design-led engagement.

I believe that these approaches are great to create high quality information flows, but that something else is needed than noise-free rapid information transfer.

My good friend and ex-Innotriber Nektarios Liolios kindly pointed out to me during a recent chat that “noise free is not the same as conflict free”.

  • We indeed do need conflict, tension, etc to create flow, movement, change, advancement.
  • But we do need to get rid of the noisy primary motivations of prestige, status, tic-for-tac reciprocity, etc .

I think the key element missing in existing design-led engagements is (great) aesthetics.

As I said some time ago: there should be some ambition of advancement in aesthetics, morality, and spirituality.

I that context I found this great article about aesthetics:

Design used to be about sensitivity, beauty, and taste

The key performance indicator for design has changed from beauty to profit. Measuring design has transformed a handicraft into an engineering job. 

Google, Facebook, and Amazon are optimizing their products for us, as they are optimizing our minds, bodies and our kids for their profit. Humans are slowly adapting to that labyrinth, becoming lab rats of an omniscient industry that adapts to our needs as it is adapting us to theirs.

Labyrinth small V1

Petervan Artwork ©2018 - Hand drawn labyrinth 

Many labyrinths are “meandering”. We need similar meandering in design-led engagements.

We need to bolt-on something upfront that unites, aligns, encourages, and motivates teams at a level beyond the cognitive.

I think I know how to do that.


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Labyrinth small V1

Petervan Artwork ©2018 - Labyrinth 25x25cm
Acryl on canvas on cardboard

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There once was – a long time ago – a small Helikon. He had a round body, stockings with red and white stripes, and yellow boots.

Helikon stepping forward

On his head he had – just like any other Helikon – a very fine “antenna” to feel for everything, and on top of that antenna, a propeller that indicated the direction and strength of the wind.

Our little Helikon also had a shiny black visor, so you could not see his eyes. But he could see you.

That shiny black visor was actually something he had inherited from his parents at birth. They had been wearing these visors for a very long time. It was a rule in Helikon country that you had to wear such a visor when you had lost some beloved one.

In the beginning everything was apparently going well and normal for our little Helikon. He was well formed, could climb very well, and had the clever brains for making it easy to bring all tasks to a successful conclusion.

But soon he had the feeling that Mom Helikon tested him, and tried to see how far she could tease him before he felt hurt. And sometimes she succeeded. I remember one time he had damaged the doors of the house with the propellor from his antenna. Just to show how angry he was.

Dad and Mom Helikon were rarely angry. Our Helikon therefore remembered all too well that one day his Dad had been really very angry. That was when Dad tried to polish the visor of his son. Our Helikon did not like the cleaning and brushing at all, and got very obnoxious. Dad then became so angry that he simply threw the cleaning cloth against the ceiling of the Helisphere. You can still see that spot today 😉

As our small Helikon grew up, he also developed a strong desire to see the antennas and propellors of the Helikas. Which at that time was actually considered very brrbwah and forbidden. One time, Mama Helikon had beaten him up for that. There was a story about the girl next door or the neighbour or maybe both. The old books are not so clear on that.

Over time, our little Helikon got something sad about him, even something of anger and violence. You could notice a certain dullness of his usually shiny black opaque visor. That was because our little Helikon had discovered that he had a speech problem: he could not pronounce the word “yes” very well. And the word “no” was also very difficult. Especially the first syllable of these two words was hard.

This speech defect haunted him for a long time but he didn’t really take care of it. The Helisphere of the Helikons lay in the middle of a big forest. In the forest were many old and large trees. The forest was very dense with ferns, mushrooms, and turquoise flowers.

Helikon frontal with trees at horizon

Our little Helikon often made long exploration trips in the woods. In the beginning it was fun, but as the Helikon pulled deeper into the forest, he was overcome by a deep fear. Would he still find his way back?

The deeper into the forest, the more he could smell the earth. The damp smell of wet leaves sometimes made him nauseous. And sometimes, it gave the urge to run away quickly. Were those trees real? And why were the great owls constantly howling? The small Helikon wanted to avoid at all costs that the owls saw that he was afraid.

And to prove himself, he climbed the highest trees, and jumped out of them, with his hands covering his black visor but without any further protection. It was as if he wanted to tell the forest: look what I can do! Look at what a daredevil I am! But the trees just kept standing where they stood, and pretended not to see him.

On a beautiful summer day – during one of those hikes – our little Helikon had gone very deep into the forest. There was only a tiny bit of sunlight filtering through the thick canopy of trees.

Helikon meets fairy

And whambam!! All of a sudden, an old fairy with spooky green eyes stood in front of him. The fairy told about the man in her life that she had lost, the eternal summer in this enchanted forest, and the black visor that she refused to wear. Helikon was very enchanted by this idea.

But the old fairy with green eyes very quickly tempered his enthusiasm by pointing out that he just landed in a fairy tale, and that all this was only a dream. A tale of elves, fairies and wizards, anyway … a tale of sweet crunchy make belief that everyone knows from his childhood.

The fairy with the green eyes made a few quick circular movements with her hand, uttered a very long spell and wished that the Helikon would soon wake up from this fairy tale and would be out in the real world: the real world of big stories of real love, real goodness, and where people no longer tried to restrain evil, but let the good grow by itself like fresh grass. Without pulling it, or without even caressing it.

Our little Helikon could not believe his ears. Was all this possible? Would such a world exist?

When the fairy touched him at the end of the spell with her magic wand, a shock went through the little body of our small Helikon: it was a wonderful warm gentle stream that flowed through his veins like hot jelly. The green-eyed fairy told him that this was “crostipana”, the holy manna pursued for centuries by all Helikons.

Helikon was now looking very intensely for that real world. But the more he searched for it, the less he liked it and the more difficult it was to imagine living there.

He searched and searched. He combed the entire forest from front to back.

Nothing could tempt, inspire or surprise him.

During one of those quests – very early in the morning, the sun was just peeping over the horizon – the little Helikon found a golden casket under a large oak tree. The sun made the morning dew sparkle in fantastic colours. It was very well made, with inlaid multicoloured gems and pearls.

The casket was closed. There was probably a big treasure inside.

Our Helikon tried to open the casket. First with a passkey he always carried in his little backpack, and when that failed, he tried to pry it open with a branch of the oak tree. Still to no avail, he threw the casket with all his might down a steep rock. The casket remained shut.

In desperation, he went to see the wise men of Helikon village.

The first wise man proposed to push the casket under water until the moisture would burst it.

The second wise man suggested to move to the country where the casket was made. They would probably have matching keys.

The third wise man just told our Helikon put the casket out of his mind, as it probably was fake and empty.

None of this helped.

Eventually our little man got to see the Great Helikon of the Helikon village. The Helisphere of the Great Helikon was very big and looked a little bleak.

Helikon meets wide man

The Great Helikon himself had a long grey antenna, the screw was all rusty, and there was a large brown stain on his visor.

When he heard the story of our Helikon, he spoke with a deep voice: “Ahum, ahum” – wise men always scrape their throat – “dear little man, you will have to leave the casket with me for a while. I will handle it with special potions and spells and polish it as new.”.

When the Helikon left the casket behind, he was terrified he would never see his casket again. Let’s hope the Great Helikon would not give the casket the wrong potions, he mumbled to himself.

But, see! Few weeks later, the Great Helikon called him in, and gave the casket back to our little Helikon, saying: “You have to pamper this casket a lot, fondle very gently the lid of the casket, and talk very nicely to it all day long, and if you do that long enough, the casket will open.”

The Helikon cuddled the casket every day now. And look, after exactly three weeks the lock of the casket clicked and opened. He just had to wiggle a bit the cover, and then it really opened.

On the inside, the casket was very nicely finished: it was completely lined with soft red silk, just like a pillow, a soft bed.

Helikon looking at kistje

And in the middle of that red soft pillow – Surprise! Surprise! – was another teeny-weeny mini casket. It was the nicest little casket that one could imagine. A mini key lay beside it to open it.

When our little Helikon carefully opened that mini-casket, there was a note in it. This was what was on the note:


“You came here with your suitcase full of secrets that weighed very heavily. Little by little, you are opening this suitcase. At the end of this journey, this case will be refilled. This time with light, power and love. Thanks to all the nice things in it, the case will be very light.”


Our little Helikon knew he did not have to search any further. The answers to all his questions were actually within himself. From that day on the Helikon was no longer afraid of the forest.


The End


Petervan Fairy Tales ©2018

Story & Illustrations by @petervan

English proofreading & corrections by Geert Barbier (Thanks!)

Original version in Dutch here

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