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Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

The “collapse of time” was an important meme in the Techonomy 2019 session on Super-Evolution, the idea that startups can now harness rapid prototyping and vast pools of data to develop radically new business models quickly and at scale (video here)

Techonomy

Super-Evolution is about creating more – dramatically more – options. Invented by AI, aka non-human logic. (see also Haydn Shaughnessy on the importance of maximizing options and radical adjacencies vs. core competency in innovation)

“Leave behind the myth of the grand plan and create the conditions for optionality and just-in-time strategy.”(Haydn Shaughnessy)

The first time I felt that sensation of collapsing time was when viewing Elon Musk’s Tesla 2019 update. I felt beaten by algorithms. The Tesla is now/then learning from (data) from human behavior and driving like a human, but ultimately will EXCEED their behavior” (at 01:48:15)

There you have it: gradually, but suddenly we have a singularity. Gradually but suddenly, all jobs are doomed. We are not going to stop this with an ethics council or with regulation. The train has left the station, the genie is out of the bottle.

“The fleet wakes up with an over the air update”

PR or product? The same question was asked some months later by Jean-Louis Gassée regarding the Cybertruck launch:

“Elon Musk forces us to be of two minds. On one side, we have Musk the Mountebank; on the other, a Captain of Industry.

I had the same feeling of time-space collapse and irrelevance when watching this awesome interview with Rahul Sonnad, CEO/Co-Founder of Tesloop, explaining how “Robo-Mobility is a hospitality service” and “Once cars are appliances”

Are we toast? And/or do we need to reboot, reskill, etc if we don’t want to become irrelevant? Venkatesh Rao gives his perspective when reflecting on Inventing Time, and playing on Alan Kay’s “It is easier to invent the future than to predict it” and William Gibson’s “The future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.”

“Riding in a Tesla made the electric vehicle future seem utterly inevitable in a way that kinda killed the present for me. Suddenly I could no longer look at gasoline cars the same way. Driving in my own car felt different like I was stuck in the past, waiting for the price of the future to come down to the point where I could afford to live in it. So a Tesla creates the future in the sense of both the Alan Kay and William Gibson quotes. It makes the future real in a deep way that is like making time itself real. And you know this because the feel of the present feels different like you’re heading down a dead-end, a lame-duck future. You’ll have to either abandon it as soon as you can or end up dying with it.

Maps book

Around the same time, I was lurking in Simon Ferdinand’s Mapping Beyond Measure: Art, Cartography, and the Space of Global Modernity. He could have added the Time of Global Modernity, as he writes about spatial (spheres) and temporal (time collapse) ruptures.

“Often map artworks recapitulate the narratives of rupture (spatial as well as temporal) through which global modernity differentiates itself from inherited pasts and surroundings.

And;

“Maps have proven integral… to the experience of “time-space compression”

Greenaway

It made me think of Peter Greenaway’s film ‘A walk through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist’ (1978) and “A Walk through a Thousand Plateaus”, an homage to that film.

It is probably a sign of the times that in the preparation of his new book “Agency” also the great William Gibson lost a sense of how weird the world has become, up to the point of the present bypassing his future sci-fi scripts – “His future had to catch up with the present”and “stubs”: alternative timeline in which technologists (and, more tellingly, hobbyists) of the future are able to meddle.

Agency

Hobbyists and meddling, the right words probably for not getting alienated. I would call it “tinkering” by maximizing options that human logic not necessary can spot or generate in time.

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Another rabbit hole bringing together some reflections on creativity, demolition, patrimony, and poetic ruination, as so often in this blog inspired by architectural insights and metaphors.

bouwmeester

My attention was triggered by an article in the Jan 11, 2020 weekend edition of De Standaard, a Flemish newspaper. The article was about landscaping, and more specifically “ontharding” (I would literally translate it as “softening”). In this case, softening that what was hardened in the first place. Abandoned and neglected residential and industrial sites, where the soil is still covered by the concrete and rubbish of empty buildings.

It was part of a study supported by the “Vlaamse Bouwmeester”. “Bouwmeester” means “master of building”, “bau-meister”. The term is ill-translated into “Flemish Government Architect” on the official website. The full study can be found here (PDF in Dutch).

The core mission of the Flemish Government Architect is to promote the architectural quality of the built environment. The Flemish Government Architect and his team advise public patrons in the design and realization of buildings, public space, landscape and infrastructure. In addition, the Flemish Government Architect stimulates the development of visions and reflection, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral initiatives. The Flemish Government Architect acts as an advisor to the entire Flemish Government.

In short, the article and the study plea for restoring public space by the demolition of 1/5th of hardened space/surface in the Flemish landscape by 2050.

I had a flashback to “Cradle to Cradle”, the 2002 book that alerted me for the first time to a possible vision of sustainable production and architecture. The idea at that time was that reducing waste was just not good enough, and to be sustainable we needed to add value back into the system. As an evolution, the article about the softening of landscape goes one step further: from reducing waste to creating open space by the demolition of vacancy.

“Sloop geeft blijk van falen” – “Demolition evidences failure”

It was happenstance that I was reading around the same time Dan Hill’s 2015 book “Dark matter and trojan horses. A strategic design vocabulary”. I will come back to this book in subsequent posts.

Dan Hill was/is looking for (open) spaces as well, quoting ex-FC Barcelona football player and current Al-Sadd (Quatar) football team coach Xavi Hernández:

 “Think quickly, look for spaces. That’s what I do: look for spaces. All day. I’m always looking. All day, all day. Here? No. There? No. People who haven’t played don’t always realise how hard that is. Space, space, space. It’s like being on the PlayStation. I think ‘shit, the defender’s here, play it there’. I see the space and pass. That’s what I do.”

Already more than 20 years ago, architect Cedric Price was arguing for demolish-able buildings with open re-usable spaces.

fun palace

Cedric Price’s Fun Palace – inspiration for Centre Pompidou in Paris

OK – I confess – as from that moment I went down the rabbit hole and saw demolition and abandoned architecture everywhere. Like in this recent Guardian article, arguing the case for fully demountable buildings.

“We have to think of buildings as material depots,” says Thomas Rau , a Dutch architect who has been working to develop a public database of materials in existing buildings and their potential for reuse… He has developed the concept of “material passports”, a digital record of the specific characteristics and value of every material in a construction project, thereby enabling the different parts to be recovered, recycled and reused.

But there is also something poetic about abandonment, up to the point where we could consider keeping these ruins and equipping them with sensors to listen to patrimony.

In his beautifully reflective post “Instrumental Revelation and the Architecture of Abandoned Physics Experiments”, Geoff Manough introduces the concept of “poetic ruination.

Like menhirs, these abandoned seismic sensors could now just stand there, silent in the landscape, awaiting a future photographer such as Grigoryants to capture their poetic ruination.

Lebbeus Woods was inspiration to Geoff Manough and London-based architects Smout Allen for the project L.A. Recalculated:

Woods depicts an entire city designed and built as an inhabitable scientific tool. Everywhere there are “oscilloscopes, refractors, seismometers, interferometers, and other, as yet unknown instruments, measuring light, movement, force, change.” Woods describes how “tools for extending perceptivity to all scales of nature are built spontaneously, playfully, experimentally, continuously modified in home laboratories, in laboratories that are homes.”

Instead of wasting their lives tweeting about celebrity deaths, residents construct and model their own bespoke experiments, exploring seismology, astronomy, electricity, even light itself.

seismic sensors

Seismic Counterweights
From L.A. Recalculated by Smout Allen and BLDGBLOG

Like architects think about (industrial) sites listening through sensors to seismic undercurrents, I started wondering whether we could not use this metaphor to reflect about our organizational structures; structures not only as hierarchical structures but the more encompassing set of system rules and patterns of an organization – I referred to it before as organizational patrimony.

How can we listen to and signal about the pulse of this organizational patrimony? How can we be aware of it, appreciate it, respect it, and build upon it in our rebellious acts of creative destruction?

I imagine a cohort of humans – like a colony of ants – having 24/7 sensors and laboratories everywhere in organizations; in every office, cubicle, meeting room, coffee corner, etc. And I don’t mean robotic sterile sensors feeding AI models. I mean real humans, measuring, documenting and signaling patrimonial changes in the structure of corporate structure, so they can send early warnings of experiments that have become useless and therefore have to be ruinated, or – in the worst-case – signal cases of patrimonial breakdown and demolition. In search of the material depot and passport of our organizations.

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EX-perience is “out”, IN-tervention is “in”

When I talk about “experience”, I mean:

  • The new hype of artistic “experiences” at art exhibits
  • “Experiences” at events
  • The “experience” of driving a car
  • The “experience” in whatever, like tasting chocolate, as promoted in advertisements

It is almost always about “entertainment”, easy/easier/more convenient consumption, not forcing you to learn a new (or old/existing) language.

CycleGAN - December 22nd 2019 at 3.16.22 PM

Petervan Artwork © 2020 – Canvas through CycleGAN cloud AI model

 

When I talk about “intervention”, I mean:

  • Provoking
  • Asking questions
  • Challenging assumptions
  • Planting speculations
  • Through visceral (sensorial) triggers
  • Creating better “resonances”
  • Playing your harmonics, like harmonics in music
  • Hearing the real-real sound (like in Neil Young Archives)

Formats can be analog and digital artwork, performances, events, retreats, writings, poems, blogs, installations, exhibitions, immersions, soundscapes, recordings, documentaries, time capsules, AI warps, and fairy tales 😉

Interventions help us rediscover what is real, what resonates, what makes us go into frequency, what moves us, etc. And all this with a direction, with an intention: to enable spiritual, moral and aesthetical advancement at systems’ scale.

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Following my post “Who is the composer?”, I got the opportunity to have a conversation with the man himself: Ozark. He told me the story of what happened when he tried to conduct a philharmonic orchestra for a film soundtrack he had written. I did not know he wrote a score for a film, but he did. It is the score for the film Crusade in Jeans and the music is performed by with the Metropole Orchestra from The Netherlands. All professional musicians used to work with artists in residence.

Film_poster_Crusade_in_Jeans

There is some real classical music stuff going on here

https://open.spotify.com/track/5RYwYGPiFq2UQ4si9Tuxu6

https://open.spotify.com/track/1ABPzFSQRIV9zSUQ0MNuHX

As a composer, he knew exactly what needed to be played when and how. He could as well conduct the orchestra himself, no? Or so he thought… But he learned the hard way that doing so was breaking hierarchies. He stepped out of his role as the composer when he tried to be the conductor of the orchestra.

An orchestra is like a ministry. Every unit has a role. The conductor does not communicate directly with the violist, no he/she speaks to the lead of the violin ensemble who speaks to the violist. Ozark brought also copies of the score with him, ignoring that copying the score was the job of somebody from the orchestra team. He could as well have said: “You know what? I found this great tribe of horn players, so they will play the horns this time.” Basically putting the original team in unemployment.

In a reaction of self-defense, the orchestra started playing – well-intentioned – games, sabotaging what Ozark tried to achieve. These games were well-intentioned because the intention was the care of the team.

In Dutch, there is a word “bezorgdheid” usually translated into “concern”, mostly an anxious type of concern. In my sense of Dutch language (my mother tongue), there is also an almost “mother-care” type of concern encapsulated in that word. A team-mother-care about what the orchestra is concerned about, the cohesion they wish to protect. This is not about care for the team, but care/bezorgheid of the team.

I often think back to the old Innotribe days, where we had a fantastic team. In my 2013 post Breaking and Making Teams, I described with quite some cynicism the recipe for breaking successful teams successfully. Remember: cynicism is a knot in the heart.

knot-tree-trunk-84928768

It is a paradox: to innovate, one must have the courage to challenge the status quo, the existing processes, and hierarchies. But on the other hand, a team and a hierarchy have a built-in DNA-like patrimony of craftmanship and care-manship. Breaking that patrimony is a recipe for failure.

One can cut-and-paste the breaking hierarchies metaphor straight into corporate mergers and acquisition scenarios, for example when a successful team is acquired into a new company. Instead of looking how the strengths of an acquired team and its internal language, proceedings, and patrimony can help to imagine new worlds – in other words, making the team even more successful in its new environment – in many cases the CEO is only interested in how that team can help him/her be more successful.

In such cases, we wonder why the team is not willing to share its secrets, wondering why the best folks leave, wondering why there is no team left at all after 1-2 years. We shouldn’t be surprised: we just broke the team hierarchies.

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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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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!

comfort zone

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:

niels tweet

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).

containers

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.

taleb skin

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.

Innovation-powerhouse-eindhoven-janne-van-berlo_dezeen_2364_col_4

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?”

sheep

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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