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Sometimes, the orchestra metaphor is used in leadership contexts, representing the leader as the conductor, steering/leading the orchestra. I believe the asymmetric relationship of the “leader” with his/her “followers” is a flawed metaphor. 

Orchestra conductor

The more interesting and critical question is “Who wrote the score?”. In other words, “Who is the composer?”. I already alluded to this in my good/bad-change-post.

"Heroes" and others by Ozark Henry and National Orchestra of Belgium

Quote by Robert Fritz

“In an orchestra, it is not the conductor or individual musicians who are in control.  It is the composer.  The composer’s job is to make sure that the parts fit together. Too often, no one is actually composing the organisation, and it leaves one of two bad choices: command and control or organising systems. Much has been made in the last 20 years, glorifying organising systems, but, what happens over time is that these systems self-organise into structural conflicts, which lead to oscillating patterns.”

“That’s why a “composed” system can lead to advancement and forward movement toward building the company but the other alternatives do not live up to their promise.”

The composer creates an immersion. A good example in music is Ozark Henry, who now spends his days creating immersive soundscapes. He got into this 360° sound experience when setting the bar for his immersive album “Paramount”recorded with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Belgium. The full documentary of the making of this album also shows Ozark Henry in his role as “Composer” working with the Orchestra.

Ozark is NOT the conductor. He hired the conductor. He hired the director. He hired the musicians. He is the composer.

What are the qualities of the composer? Also here, Ian Cheng comes to our help.

Emissary

Ian Cheng - from the book "Emissary's Guide to Worlding"

As can be seen from the diagrams above, the stretch for most artists is to become “composers” rather than problem solvers or conductors. The composer is an artist/alchemist, trying to create harmony between four internal forces/roles:

  • The Director at work, focused on “What is the story/narrative?”
  • The Emissary at work, focused on “A future you can believe in”
  • The Cartoonist at work, focused on a uniting Cartoon/Mascot metaphor
  • The Hacker at work, focused on iterating hacks “It might not be science but it works”

All roles need to be present in the composer. In my opinion, this model does not only apply to artistic endeavors but works very well in a business context. Most businesses struggle to get to the right side of the graphic; in seeking surprise and going into unknown territory, and imagining alive worlds that they believe in. That’s where the future innovative opportunities are.

I suggest the composer is the ideal archetype for dealing with ambiguity

Have a great day!

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As mentioned in my August 2019 update, I am helping a client with an immersive leadership offsite. I am starting to label this sort of work “Artistic interventions, interruptions, and provocations that lead to higher states of alertness and aliveness.”

15-properties-leitner-1024x768

Coincidently, Sarah Perry just posted her swan song essay on “Meaning as Ambiguity”, referring to the work of Christopher Alexander (one of my all-time heroes) and coiner of “The Quality Without a Name” and “The Fifteen Geometric Properties of Wholeness” from Chapter-22 of his fantastic book “The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth

beauty

Back to meaning and ambiguity. In the design of this off-site, we confront the participants with increasing levels of ambiguity in the BANI worldIn their responses, we expect the participants to progress from learning into problem-solving into “Worlding”. See also my post on “The Tyranny of the Problem Solver”.

I first came across the term “Worlding” in the book “Emissary’s Guide to Worlding” by Artist Ian Cheng http://iancheng.com/

EGTW_1-0_cover_webres

It is one of those books where one makes annotations on every page, a big eye-opener and page-turner. Highly recommended.

Worlding is about imagining a future world you can believe in.

Some inspirational quotes from Ian Cheng’s book:

A World is a future you can believe in: One that promises to survive its creator, and continue generating drama.  

A World is a future you can believe in by promising to become an infinite game

A World evokes a place. 

A World has borders.

A World has laws. 

A World has values. 

A World has a language. 

A World can grow. 

A World can collapse. 

A World has mythic figures. 

A World has visitors. 

A World has members who live in it. 

A World looks arbitrary to a person outside of it. 

A World satisfies both the selfish and collective interests of its members. 

A World grants magic powers, especially the power to filter what matters to it. 

A World gives permission to live differently than the wild outside. 

A World creates an agreement about what is relevant. 

A World counts certain actions inside it as meaningful. 

A World undergoes reformations and disruptions. 

A World incentivizes its members to keep it alive. 

A World is a container for stories of itself. 

A World expresses itself in many forms, but is always something more.

For us humans, life is filled with the familiar contests of finite games: Deadlines. Deals. Rankings. Dating. Elections. Sports. College. War. Poker. Lotteries. 

When our finite games are won and done, what is strange is that we don’t exit back into base Reality. We wake up in a field of infinite games that perpetually mediate our contact with base Reality. 

We choose to live in these infinite games because they give us leverage, structure, and meaning over a base Reality that is indifferent to our physical or psychological health. 

We have many names for these infinite games: Families, Institutions, Religions, Nations, Subcultures, Cultures, Social Realities 

Let’s call them WORLDS

When a World can “survive its creator,” that means it has achieved sufficient stability to regulate and safeguard its potentiality without authorial intervention. 

This is a World’s requirement for Autonomy. 

When a World can “continue generating drama,” a World is sufficiently interesting for people to care about and want to explore. 

This is a World’s requirement for Aliveness. 

When a World is keeping its promise, it continues to be a future you can believe in

All the credits for the quotes above go of course to Ian Cheng. Great book.

Hope you enjoy it too!

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Ambiguity is often related to “uncertainty”. Uncertainty is the “U” and Ambiguity is the “A” of the VUCA world (Velocity, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). VUCA is a term that dates from 1987, and almost 30 years old.

jamais Cascio

Jamais Cascio

Already end 2018, Jamais Cascio (Institute For The Future) coined a new acronym that in my opinion better captures today’s “ambiguity”: “BANI”. The term kept on simmering in my brain. My summary:

BANI stands for:

  • B = BRITTLE = strong systems breaking down, hard but likable to break easily
  • A = ANXIOUS = feeling there are no good options
  • N = NON-LINEARITY = strong differential cause-effect
  • I = INCOMPREHENSIBLE = too complex for the human to understand, at least at the present or without augmentation

“Being geared for ambiguity” is about being able to develop “hints and responses”, “pathways” for dealing with the new environment. Pathways, not necessarily firm answers/solutions to specific problems.

Moving beyond problem-solving and developing these “responses” is what it is all about in reaching more mature levels of leadership. See also my post on “The Tyranny of the Problem Solver”

What are those responses?

  • BRITTLENESS is dealt with by RESILIENCE
  • ANXIETY is dealt with by  EMPATHY/AGENCY
  • NON-LINEARITY is dealt with by FLEXIBILITY
  • INCOMPREHENSIBILITY is dealt with by INTUITION

We need to create another narrative to make ourselves comfortable with the new reality of BANI worlds. The Kayaker in white water is a good metaphor for how one feels in ambiguous environments.

kayaker

The BANI environment (the white water) is what it is. It “is” like the weather. One can complain and lament about it (ruminate), but that won’t change anything. It is difficult or impossible to change.

Brittleness and Non-linearity are characteristics of the humans and the organizations, of the general conditions and situations of the individuals and the environment. Anxiety and Incomprehensibility are “feelings”, human traits of understanding and are NOT qualities of the general conditions and situations.

The stability of the kayaker (her response to instability) comes from her body sensory experiences.

The more experience (practice), the better the body reacts automatically and sensory to instability.

Great kayaking is based on a lot of immersive experiences.

In an abstract environment, the “body” is a metaphor for authenticity, integrity and personal agency. 

Agency is our ability to act with effect in the world.

The artistic interventions, interruptions, and provocations that I try to create lead to higher states of alertness and aliveness of our personal agency in ambiguous worlds.

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An overview on what happened the last couple of months, some new insights, some updated plans.

The Artschool Project

Artschool started again in Sep 2018, and begin Jan 2019 we already had our mid-year review: time flies. I had a good production during Q4 of 2018. Check out my art page on my blog.

At the time of writing this post, I am practicing painting of birds, in preparation for a bigger painting with a swarm of 250 birds. Internalising the shape of the bird.

one bird

One bird in hand...

I did a lot of pieces on labyrinths & mazes, experimented with techniques as washing and spray, and created an installation with shaped canvasses.

shaped canvas

Shaped Canvasses

On the topic of the labyrinth, the plan is to create a big land-art-labyrinth of about 140 meters diameter that would be created with my uncle Hubert’s tractor on a field in Flanders. Probably when there is snow. Here is the sketch on a 1/500 scale

landart

Land-art-labyrinth scale 1/500

The paths are 4 meters wide, and 1 meter in-between each path. Total diameter is 140 meters. I contacted a surveyor and some friends who are willing to do a drone recording of the build-up and end result. It may cost some money, so I will have to find a sponsor to pay the production bill before we go ahead. Anybody?

Prison cell performance

In my previous update, I already shared some screenshots from my Sep 2018 performance in Mexico. The whole thing was recorded and ready to go on YouTube. Although most of the soundscapes used were self-created, there was one 20 second snippet from Rammstein’s “Heirate Mich” that got captured by the YouTube licensing algorithms, so the organisers of the event were unable to upload the performance video to YouTube.

performance

Rebel Sequence Performance Petervan

But I do have the full video on my HD, and I’ll put it on a private shared drive. If you are interested, send me a message and I will send you a link to the full video.

Lesson learned: next time, ALL soundscapes will be mine ;-).

There are also a bunch of pictures taken, check out the gallery at The Futures Agency.

Time Capsules Project

I continued working with my cousin Joost on the Time Capsules Project (see my previous update), and especially on the Beyoncé one. We now had two detailed viewing and commenting sessions in my studio, and we made transcripts of everything.

me and joost

Joost and Petervan in the studio
preparing Time Capsules

We are literally dissecting the Beyoncé-Apeshit video, and coming with alternative imagery and narratives.

As an example: in the beginning of the video, there is a crouching man with wings. In our re-make, we will inject for example imagery from Wim Mertens’ “Wings of Desire / Der Himmel über Berlin

crouching man

wings-of-desire

Fairytale

Something I started writing in 2007, but never finished, until now. I published my first fairytale on my blog here. All illustrations are mine too. There is pattern here 😉

helicon

Helicon

Silence-is-Broken Project

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

Video is a bit shaky, so I got myself a new toy for the studio, the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 Gimbal . Will use it a lot for the other Time Capsules as well.

gimbal

Little Drops

I have started planning on longer term, using an alternative calendar.

  • A year starts on 27 April
  • A week is 11 days
  • The 11th day is a rest day
  • A month has 7 weeks
  • And we have 17 months in a year

The planning now looks at a 10-year period, till Dec 2027, when I – if still alive – will be 70, my wife 59 and my daughter 22. Puts things into perspective. Also, the week-calendar is organised in big chunks of activities, and open slots that are unplanned. And I am doing planning along phases of 20 (Gregorian) months.

For example, by week-11 of Year-1, I plan to organise my own exhibition of my own artwork. In the Gregorian Calendar, that is June 2020. And my 70th birthday will be on day-11 of week-1 of Month-12 of Year-3, and it’s phase-6 of my planning.

Somebody is having fun…

Exhibitions

I visited a lot of art exhibitions. About thirteen or so. Here are some impressions:

pieter jennes

Pieter Jennes in The White House Gallery, Lovenjoel

cindy wright

Cindy Wright in Castle of Gaasbeek

klimt

Franz Lerch – Mädchen mit Hut – 1929
Part of Klimt Expo

Finding interesting work

I am happy to report that end Jan 2019, I joined @gleonhard’s The Future Agency, as a part-time researcher and curator on Digital Ethics, and as a speaker/performer. See my announcement post here.

We think we are at a critical inflection point in the exponential growth of technology and we need a renewed focus on humanity and ethics. Listen to Gerd below on his ambition to create a Digital Ethics Council:

Digital Gerd suggesting a Digital Ethics Council

What’s next?

The plan for Feb – April 2019 is to work on:

  • Rocking the Digital Ethics boat
  • Private community test V1 of “Time Capsules” on Beyoncé
  • A landscape art version of the labyrinth of 140 meters in diameter
  • Paint, Paint, Paint

So, that’s it for this edition. If there is something worth reporting, next update is for Apr-May 2019.

Warmest,

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I am super excited to let you know I have joined Gerd Leonhard‘s The Futures Agency as a speaker and as a part-time researcher and curator.

Gerd is Futurist and Humanist, Keynote Speaker, Author, Film Maker. His latest book “Technology vs. Humanity” – published in 2016 – is a best-seller and has been translated in ten different languages.

I first met Gerd when curating the program for Innotribe@Sibos 2016 in Geneva, where we experimented with a new format for his keynotes, labelled “The Future Show Live”. After lots of rehearsals this resulted into a stunning presentation using the full real estate of a huge HD wall.

Gerd Leonhard speaking at Innotribe@Sibos 2016 in Geneva

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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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