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Windows at Brussels Airport after suicide bombings on Tuesday. Credit Pool photo by Frederic Sierakowski

Windows at Brussels Airport after suicide bombings on 22 March 2016. CreditPool photo by Frederic Sierakowski, in NYT article “Je Suis Sick of This”

In the aftermath of the terrible Brussels terrorists attacks, I encourage you to watch the full 1h50m LiveStream of the “A Conversation on Privacy” of just a couple of days ago.

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The conversation was positioned/framed as “The balance between national security and government intrusion on the rights of private citizens” and featured renowned linguist and MIT professor Noam Chomsky, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and Intercept co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald. Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, was the moderator.

It is clear from the reactions of the public in a full house Centennial Hall of the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioural Sciences in Tucson Arizona that Chomsky, Greenwald and Snowden were playing a home match, but that should not underplay some of the key points they were making.

There are basically four big chapters in this conversation:

  • What is privacy, and the effects of mass surveillance (nobody in its right mind is questioning targeted surveillance)
  • The Brussels and other attacks and the (in)-efficacy of mass surveillance
  • The FBI – Apple case
  • The role of journalism

I am looking forward to a full transcript of this conversation, in the meantime I made the following bulleted notes:

  • On privacy
    • When discussing privacy and security, are we discussing security of State, Corporations, or Citizens?
    • The statement “if you don’t have anything to hide, you have nothing to fear” does not cut it at all:
    • Everybody needs to be able to think and explore in a space where you are not subject to other people’s judgment, where you can make decisions as result of your own agency
    • People are starting to self-sensor, curtailing their own speech
    • Privacy is the right to enjoy the products of our own intellect
    • Privacy is the fountainhead of all other rights
    • Privacy is the right to a free mind, without having your ideas being pre-judged before they are fully formed
    • If no privacy, you live as a collective, in a state of reaction to your environment
    • “I don’t care about privacy because I have nothing to hide, is about the same as saying I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say”
    • Rights are designed for those who are vulnerable. “Not caring about a right (because it does not apply to you) is probably the most anti-social thing I can imagine.”
    • Rights exist to protect the minority against the majority. Even if the majority does not care about privacy (or any other right), that majority view is irrelevant
    • Silicon Valley companies still don’t care about your privacy. What they fear is users would give their data to somebody else
    • The “Digital Self” is unhealthy, creates a sense of intimacy that is fraudulent, leads to very superficial interactions amongst people
    • Should there be state secrets at all? Governments classify EVERYTHING as Secret or Top Secret, because of their unwillingness for transparency
    • The elites decides on our behalf.
    • The elites change as quickly as possible the conversation to the theoretical risk of having a free press
    • Almost NOTHING is concerned with the security of the population; the population is the enemy, and they are not supposed to know what the government or corporates are doing
    • The (US) does not want you to know that the real battle is about world domination of the US doctrine
    • The trade off between security and privacy is is a false dichotomy
    • It leads to the illusion of democracy
  • On the European attacks:
    • Mass surveillance does not have ANY concrete results against terrorism
    • “When you collect everything, you understand nothing”, “you are blinded by the noise”
    • But if mass surveillance does not work for terrorism, it must work for something… What is it good for then? It is about setting and policing our policies and marking anything that is not conforming as suspicious
    • The resources are misallocated to mass surveillance in stead of addressing the route causes
  • On the Apple – FBI case
    • The FBI “wants it all” – all communications between human beings – in other words “wants to kill privacy”. They want access to everything, even your private conversations in between the safe four walls of your home.
    • Orwell interpretation “if you live in a society where you are always being watched, you loose freedom”. But that was an interpretation. What Orwell really wrote was “… a world where we COULD be watched at any moment…”
    • In such a world, you have to act AS IF you were being watched all the time, not knowing of the surveillance device is operating, watching you, or if somebody on the other side is doing something with the information collected
    • Who should be permitted to hold secrets: The citizens ? The governments? The corporations?
    • The content of San Bernardino calls already HAVE been given to the authorities (through the service providers)
    • By unlocking the phone, they would now also have access to the metadata
    • “Private citizens” should have full transparency on “Public officials”
    • The emerging culture is the opposite: Public officials’ activities becoming more and more opaque, and Private citizens’ activities becoming more public
  • On Journalism
    • “What is non-objective is significant” with respect to journalism and framing
    • A lot of journalistic framing follows from their own obedience to the framework of conformity that they learned at our best schools in the world (Oxford, Cambridge, etc.)
    • We have to continue to reveal things that should never have been concealed in the first place

On the same day of the Conversation on Privacy in Tucson, there was an interview with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Canvas (Flemish Television).

john kerry

The theme of that interview was “the need for an integrated system of information exchange to increase security”, and that some countries have reservations to such systems – specifically referring in to Edward Snowden.

Some extracts of what John Kerry said (i tried hard not to put things out of context):

“It is fair to say that in a number of countries, partly because of mister Edward Snowden, and the history, people had a reservation about doing some of these things, because they felt that might be an invasion of privacy”.

“I don’t worry about my privacy. The fact that I am getting on an airplane – if I were not flying in a military airplane now, but if I am flying in a civilian airplane which I was doing as a senator – I don’t care if they know if I am on that plane; because I am obeying the law.”

“So I think people have to relax a little bit and understand that there are plenty of ways to protect your privacy without creating greater danger in society at large.”

“I do know that you (Belgium) have a federal system, I know you have a fairly decentralized system,…. And I remember the difficulties we had in the US between federal authority, state authority, and local authority and the movement of information. So, we’ve streamlined much of that now.”

“It is up to Belgium to decide what it should do, but I would urge Belgium and all European countries to create a more integrated flow of information so that we can protect ourselves more effectively”

“And I would say to every citizen that there is a way to do that and still protect people’s legitimate privacy. There is absolutely a way to do that, and we’ve proven it and we’ve lived with it.

To be honest, I could not believe my ears when watching this interview. If you have done a little bit of homework on the topic of privacy, you would also revolt against some of these platitudes which are in the same category as “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. The journalist in case missed the opportunity to give pushback to Kerry and to offer a more comprehensive framing of the issues on the table.

It seems to me that the underlying theme in all of this is a cultural tipping point from “when public controls private” to “when private controls public”.

Which of course stands in stark contrast with the idealistic visions of a fully distributed society: also that is a big illusion, because in any system where there is power to be re-distributed, some bigger players like governments and corporations will try to take advantage and create monopolies.

One could discuss what “control” means in this context, and I believe it is related to setting, dictating, manipulating and policing our set of norms and behaviours.

Although the conversation in Tucson is addressing mainly the way western (read US) politics are ran, the whole reasoning is applicable to any other belief system that evolves towards totalitarianism.

Evgeny Morozov was razor sharp is this week’s “The state has lost control: tech firms now run western politics“:

The only solution that seems plausible is by having our political leaders transfer even more responsibility for problem-solving, from matters of welfare to matters of warfare, to Silicon Valley.

This might produce immense gains in efficiency but would this also not aggravate the democratic deficit that already plagues our public institutions? Sure, it would – but the crisis of democratic capitalism seems so acute that it has dropped any pretension to being democratic; hence the proliferation of euphemisms to describe the new normal (with Angela Merkel’s “market-conformed democracy” probably being the most popular one).

The “need for an integrated system of information exchange to increase security” leads to a corporate and government surveillance state. Artificial intelligence tech firms and powerhouses start penetrating every segment of industry, also financial services.

@suitpossum was spot on with his great post this week on “The dark side of digital finance: On financial machines, financial robots & financial AI”, about machines controlling the “body” of the organization. @suitpossum has a great way to articulate how AI and robots are gradually robbing us from our personal agency.

The issue is whether they collectively imprison people in digital infrastructures that increasingly undermine personal agency and replace it with coded, inflexible bureaucracy; or whether they truly offer forms of ‘democratisation’.

I start calling this “The Illusion of Agency” and it will be the topic of one of my upcoming talks and associated blog posts.

There are several ways our policy makers can react to the attacks:

  • One way is to chose for confrontation: to step up reaction and retaliation, enforcing this way the agenda set by the attackers to undermine our way of living. Hitting back includes these “integrated systems” and the access to encrypted data as suggested in the British Investigatory Powers Bill. See also great NYT article on this topic
  • Another way is to use our resources to address the route causes of all this: the disrespect and straight military attacks by the western powers on non-western cultures and economies, not in the interest of the security of their populations but in an attempt to protect the economical and power interests of an elite.

But as public becomes more and more private, and private becomes public, and knowing who is in power, I am rather pessimistic and afraid that they – not we – will chose for the confrontation.

In the meantime – as I said in the beginning of this post – I invite you to listen to the full conversation on privacy, so you get some other perspectives than the obvious and populist ones you can pick up in the mainstream press and television news programs.

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This post is about some of the myopic views on disruption in financial services (or any other vertical for that argument), and why I am getting a bit tired of FinTech, RegTech, InsurTech, or whatever AbcTech you may come up with.

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Disrupted - Petervan Artwork - Acryl on Paper format A1

 

Most of the discussions in FinTech are about the (by now outdated) “unbundling” of highly vertical integrated organizations like banks. Everybody recalls the famous CB-Insight slides on how all functions on the website of HSBC, Wells Fargo, or fill in your <Bank Name> here, will be replaced by better offerings of startups or scale-ups: “everything gets fragmented”, you know😉

It even leads to a “Re-bundling” of financial services, as what was once unbundled needs now to be re-bundled by “banking-as-a-platform” or “Fintegration”, just to throw another buzzword into the mix.

This is in my opinion a highly simplistic view on disruption. It is a fragmented view on disruption. The disruption view is fragmented: each little function on its own is subject of a fragmented disruption debate. We are missing the holistic view of what is going on.

What I would like to bring into the conversation is the “inter-connectedness” of everything, or the “entanglement” of everything.

For payments, the conversation is usually about how many and which intermediaries are part of a payment transaction from the payer to the payee, and how they add value, friction and costs into the system: one can indeed draw disintermediation maps and articulate how the different new entrants attack the different pieces of the end-to-end transaction. But it is piecemealed view, as if the sum of the atomic transactions is an exact equation of the value created in those ecosystem value chains.

The same reflections can be made on the securities business, where many different players (exchanges, central counterparties (CCPs), central securities depositories (CSDs), brokers, custodians and investment managers) are part of the end-to-end flow of atomic transactions between the issuer of a security and the consumer of that security. See also recent comprehensive post by Let’s Talk Payments.

The point I am trying to make here is that what needs to be solved, re-thought and re-designed is a deep ecosystem entanglement. What are really needed are a fundamental process redesign and process innovation and that is not an easy undertaking with all the network effects that are inherent in these ecosystems.

The other point I am trying to make is nobody – not the incumbents, nor the startups/scale-ups – is in a position to solve this on their own.

I believe we have to evolve from platform capitalism to platform cooperation or even platform co-operativism.

  • Instead of talking about optimized correspondent banking, the conversation should be one of collaborative/cooperative banking.
  • Instead of talking about optimized securities lifecycles and settlement, the conversation should be one of collaborative/cooperative securities markets.

The system is not broken. It works very well for what it was designed for. It does not need to be fixed. It needs to be re-thought. What we are witnessing is the need for a fundamental re-thinking of our assumptions. The financial system is part of a broader system of capitalism based on neoliberalism. That system is broken.

Paul Mason – who wrote the book “Post-Capitalism” – was very clear in his recent keynote to the Glasgow Economic Forum: “Neoliberalism is broken”. And he goes on:

  • information technology has paralysed capitalism’s capacity to adapt
  • information technology creates a short-cut to abundance
  • the root cause of the boom-bust cycles, collapsing productivity, stagnation and policy paralysis is that the markets are sending us a signal that there’s not enough value in a high-tech economy to justify current valuations — of debt, equities or derivatives
  • we are in a long transition beyond capitalism, in which the state, the market and a non-market sector based on collaborative production will jostle and coexist
  • and that the only theory that can encompass all of these facts is the one originated by the man quoted on the poster behind me [Adam Smith] — a modernised form of the labour theory of value.

That is the first simplification in the current mainstream thinking about disruption.

As a start, one should start looking at the symptoms of that broken system (as very well articulated in Otto Scharmer’s work at the MIT U.Lab). These symptoms are:

  • An Ecological divide
  • A Social divide
  • A Spiritual divide

otto

The second simplification of the disruption discourse is the lack of inclusion of the macro-forces. Some of the macro-forces deeply driving what’s going on are:

  • Technology macro-force. Here is where inter-connectedness hits hardest. However, this is probably the easiest macro-force to deal with, as technology will take care of itself, as it always has. Open source and other collaborative models will only speed-up that self-care of technology: standards will emerge almost naturally, by natural selection, or my monopolistic interventions.
  • Regulatory macro-force. Regulation is still very high on the agenda of financial institutions, and one can only expect that more is to come, especially on the area of data capitalism, handling of personal and corporate data, and even data ethics. After having digested the regulatory impact of the 2008 financial crisis, many are tempted and seduced to jump back with relief into innovation. The blockchain hype is a great excuse for claiming one is busy with the future state of things. Nothing could be further from the truth
  • Geo-political macro-force: Grexit, Brexit, Terrorism, War, Surveillance, climate, and other crisis that can pop-up at any moment in time, with their potential of killing overnight all the innovation plans and ambitions.
  • Eco macro-force: the acknowledgement that our organizations don’t operate in isolation, that we have to evolve from ego-businesses to eco-businesses, not only extracting value out of the ecosystem for our sole and own benefit, but that we are part of a reciprocal non-zero-sum game with an unspoken desire to save humanity.

The third simplification is the omission of the time component of evolution. I strongly recommend you discovering the work of Simon Wardley and his “situational awareness maps”.

 

 

Different values are created by different versions of different technologies and value engines, each of them evolving at their own pace on the lifecycle of emerging to commodity/utility. For big organizations – like financial institutions – it is extremely difficult to map out the current state, let’s not even mention the ability to strategically decide where one wants to head for in different time horizons in the future.

The same situational awareness is not only needed for (existing) and new technologies, but also for existing and new regulations, geo- and eco- events and ambitions.

In the past many have been concerned with the “backward compatibility” of new services and solutions. Backwards compatibility with the existing footprint and practices in the market that is.

I believe there is room today to start thinking in terms of “Forward Compatibility”.

What is Forward Compatibility? It is a capability to plan ahead for gradual adoption by the ecosystem, taking into account the different barriers mentioned above. This is about knowing HOW to get at the new destination:

  • How you rally the main stakeholders of the ecosystem into a rigorous system and process innovation? Process innovation is different from process-, datamodel-, or messaging standardization. It is not about standardizing the existing and guaranteeing backwards compatibility with the existing. It is about co-creating a new reality.
  • How you promote the evolution from the current model to the future model? In the case of distributed ledger technologies for example, it is not about a tabula rasa that will eradicate the existing, but how one evolves from for example a messaging hub-and-spoke paradigm towards business objects and lifecycles in the cloud, initially probably in one central database (one node), and then evolve to a peer-to-peer networks of many distributed databases or nodes (remember the Digital Asset Grid?)
  • How to bootstrap this new reality taking into account the network effects to be created and promoted in the new P2P reality.

No disruption will happen without fundamental re-design – or better re-invention – of the end-to-end business processes:

  • Organizations knowing where they want to get and defining and leading that journey;
  • De-risking change throughout this journey;
  • Making trade-offs in the breadth ànd depth of the destination;
  • Moving beyond the atomic nature of the transaction. As mentioned an nausea in previous posts, it is not good enough anymore to enable (atomic) transactions, the challenge is to enable commerce, as an end-to-end process

Startups/Scale-ups who want to be part of this endeavor, will need to know how to “scale”: they will need to learn to appreciate the mechanics of growing a startup into a corporate. This growth process (and its associated growth pains) is very well described in the post “Go Corporate or go home” around the concept of legibility of on organization. The startup organizations – whether they like it or not – will need to become more legible, more predictable. The author makes a very solid argument why hierarchies are needed.

“The smaller a company is, the less they need to formalize anything, and the less the three levels — chain of command, business process, and culture — differ.”

 As they grow, they will have to synchronize how they transform these three levels (chain of command, business process, and culture). It’s not only from small self-sufficient team into hierarchies; it is also growing into professional business processes, and evolving the social fabric and conventions.

Although startups, scale-ups, and corporate innovation sandboxes mimicking the startup culture “love to have and keep the flexibility, the cost of growth is scale, integration, and profitability.”

In this context, it is probably worth having a look at the post about the Transferwise culture (I could have taken any other scale-up for that matter) “We inspire smart people and we trust them”, and especially the comment on that post that talks about KPIs, product-level empowerment, about focusing on growth more holistically, actually removing bottlenecks and silos, empowering teams at the product level, and instrumenting themselves to be able to actually get granular feedback.

If possible – assuming you want to spend some quality time – read that post and comment after you have read “Go corporate of go home”.

So next time, when you pitch about disruption, about the end of banks/banking, about collaboration/co-operation, or about any other technology solving world hunger, please make sure you have an answer on how to get to your new destination. I would suggest you keep forward compatibility in mind.

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Douglas

Headshot - Douglas Rushkoff

The first time I heard the term “Platform Cooperativism” was when listening to a talk by Douglas Rushkoff (www.rushkoff.com) on 15 Nov 2015 at the Internet Society.

video

Just a couple of weeks before, Doug had sent me a manuscript version of his new upcoming book “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth became the enemy of prosperity” (Amazon Associates link), planned for release in two weeks or so. I recall the working title of the book was “The end of growth”.

book

As usual – when listening to an interesting talk – I scribble notes on my notepad, pausing the video after every interesting sentence, and end up with some sort of transcript, somewhat personalized because using my own sense-making lens and bias.

Some snapshots:

  • Before the law enforced monopoly, now technology enforces monopoly
  • From creative destruction to destructive destruction
  • A software company is a company extracting value from the working economy (transactions between people) and converts it into capital (static bags of shares and stock prices), converting land and labor into capital.
  • Creating real value, that’s the suckers’ place (of being gamed). Playing the game is the place where you want to be
  • Central currency is the embedded operating system
  • Should we optimize for growth or optimize for humans?
  • Jobs!, Jobs!, Jobs! Let’s pretend we are on acid for a minute😉. Who really wants a “job”?
  • Most companies, after reaching max growth, go for steady state, the flow of money
  • Uber drivers are doing R&D for automatic cars. They don’t have a platform cooperative
  • Family businesses are focused on the long term, are generational, are even willing to help other create value.
  • From a growth model of business to a flow model of business
  • Optimize for the velocity of money (not for being static, stocked in troves)
  • We don’t need banks to authenticate
  • The bank was made to extract value out of our transactions
  • About Bitcoin/Blockchain (at minute 37): “what are they programming for?” Bitcoin creates trust? No, Bitcoin SUBSTITUTES trust
  • In the end, we have to re-program the social expectations of each other
  • There is some chance that the P2P economy may happen, that the extraction economy comes to its end, with interesting experiments
    • We see hybrid models to fund pizzeria, 50% Crowd, 50% bank
    • The bank as facilitator of local community development
  • From platform monopolies to platform cooperatives
  • Facilitating exchange of value between people instead of extracting value from people’s labor.
  • We need a full-blown renaissance, and we are in it…
    • From Perspective painting to the hologram and the fractal
    • From the individual hero to collectivism
    • From the printing press to the computer
    • From enclosing the commons to retrieving the commons
    • From divisional science to the science of whole-ism
  • Land, Labor, and Capital as PARTNERS in an economy
    • Today, capital is extracting from Land and Labor

The comments right after Douglas’ talk by Astra Taylor, author of the book: “The Peoples’ Platform: And Other Digital Dilusions” are interesting:

  • I want (platform) cooperatism to be confrontational, it has to make a difference in the world
  • How different is the current moment? If different at all….
  • The key for cooperatives success is access to capital

Platform Cooperativism is possibly an answer to Platform Capitalism. Harold Jarche recently articulated very well what platform capitalism is really about: the extraction of value from many for the benefit of a few.

“The emerging economy of platform capitalism includes companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple. These giants combined do not employ as many people as General Motors did. But the money accrued by them is enormous and remains in a few hands.”

And just a couple of days ago, David Bollier had a great post pointing to a new report on Platform Cooperativism by Trebor Scholz, one of the organizers of the Nov 2015 conference where Rushkoff spoke. Full report (PDF) report here.

“In the report, Scholz notes that the gig economy financializes resources that were previously outside of the market.  Our cars, our apartments, our private time – all can now be monetized through corporate platforms and made subordinate to market forces.  In effect, this new system is “embedding extractive processes into social interactions” and “extending the deregulated free market into previously private areas of our lives,” writes Scholz.”

Platform Cooperativism is a choice we have in the Industrial-Human Paradox. The WEF makes a lot of noise about “The 4th Industrial Revolution”, semi celebrating forms platform capitalism like the Uberization of everything, and robots eating our jobs.

It feels to me that sort of thinking starts feeling more as entertainment rather than independent thinking and provocation.

As Douglas Rushkoff said and provoked elsewhere: we don’t need to fix the system. The system just works fine for what it was designed for: extracting value.

scharmer

Otto Scharmer articulated very well the symptoms of the broken system:

  • Ecological divide
  • Social divide
  • Spiritual divide

We don’t need to fix the existing system, we need another system. We need radical ideas for the new century: platform cooperatism could be the answer. But a lot needs to change.

Still inspired by Scharmer, we need to improve the quality of how we engage with each other, the way we debate, dialogue, coordinate, organize. We need to take into account the quality of the context. We need to go from experiments and prototypes to models that can scale and be transformative. And that needs to happen at an institutional level.

In his ULabs, Otto Scharmer has identified two missing conditions for this to happen:

  • Enabling infrastructures that bring together the right set of players into a system
  • Move from abstract coordination mechanisms (like hierarchy, markets or organized interest groups) to co-creating ecosystems

In the middle of the great transition from centralized to decentralized to fully distributed systems, we have a choice: we can copycat the models of platform capitalism leading almost by nature to a few monopolists who take it all, or we can choose for a construct that has in mind the flourishing of the whole, of the cooperative.

Somebody has to take up the role of the commons for financial services, where the end-goal is not to maximize profit and shareholders value, but the interest of the community and the maximalisation of flow between all the stakeholders.

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Way back in 2010, I wrote a post “Let me entertain you” inspired by one of Robbie Williams’ biggest hits. Some extract of the lyrics below:

Hell is gone and heaven’s here
There’s nothing left for you to fear
Shake your arse come over here
Now scream
I’m a burning effigy
Of everything I used to be
You’re my rock of empathy, my dear
So come on let me entertain you
Let me entertain you

Lyrics of "Let me entertain you" - Robbie Williams

I have evolved since then. The title of this post is inspired by a quote by Brian Eno in an interview in December 2015 with Steven Johnson about art, music, punch lines, and culture in general I would say.

 

“I don’t want to be entertained,

I want to be provoked.”

 

 

 

Here is the video on punch lines.

When I first read that interview, there was no transcript, so I transcribed it all myself (so I did not cut and paste from the site, and everything in this post is my own crunching through the story😉. Now it’s all for grabs on Steven’s post.

I think Eno’s quote could be a great tagline for the way I think about “events”. I could do my Magritte trick here again and say “Ceci n’est pas un event”. As I have said so many times in the past:

“I am not in the events business. I am in the business of creating high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning experiences”.

It’s about creating spaces and environments where people want to be provoked, not feeling comfortable, not being entertained. At the edge, but not beyond.

 

 

Exactly what architect Clive Wilkinson refers to in his talk “Designing The Theatre of Work”. There is indeed something (un)wise in this notion of “Theater of Work” or “Theatre of Change”. At min 11:30 of this video, he quotes:

“I don’t want people to feel comfortable, I want them to be provoked. I am not going to get great work out of people who are comfortable”

and also

“The architecture and the language of space is not something that is meant to make you go to sleep”

It’s only very recently that I realized the “creating high feedback loops and immersive learning thing” was only about the “how” and not about the “why” and “what” this is supposed to achieve.

I think I have a better hunch about that now: I believe it is about creating high quality change. Deep change. Not the Theatre of Change. Change that is in the first place based on high quality human alignment. Beyond the cognitive, and beyond the tactics of processes and governance. Beyond the illusion and entertainment of the innovation theatre.

I recently bumped into a colleague that is doing innovation work – or should I say theatre – for a big international automotive company. She was asked to give support in the design of a “disruption tour” that was organized for the members of the board in Silicon Valley.

I think we have all seen those disruption tours, where execs are flown into sunny California, get a week immersion, come back all excited as part of this elite club that got to see one or the other hotshot in the valley, and where the initial momentum ebbs away very quickly, usually already after two weeks, when we all go back to business as usual.

But the briefing for this tour was a bit different. She learned that the tour should not challenge any of the “what” and only focus on the “how”. So in other words: avoid in all circumstances that anything they will see and hear would challenge or disrupt their existing automotive strategy. What was asked for was “disruption without disrupting”. Or “Safe Innovation” as I read somewhere else this week.

In Hollywood this is called “entertainment”.

I kept delving in the Brian Eno’s story about entertainment vs. provocation, and found this audio ànd the transcript of the 27th Sep 2015 BBC John Peel Lectures with Brian Eno.

I am very much inspired by both Peel, who has this art of giving others “airplay” and Brian Eno, who really is a “curator d’excellence”, if you look back at what sort of magic mix of artists he brought together in his life, always remaining a “vanguard”, and his restless desire for discovering new places and more:

vanguard

“Vanguard” means forefront, advance guard, avant-garde. Has to do with seeing early signals, making sense of them. Not only seeing. Also building. Building something new. “World Building”.

World building, like the places children imagine. Like the emotional places where children imagine: who would not crave to be in that state all the time? In that sense, I believe my curation and events work is more and more about painting and architecting “states of mind”.

Happenstance that just this week @ribbonfarm had a fantastic post on this topic of “states of mind” titled “Productivity for precious snowflakes”

snowflakes

Two identical snowflakes, via NYT

He is talking about multi-finality (and not multi-tasking) and about the interest in the quality of the experience (and not the mere outcome), and about the source of creative being in the past.

It’s encouraging to realize that many of the states of mind we seek are not “out there” somewhere, to be hunted down and consumed. They are states of mind belonging to our past selves — we wouldn’t crave it if we had never experienced it. We have to go backwards and remember what we once knew, not forwards to some perfected version of ourselves. What would you pay to experience child-like wonder for a day? To watch Star Wars Episode IV for the first time again? To have the ability to snap your fingers at any time and see your writing, your painting, your app with the fresh eyes of a novice?

“Flexing our mental muscles” by imagining new worlds, and “when people synchronize themselves together”, says Eno.

He also introduces the topic of “exhaustion”. I will come back to the theme of exhaustion in another post, as I think it is key to the kind of problems we try to tackle today.

14th century

“We need ways to keep in synch, to keep coherent. That is what culture is doing for us.”

and

“Culture as a set of collective rituals to keep coherent, collective rituals that we are all engaged in”

book keeping together

Brian refers to the book “Keeping Together” by William Hardy. In that book, one of the most widely read and respected historians in America pursues the possibility that coordinated rhythmic movement – and the shared feelings it evokes – has been a powerful force in holding human groups together.

As an ex-DJ, I think my work is about creating rhythms. Architecting these “coordinated rhythmic movements and rituals” for “state of minds” and “states of intentions”.

Way beyond the entertainment. This is about “Creating scenius together”. Scenius is the talent of whole communities. Bringing them in contact with their talent, their potential.

“You simply can’t absorb this (change and exhaustion). You just have to do it collectively. Nobody’s going to be able to do it individually”.

These interviews with Brian Eno are from last year. Before Bowie sent us Lazarus and left us all alone on 10 Jan 2016.

 

 

My good friend Gary Thompson also leveraged Bowie’s death into an intimate and very inspiring blog post about “being provoked” and “being at a trailhead, at the start of a new year and being on a journey without a map”.

Tony Visconti, who produced several of Bowie’s albums, acclaimed Bowie’s visionary status.

“He always did what he wanted to do,” and “And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of art.”

Bowie and Eno are not entertainment. They are provoking art. Work becomes art. The essence of work is art.

“Art is everything

that you don’t have to do”

Brian Eno

At a reception earlier this week, I bumped into a friend who follows my blogs, tweets, and artwork.

She basically asked me “Quo Vadis, Peter?” and “What direction are you going with all this?” It’s a great question I am struggling with on an almost daily basis.

I will answer cryptically with the title of Otto Sharmer’s latest book “Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies”and with the last verse of Bowie’s Lazarus:

This way or no way
You know I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain’t that just like me?

Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?

Enjoy!

 

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This is my first post of the year, and I don’t believe I properly closed the previous year.

fleches bxl

Surreal traffic sign in Belgium

On the last day of 2015 I paid a visit to the Magritte Museum in Brussels. It was one of those surrealist days, when the Brussels mayor has just announced the cancellation of the new-year fireworks, and the city was still under terror alert level-3, meaning that a threat is “possible and likely.”

magritte logo

I was early – just before the opening of the museum – and the city had something unreal. The air was fresh, the light was bright, everything was peaceful, and mainly Japanese and American tourists were hanging around enjoying the square.

The entrance of the museum also was surreal: visitors now had to go through a x-ray scanner, like in airports. I am pretty sure the place must be full of CCTV cameras, whose output is possibly most of the time ignored by human or more advanced computer vision systems.

I think we are overreacting here, and that it will get worse. There is a big disconnect between the reality and the perceptions created. And it changes my behaviour. Already now, I notice how I change my behaviour when entering in surveyed territories like airports (and now also musea): I don’t try to look into the eyes of the guard, maybe I dress more conforming, become submissive, and become more careful in the wordings and subjects of my posts and tweets.

I have become submissive.

Luckily, the queue at the museum was not long yet, and I could shrug off the defeat and start enjoying the museum tour.

The Magritte museum is part of a the complex of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, located in the heart of Brussels at the Place Royale. It is housed in the neo-classical landmark Altenloh Hotel, superbly restored in 1984. I had visited the Royal Museums complex before, but never the wing where Magritte is hosted.

The main entrance of the museum is via a big elevator (the museum is spread over three floors, and the tour starts on the 3rd floor). I go quite frequently to an exhibition and one immediately notices when you are entering a league in its own right. This is an absolute world-class collection and museum, I recommend it to anybody who visits our city and has a couple of hours to spare.

“The museum’s multi-disciplinary collection is unrivalled. It contains more than 200 works consisting of oils on canvas, gouaches, drawings, sculptures and painted objects as well as advertising posters, musical scores, vintage photographs and films produced by the artist.”

magritte headshot

Headshot René Magritte

René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist. He became well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images that fall under the umbrella of surrealism. His work is known for challenging observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality. (from Wikipedia).

I believe that the skill to “challenge observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality” – in other words curating, creating, and making sense – is becoming more and more important is this age of rapid change, where shortcuts and platitudes are rather the norm, in stead of depth in our reflections about cultural change.

Robert Fritz said: “Structure determines behaviour, and behaviour drives culture”.

book marvelous clouds

In that context, I highly recommend the book “The Marvelous Clouds” by John Durham Peters, who starts where Marshall McLuhan left it in 1964 (that is now more that 50 years ago), when he coined the phrase “The Medium is the message” in his most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

McLuhan proposed that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.

When I start playing and mixing with Fritz and McLuhan, I get to something like:

“The medium informs the structure,

Structure informs behaviour,

Behaviour informs culture”

A significant part of the structure we operate in is made of media. Media as in plural of medium.

The air is medium, water is medium, the Internet is medium.

But like Magritte, we are unaware how easily the medium can be tricked. Is what we see real, unreal, surreal, or pure illusion?

Check out this great post about Adversarial Machines by Sanim on how easy our machines can get fooled by adversarial robots.

“At the heart of many modern computer vision systems are Convolutional Neural Networks. On some vision tasks, CNNs have surpassed human performance. Industries such as Web-Services, Research, Transport, Medical, Manufacturing, Defence and Intelligence rely on them every day.”

And

“Adversarial Examples are a fascinating area of ongoing research. They highlight limitations of current systems and raise a number of interesting questions. While industries are racing to include visual intelligence systems in mission-critical infrastructure, looking at edge-cases and exploring solutions is a productive path. 

The discussion in that post – and especially the part on generating adversarial images and “mangas” – is fascinating. And should us make think very carefully how all this can be used and misused in a medium of networks, CCTV cameras, and online and offline surveillance.

airport

trump

In other words, the image of the reality is not the reality.

The map is not the territory (Alfred Korzybski in 1931), meaning:

  • A map may have a structure similar or dissimilar to the structure of the territory…
  • A map is not the territory.

In The Medium Is the MassageMarshall McLuhan expanded this argument to electronic media. Media representations, especially on screens, are abstractions; are virtual “extensions” of what our sensory channels, bodies, thinking and feeling do for us in real life (Source: Wikipedia)

Which brings us full circle back to our friend Magritte who hits the nail – or should I say pipe – in many of his paintings, the most famous work entitled The Treachery of Images, which consists of a drawing of a pipe with the caption, Ceci n’est pas une pipe (“This is not a pipe“).

pipe

The spirit if Magritte is still very much alive. In true surreal traditions, Belgians started posting pictures of cats during threat level-4 in November 2015.

cats

These are deeply human and intended reactions to ever more chaotic environments and media.

I believe it is very important to nurture these human intentions, and the arts of humor, surrealism, and deeper languages than pure digital representations of reality.

Yes, we are talking here about the language of art.

Brian Eno recently defined art as:

“Everything that you don’t have to do

In that spirit, I leave you with some quotes from Magritte. They are displayed across the three floors of the museum in the same typography of “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” All quotations are consolidated in a nice PDF that you can find on the museum’s website, with the original French version, and translations in Dutch, English, German and Spanish.

quotes

Many of the quotes are very powerful. Here a selection of my personal favorites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

I wish for real love, the impossible and the utopian. I fear knowledge of my exact limits.

To be surrealist is to banish the notion of ‘déjà vu’ and seek out the not yet seen. By this I mean this moment of clarity that no method can reveal.

The real value of art is measured by its capacity for liberating revelation.

Nothing is as strong a defense as love, which allows lovers to enter into an enchanted world perfectly formed for them and where they are protected admirably by isolation.

Rebellion is a reflex of the living man.

Liberty is the possibility of being and not the obligation to be

All that I desire is to be enriched by intensely exciting new thoughts

Please do share with me your intensely exciting new thoughts. Onwards for a fantastic 2016. Happy new year !

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From time to time, I am invited to give a keynote presentation. More and more i am adding multimedia elements to that: video, audio, even silence. This transmedia approach is also something that keeps inspiring me when doing my day job, where i am architect and content curator of “events”. I always say that i am not in the “events” business but in the business of creating high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning experiences. That’s quite a different ballgame.

Some fans believe that what I do with our flagship Innotribe@Sibos is where i put the bar. It is not.

It is my starting point.

I really would like to go much further in touching my audience at another, additional level than purely the cognitive level. That’s why i believe a multi-sensory, more intimate, even business romantic experience is needed.

That’s why i love so much the work of Tim Leberecht, here in a recent talk at TEDxIstanbul:

I strongly recommend you watch this talk for the full 18 minutes. And read the book it is based on.

Tim Leberecht, author of the book The Business Romantic and chief marketing officer of global design firm NBBJ and, worries that big data, algorithms, and self-tracking technologies are engineering the romance out of our lives. He argues that we can find and create more meaning, and even magic, by designing experiences that connect us with something greater than ourselves. He contends that we all long for moments that are powerful precisely because they are inexplicable, such as acts of collective generosity, random digressions, and exuberant passions, and even the beauty of losing control.

He is referring to “Unexpected moments of beauty, awe and wonders, the detours and digressions, the cracks of imperfection, that make a heart speed faster, adrenaline rush, moments in which we loose control, and fall in love with everything.”

When was the last moment in your professional life when you had an experience like that?

It seems that only the measured life is a good life. Optimized by algorithms. I don’t believe in that anymore. There must be something better, more intimate, more unique, more transient, less about scaling and optimizing.

There is another great new book by Matthew Crawford, called “The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction”

World beyond your head

It’s not an easy read, but Oliver Burkeman from The Guardian reviews: “Crawford has a point … adverts are everywhere, so much so you have to pay to escape. There are real benefits to silence. No great book, or idea comes without a degree of silence. Independent thinking is not possible without it. Perhaps this is why so many corporations and institutions demand our attention – and why we should protect it Scotsman Incisive. It’s philosophy as an intervention in issues of the day.”

And The Chronicle of Higher Education raves: “The most cogent and incisive book of social criticism I’ve read in a long time: accessible, demanding, and rewarding. Reading it is like putting on a pair of perfectly suited prescription glasses after a long period of squinting one’s way through life”

The book describes the big disconnect between our agency (or the illusion of it, by seemingly being in control by clicking some buttons on an app) and the result of our agency, the work, the piece of craftsmanship, that piece of art.

That’s why i deeply refuse to see my work “as a job”. Work should equal meaning should equal passion should equal Art. The artist’s way…

That’s why i subscribed again to Art School last year, and i just registered again for the 2015-2016 season. Last year was about drawing, next year will be about painting.

IMG_4936

Own artwork @petervan 2015 - pencil on paper and some water diluted black chinese ink

That’s why i carved out some quality time for myself on Fridays, when i experiment with art, sound and poetry. And i installed a small studio in my atelier at home, with a MIDI keyboard attached to my Mac, running Garageband and Ableton Software. I also got myself a “Push”, a special hardware device to play music and create sound landscapes in Ableton.

Puch

So i started thinking about what it would take to evolve my presentations into some sort of performance, where i only use my own artwork, my own self-composed sound landscapes and my self-written poetry. And do it LIVE! Standing in full vulnerability.

And what would a trailer for such a live performance look like? Here is a little experiment… The trailer is just an existing iMovie template tweaked with my own artwork.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/132009275″>The Spooky World of @Petervan</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user29570471″>Peter Vander Auwer</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I showed it to some friends, and i was surprised how much a little thingie like this can create emotional reactions. Somebody else wanted me to do some commissioned work to create an immersive learning performance for a marketing event in 2016. Yet somebody else wants me to completely re-invent their executive off-sites to move them away from the boring flipcharts, whiteboards, post-its, scribing, and gamification tricks. And move them into deep intimate and almost zen-like retreats with tailer made, unique and transient multi-sensory experiences to create high quality connections of human beings on a mission for genuine and positive impact.

All these formats create a new type of scarcity, experiences that we can’t fully posses, experiences that don’t last, experiences that we don’t fully comprehend. They restore friction and doubt in a world of certainty, knowledge, and seamlessness-ness.

Formats where it is not about rapid prototyping, nor about fast iteration tracks to find a solution for a problem. We have to get out of problem solving mode. We already do that the whole year long. I believe we are hungry for a higher quality of being truly present. What Tim Leberecht calls:

“Being Thickly Present”

Maybe i am onto something that may lead to another level of awareness and articulation of corporate narratives beyond the hollow mission statements. Entering a new age of enchantment, in search for something bigger and more valuable than all that what can be measured. The beauty of things that don’t scale. Beauty keeps on chasing me. I wrote about it in “Confused by Beauty” and “The Battle for Beauty” featuring once more The Business Romantic.

What do you think? Let’s have a conversation😉

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Week-6 of Delicacies: a self-curated weekly list of max 5 articles that i found interesting and worth re-reading. Minimalism in curation. This week only 4 posts. Enjoy!

 

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