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Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

We use models and metaphors to make sense of our organisational structures, understand them, make predictions, apply change.

Blog_beehive

Bee hive - via Bridging the Gap

Some well known models are:

  • Ants in colonies
  • Bees in hives
  • Apes in jungles
  • Humans in neural networks
  • Organisations as machines
  • Hierarchies, wierarchies, holocracies

Models are not reality. Models are an abstraction of reality. Same for metaphors. They help us tell and understand a narrative.

We are not apes, ants, or bees. We are humans. As Jonathan Haidt explains at length in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom”, I am struck by all the noise humans put on the system: “We are all hypocrites” and “We are the rider (the conscious/the ratio) ànd the elephant (the unconscious, feelings, instincts, genes). Most models assume the rider is in charge. The rider is not in charge.”

Structural change leads to structural behaviour change. Structural change needs high quality connections and flows.

“A high quality connection is one where information transfer is rapid, reliable, and noise free” says Tom LaForge.

But in real life, this information transfer is NOT noise free. Maybe in some nirvana love relation, but usually not at/for/within work.

Noise comes from the motivations of the elephant (the unconscious), some examples:

  • Reciprocity
  • Prestige
  • Self serving biases
  • Power
  • Hypocrisy
  • Arrogance and entitlement

In most re-orgs, people look at the motivations and incentives for the ratio, the rider. They ignore the elephant. They forget the rider is not in charge.

High quality connections need something else than speed, reliability of noise-freedom.

There should be some dimension/ambition/alignment of “Spiritual, moral and aesthetical advancement”.

In this category, we find standards and appreciation for:

  • Care
  • Tradition
  • Craftsmanship
  • Beauty
  • Proportion
  • Sacredness
  • Infinite games

See also my own post about Kevin Kelly’s qualities created at the transaction, which is more about qualities of resulting products and services than qualities of structure: https://petervan.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/sine-parole-19-apr-2017/

And then there is governance

hierarchies

Simple Google search on organisational hierarchy

The simplicity of the hierarchy works well on a slide or a hand-out. You can document it in a spreadsheet, or box-diagram and so on. But all these representations do is framing the conversation in an illusion of simplistic 2-dimensional structures. It’s the specialty of management consultants to think and present in two dimensions. It’s making it easy for executives to understand.

But if you are used to a 3-dimensional view of reality, you can’t understand why the flatlanders don’t see what you see. As long as you are primed in 2D you won’t see what the other dimension sees.

A better picture/metaphor for an organisational structure would be something like this.

escher

Relativity – 1953 Lithograph by M.C. Escher – 294mm x 282mm

Ricardo_Bofill_Taller_de_Arquitectura_Barcelona_Spain_The_Gardens_24-1440x968

Ricardo Bofill – La Fabrica – Old cement factory – Barcelona, Spain

It’s messy. At many moments you don’t know anymore where you stand. The perspective changes all the time. You get disoriented.

There is somewhere a general definition for Robots:

Robot = sensors + mind/computer/algorithm + body (hardware).

But humans are not just: senses + brains + body.

Computers are not like brains. Brains are not like computers. Our human models are different from machine models. Machine understanding is different from human understanding.

Humans are not just nodes on a network/grid that can be governed by coded social contracts, blockchains and AI. If you do that, humans are just cogs in another machine. Humans become cogs in a network.

The obvious case is of course Uber, which is an economy of extracting value vs. the so-called sharing economy. For Uber, all the drivers are already cogs in a network for the sole benefit of the monopoly.

Being cogs in networks is an insult for humans. But we are just getting started:

But does it still matter at all these days? We already are in a new world of “Alien knowledge, when machines justify knowledge”. Check out this fantastic long read by David Weinberger

Alien Knowledge

Via David Weinberger - Illustrations by Todd Proctor / YouWorkForThem

“The paradigmatic failures seem to be ones in which the machine justification has not escaped its human origins enough.”

Organisations are not models/buildings/boxes. They are like rivers with information flows. Building skeletons, where the structure of the building guides traffic and connections.

David Weinberger talks about models created by machines. Models that machines can understand and we don’t. It is very much as he concludes:

“It has taken a network of machines that we ourselves created to let us see that we are the aliens.”

If we don’t want to end up as cogs in networks, we need to aim for structural advancement at a spiritual, moral, and aesthetical dimension.

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I am in the business of cultivating high quality connections and flows to create immersive learning experiences and structural change. Check out: https://petervanproductions.com/

 

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I ask myself often whether organisations can change – really change – at all. I recently spoke to an HR person of a big worldwide corporation, and her answer was a strong “yes”. I am not so sure. Or maybe I am confused.

As organisations are made of people (humans), would you have the change the people in order to change the organisation? Is there another way? Some people say “you can’t change people, but you can change their behaviour”. Are we fooling ourselves with such statements?

I am seduced by the Robert Fritz’ premise that structure drives behaviour. Or Leandro Herrero‘s thesis that behaviour drives culture. And Jean Russell’s “Cultivating Flows“.

Robert Fritz for managers

There are plenty of metaphors to illustrate the relationship between structure and behaviour. From race cars, the team and the driver, to heroes hacking their way through forests (My friend Leda Glyptis wrote this excellent piece on the oscillating patterns – “Acts” in her post – that innovation heroes have to go through).

I am starting to think about a metaphor based on architecture, and the notion of “patrimony” of a building, which has to do a lot with knowledge stored as inheritance material in physical objects (Thanks, Tom Laforge for the insight).

kanaal solos

Kanaal Site – Axel Vervoordt – Old malt factory - Wijnegem, Belgium

Ricardo_Bofill_Taller_de_Arquitectura_La_Catedral_Barcelona_Spain_1-1440x592

Ricardo Bofill – The Cathedral – Old cement factory – Barcelona, Spain

 

“Patrimony” is an interesting term. The Dutch word “Erfgoed” maybe captures it better. “Erf” means inheritance, value that can be transmitted across generations. “Goed” stand for “good”, both as 1) something tangible, an art-i-fact and 2) something good, of value/worth/wealth/culture/DNA to be carried forward.

Both sites above are a good illustration: Ricardo Bofill’s “La Fabrica” and Axel Vervoordt’s “Kanaal”.

The architects decided to respect the patrimony, strip it to its essence – its skeleton – and create new perspectives and flows. They did not decide for “disruption”, aka breaking down the building and creating something completely new. They combine old and new, they combine tradition/patrimony/erfgoed with new flows, new structures.

The structure is not only the brick and mortar building itself, but includes the whole site, the landscape, the empty spaces, the social contracts, the tacit and non-tacit agreements of flow.

The structure comes alive when people live in it, add furniture, decoration, color, organise their areas for work, for creativity, for reflection.

What is the skeleton structure of the building, what do we need to keep, where do we need to create new perspectives to cultivate new flows of water, traffic, connections?

The metaphor building/organisation – like any metaphor – works only to a certain extent.

Haidt happiness

What’s missing is what makes us human and our motivations. I am reading Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom”, and am struck by all the noise humans put on the system. Some salient wisdom:

  • “We are all hypocrites”
  • “The rider (ratio) is not in charge”
  • “The elephant (the unconscious) is not motivated by happiness but by prestige.
  • “Most stories/narratives are confabulated after the facts”

So back to my initial question: can organisations change? Maybe the better question is: what quality of change are we aiming for? Or the more critical question may be: why would people change?”

Fritz’ suggestion is that if you have the right structure, people will naturally change their behaviour and the flows of information.

What are your thoughts?

petervan-signature_transparent_black_version2

I am in the business of cultivating high quality connections and flows to create immersive learning experiences and structural change. Check out: https://petervanproductions.com/

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Artschool 2017: Petervan Doig trees on top of Zaha Hadid MAXXI space Rome. 
Acryl on cotton canvas, 90*90cm

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Artschool 2017: first evolution of painting with Zaha Hadid space 
as inspiration - Acryl on cotton canvas, 90*90cm

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I recently had some conversations with prospective clients on the need for alignment and coherence of physical and emotional space when trying to create great experiences. I started to call them “sacred spaces”.

As you know by now, I am not in the events business. I am in the business of creating high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning expeditions and deep change. In essence, I want to resonate with my client’s guests at another (additional) level than the pure cognitive. I believe this ambition also requires its own awareness and vocabulary, but more about that in some later posts.

One aspect of that vocabulary is our expression of sacred spaces. What first comes to mind is a church, a cathedral, some religious building of some sort.

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Sagrada Familia – Barcelona – 31 Oct 2014

In the best cases, the moment you come in, you are struck by a lightning of beauty, awe, stillness, and grandeur. The entry into the space feels almost ceremonial. You cross the entry, the line between outside and inside. The experience of the space sends vibrations down your spine. You feel suddenly whole and small at the same time.

This whole- and small-ness creates some kind of safety; some form of familiarity that this space is the right space, that this space is right. Just right for what it was designed for.

I think in similar terms about the spaces for our experiences.

Our spaces must be safe spaces. Closed as with an entry door. The entry into the space is a ritual moment. The coming out as well. It must be a physical experience: guests have to walk through the “arc of change”. They must do this in a “communion” style, as a collective, creating a visceral experience of the collectivism in their change process.

The space is about “roundness”, round as in circle, but also round as in generative, coming back to the starting point with new insights.

The space becomes a pulsing “egg”, a “womb” that will be our “nest” for a couple of days. It has of course to do a lot with right spaces for humans, and Jean Nouvel’s views (video here) on architecture. The video is also called “Reflections”, just like the latest from Brian Eno, one ambient song of 54 minutes (interview here)

jean-nouvel2

“Combining big bold shapes with intricacy and delicacy. The ability to be bold and delicate at the same time. The relation between time and light. The sphere above, the cupola. A spiritual space.”

I love the idea of the cupola. In my opinion, the closed space described above needs a roof – like a cupola – with some lattice membrane. But at the same time, the space needs to be “porous”, with light (the crack) coming in through the lattice, and light (enlightenment) coming out to inspire others. Or even better, some form of post-enlightenment as in Danny Hillis’ entanglement.

And light itself can also be the “roof” and the trees of the space forest. Check out this wonderful video of Fujimoto’s light forest:

light-forest

 

I shared the video with my good friend Marti Spiegelman, who replied:

Thanks for the link – this is extraordinary. It reminds me that sometimes the light itself is the sacred space – I’m thinking of the light beam on the floor, when one of the walkers stands in the light – and sometimes the light creates the boundaries, or defines the edges, of the space – as in a forest when there is a small round clearing, it’s traditionally considered to be a ‘power spot’’ [another name for sacred space] where you can call in greater powers of nature and the universe to create change.”

I was looking for some good description of sacred and sacredness. I think I found it in an article about a fashion book by Belgian fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester.

book-demeulemeester

“It looks and feels almost sacred, with pages so thin the images can be seen on both sides of each sheet; it’s a truly delicate beauty. For this reason, every single page is printed only on one side, creating a uniquely singular reading experience. The size and weight of the book gently contrasts with the fragility and smoothness of the paper, while the almost total white of the inside is in opposition with the blackness of the sides and the linen cover. Text is kept to the essentials, limited to an introduction by Patti Smith (Demeulemeester’s longtime muse) and a short final dedication by the designer herself. The book was designed by Victor Robyn, a Belgian graphic designer who has been in charge of realizing Demeulemeester’s graphics for years—from show invitations to printed fabrics. The art direction is curated by Victor Robyn, Demeulemeester herself and Patrick Robin, her life and business partner.”

Happenstance that I visited this week Casa Argentaurum, an art gallery in Ghent run by Caroline De Wolf, who kindly opened her space for me. It was one of the last days of the exposition about Ann Demeulemeester’s jewellery.

jewellery-demeulemeester

Necklace – Ann Demeulemeester – Casa Argentaurum

At the end of our conversation, Caroline gave me a copy of the catalogue of the 2010 exposition “Things, Thoughts, and Territorities”.

book-andrea-branzi

The book has some great design drawings by Andrea Branzi, and also a wonderful testimony of the artists’s love relation with Belgium (mostly Flanders btw). Somewhere half way, there is this superb quote:

“Architecture is not the art of building, it is a very complex discipline,

interpreting history, technology and the changes in society.”

It could have been the tag-line for Petervan Productions, as I see myself as the architect who conceives, gives birth to the vision together with the client, and then pulls together and orchestrates the resources, experts, and artists to create a unique experience in search for the secrets of life.

But “you can’t find secrets without looking or them” (quote by Peter Thiel in his book “From Zero to One”), so I am looking for your views on what you would expect from a sacred space.

I am looking for architects, space- and stage-designers to be part of our collective of leaders, visionaries, artists, craftsmen, designers and producers.

If you are interested to be part of that calling and dialogue, you can just leave a comment on this post.

Rebelliously yours,

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As many of you know, since begin November I am trying to create my own thing called “Petervan Productions”.

The scaffolding is already in the works for many years, and I am still hesitating whether I will once publish the 100+ page reflections on the intentions of all this, what I think this enables, and then working down the tactics such as outcomes and deliverables.

Besides the artwork and the research bit of my activities, I spent quite some time in re-thinking what “events” could be like. And thinking of my customers as “guest”, not consumers. What I am trying to offer is a one-stop-shop for unique immersive learning expeditions in emotionally and physically right spaces for humans.

So anything that gets me back to my architectural roots of “right” spaces for human beings makes me a bit poetic. In this case this very nice article in Aeon about the French architect Jean Nouvel, all about light, geometry and symbolism to re-imagine culture.

The core of the article is a very nice video. As usual, I made the transcript of the video, and added some poetic highlights and typographic reflections by myself. I have stopped adding comments and trying to explain. My guests are smart enough to make up their own minds. Explaining would be an insult.

jean-nouvel1

 

Each project is an adventure, a passion

The biggest temptation

Is to jump into it

There are solutions that come to you

There are images that spontaneously appear

My method is rather to hold back as long as possible

To really imagine it spatially

So, to be sure that I have something to say

These moments where you understand somebody cared about something

That’s when you feel

 like “oh yes,

this is a human thing,

not some robot that

put something together”

Simply living there is a cultural act

Combine big bold shapes with intricacy and delicacy

The ability to be bold and delicate at the same time

jean-nouvel2

The relation between time and light

The sphere above,

the cupola

As spiritual space

“Perhaps we have to keep dust”

jean-nouvel3

Create a space, no inside, no outside…

jean-nouvel4

“We have principles, and these principles we have to nurture.

We nurture them.

We deepen them.

And with them,

we invent…

something else”

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