We created Vermeer to bring together and nurture extraordinary people, who share a passion
to change business and its role in changing society.
In the last 100 years, business has grown by “scaling through replicating” – using linear
operating models to expand reach to millions of consumers with standardized products. This
required a mindset that was laser-focused on efficiency, predictability, and elimination of
variability. It had a tremendous impact, as it allowed billions of consumers to access products
they never could before, lifted global living standards, and changed the face of our planet and
society, positively and negatively.
One of these impacts is that now we live in a VUCA world. The letters in VUCA stand for
volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The military uses the phrase ‘VUCA’ to
describe the limitations of tactical performance and why adaptive performance is so crucial.
Bringing this to business, the swelling and ongoing degree and speed of change has
fundamentally challenged the linear way of achieving business growth.
At Vermeer our passion is to meaningfully advise the leaders of pioneering companies, big and
small, who want to respond and adapt to the VUCA world. And help them make a positive
impact on our society and the world.
We recognize that achieving this aim of inspiring pioneers to do better is in itself extraordinarily
hard work, which requires a movement beyond our own Vermeer walls to include partnerships,
academia, think tanks, and forward-thinking coalitions of all types.
We start here, at Vermeer. We are creating Vermeer as a company of true leaders, at every
level, at every role, of true pioneers in whatever we do for each other and for our clients. Here
we stretch and nurture our people to always be on the frontier, because our clients are
themselves pushing their own horizons every day and we need to be right there at the edge
with them, to help them transform.
Helping the best to do better only surfaces just how pioneering we ourselves need to be.
Borrowing from our Insights2020 work, our experiences, and our readings on building
extraordinary cultures, and fueled by our own successes, beliefs, and values, we are creating a
Vermeer that truly helps to equip business leaders to thrive in a VUCA world.
We call this creating the first global whole-brain consultancy.
We call it whole-brain because now our clients can only thrive by accomplishing two seemingly
paradoxical objectives: to continue delivering consistent incremental growth in their existing
linear scalable production systems that made them successful up until now and to disrupt
themselves and the marketplace through agile and experimental systems and mindsets that
shape and adapt to the ever-changing landscape.
We also call it whole-brain because our people thrive by bridging two seemly paradoxical
objectives as well: to continue serving clients through offers that have worked in past
engagements making our firm successful and to constantly adapt and self-disrupt to maximize
our impact, increasing our agility, expanding our perspectives, and experimenting new ways to
serve clients and each other.
Broadly speaking, the brain has two sides. Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor in her top 10 TED
Talk (https://youtu.be/UyyjU8fzEYU) passionately explains this in ways nobody else can and
offers a fantastic lesson on how our overall lives are enhanced if we tap into our whole brain.
What we do at Vermeer is to find out how companies can be enhanced if their leaders can tap
into their whole brain.
The left brain uses measures, words, and lines to understand the world. It separates things to
analyze them. It’s the engineering mindset. It is the side of the brain that was harnessed to help
business become big, scalable, efficient. It is what we call focused attention, the “spotlight” of
The right brain uses imagination, visualization, and rhythm to understand the world. It is the
intuitive mindset. It is the side of the brain that allows us to tap into the dreams of people to
bring them along and helps us spontaneously respond to change. It is our “floodlight”
Many consultancies or agencies have focused on either deepening the left brain abilities or on
promoting the right brain development of their people. This is natural, as in our schooling years
most of us were told by our teachers and parents, “you can be a poet or a scientist, but you
can’t be both!”
At Vermeer we intend to grow our whole brain. Why? Because we deeply believe that to thrive
in a VUCA world, both our clients and our people need to unlock more and different capacities
of their mind. Otherwise they will not be able to adapt fast enough to change. They won’t be
able to recover from the setbacks that naturally occur faster and faster when the game rapidly
shifts as complexity increases. They won’t be able to bridge the paradox of continuing to scale
in linear ways while at the same time disrupt themselves to be on the next fast approaching
So how do we grow the whole brain in all our people and thus unlock their fullest potential? It
starts with the realization that we were all born whole-brain, but over time through education
and specialization, we trained ourselves to focus on one part and allowed the other to atrophy.
There are four levels of personal whole-brain development. We hire people who have two
characteristics: 1) have demonstrated exceptional aptitude in at least one side of the brain, left
or right, and 2) have an extraordinary desire and attitude to grow the other side.
Personal growth is a never-ending journey, and this applies even more so to the road of whole-
brain development. For inspiration, examples of people who have really tapped into their
whole-brain capacities are people like Steve Jobs, Leonardo Da Vinci, Bill Clinton, and of course,
Johannes Vermeer. Closer to us, people like Martin Sorrell and Jim Stengel.
Here are the four stages we travel on the road to whole-brain development:
1. It starts with really getting good at one side of your brain. If you love math problems,
you really toil to deepen your problem solving capacities. You take on studies that really
challenge your analytical acumen.
You seek people who excel at
solving the hardest concrete
problems clients throw at us. You
become an Excel wiz, a
frameworks wiz, a programming
genius, and a person others seek
out for your analytical prowess. If
you love understanding the
ambiguity and wiggly-ness of the
world, you plunge in to deeply
develop your ability of
discernment. You seek people
who imagine solutions to the most amorphous and entangled business questions clients
ask us. You become excellent at deciphering the meaning of things that look the same
but are different, at investigating what the “edge” is in everything you explore, and you
master using pictures and shapes to help people see the whole of what you are seeing.
You become a reference person for people who want to see more in numbers, stories,
2. As you develop your deeper capacities on your preferred side of your brain, you start
seeking people and projects which challenge you on the side of your brain that has been
sleepier for some time. You take on valuation and ROI projects if you’re more
comfortable on the right brain, and you immerse yourself in qualitative and facilitative
studies if your knack is on the left side of the brain. At Vermeer, we have the most
amazing people to work with in learning by osmosis. Watch the masters of the other
side, study how they think, what they pay attention to, and how they respond to project
needs changing. What makes them stars in their craft? How do they dazzle clients even
if the topic isn’t what they know a lot about? Watch them! Try to discern what it is that
works. Or how they create these connections where clients feel safe and absolutely sure
that the results will make sense, be explainable to the board, and rigorous to stand any
test. Try to see what perspectives our top people bring to these exchanges, what
implicit assumptions are operating in that chemistry, and what the cues of rigor and
reliability are. This requires from you a lot curiosity, an appreciation for the craft of
others, and a heightened awareness in all interactions
3. Now the hard work begins. It’s about challenging yourself to always ask “have I seen the
other side?” However agile you are, for most of us, doing something we haven’t done
before, or choosing to see what we didn’t see before, is uncomfortable. So this takes a
lot of commitment, of time, of practice, and most importantly, of challenging your sense
of self, of being ok with lots of failure along the way. It requires a humility to learn and a
reduced sense of self-orientation: paradoxically, to grow yourself you need to lose
yourself. Have I integrated the perspective that doesn’t come naturally to me on this
problem? Have I asked if I can replace “or” in my thinking with “and”? Choose your most
opposite-brain side friend at the office and ask: have I seen this question from how she
would see it? Do this, and do this often. It feels unnatural, hard at first; less hard as you
go along. Remember, you have her part of your brain as much as she has that side. You
just have not used it as much as she has, and it has gone for a nap. Wake it up, use the
questions our clients ask as opportunities to engage the full force of what you’re great
at, and what you can be great at. As you do this, complexity and ambiguity will feel less
scary and more natural. You will be comfortable with change and your adaptive abilities
will soar. Your impact on clients will magnify. Your impact on colleagues and friends will
be transformative. Your personal life will likely feel it too!
4. As we said personal development is an endless journey. The more you stay at stage 3
(which by the way most people on the planet never reach!) you will start seeing more
and more perspectives. There will be a different quality you discover in what you do,
and things will feel uncannily connected and serendipitously integrated. Because they
are! Life will of course throw you new challenges just to keep you on the ground, and
the same way you went up the stages of development, you can go down if you become
lazy. You practice and practice and practice and practice. And one day you look back and
all of the things you’ve ever done feel as if they have connected. There is tremendous
work and vigilance at this stage. Although it doesn’t feel like work it is a lot of work. You
just have been able to tap more fully into the most powerful instrument on the planet:
your whole mind. Use it, don’t stop, look for further opportunities to stretch. After all,
there is no end to your development. And we’re creating Vermeer as the place with the
purpose of unlocking whole-brain potential in business leaders
It is important to realize that the whole-brain’s magic is only unlocked when it’s integrated –
when both sides are working seamlessly at the same time to respond to change. The equation
½ brain + ½ brain = 1 brain only makes sense to the left brain. And that’s why the only way to
build a whole-brain company is to grow whole-brain people. Many consultancies and agencies
have tried putting engineers and artists in a room in the hopes of a whole-brain outcome but
have failed and one side has taken over. It is only when an environment is created that grows
whole-brain people that the fruits of whole-brain growth sustainably develop in the company.
It is also why some of our pioneering clients are marketing, brand, and insights people. Because
marketing for so long has been the least boxed-in part of the Corporation (which as we said
underwent tremendous linearization in the last century), now marketing has become a
greenhouse for companies to draw upon. Now CEOs intuitively sense they need to infuse in
their companies more agility and higher comfort with ambiguity to steer them to success.
Therefore as Marketing2020 shows us, marketing is more often than anyone called to work
with HR, IT, operations to support business transformation at a global scale. And as
Insights2020 shows us, customer-centricity is the only sustainable source of competitive
advantage in the VUCA world! That’s why we bring our ambition to life by creating the leading
C-suite global marketing consultancy. So what is the environment we are creating that
promotes the acceleration and flourishing of the whole-brain in all our people?
The fundamental ingredients of our environment that grow the whole brain in all our people
are: Ownership, Freedom, and Mutuality. These are the quintessential reasons why people
came here in the first place (if they’re not, one should question whether we are the right
environment for them) and are the characteristics we value most in our working lives and
But why is the interplay of ownership, freedom, and mutuality so conducive to whole-brain
Because retraining ourselves to new ways of thinking is so hard, it takes extraordinary
ownership and commitment to break through our preconditioned ways to see more
possibilities. And although our colleagues can help, personal growth is, indeed, deeply personal,
which means the only chance we have to significantly develop ourselves is to own it. And
because learning to activate an ambidextrous mind will be unfamiliar at first, we need to
persevere until we get good at it. Ownership is also important because of the kinds of critical
issues our clients trust us to resolve. Because Vermeer is a pioneer in a new paradigm of
consulting, quickly building a reputation as a go-to place to answer the most disruptive client
questions, the responsibility we carry is disproportionate to the current size of our business.
Therefore we have an obligation – both towards our clients as well as towards the whole-brain
movement we’re creating – to go above and beyond in everything we do.
By its nature, the journey to whole-brain growth is not predetermined. It requires freedom to
explore pathways and dead ends, to experiment and to take big risks; as T. S. Eliot wrote: “Only
those who go too far can know how far they can go.” It’s not like a runner who follows a
regimen and knows she will become a great runner. It’s more like a climber pursuing ever more
difficult and soaring mountains; there are some trekked paths but infinite ways to scale the
mountains, and the outcomes are never specified. For every summit accomplished, there is
another one to realize on the path to continual development. It’s about exploring the areas you
don’t have, to discover hidden perspectives by refusing to put yourself in a box. And that is
Whole-brain development is about expanding perspectives. It emerges from the connections
we make with others and through others. It is grounded in mutuality: the recognition of
interdependence in all that we do which is meaningful and the fostering of camaraderie in how
we do it. Mutuality as a concept and as a feeling is parallel to love and trust: it begins with
mutuality, and it ends with mutuality, like true relationships which begin with trust and foster
trust. Like love, it is a means and an end. The path to whole-brain development is at the same
time both very challenging and very rewarding. That is why the bonds and friendships we have
with each other keep us motivated when we need encouragement and energize us when we
break through to higher stages of development. And through these relationships, we are
exposed to a myriad different viewpoints and distinctions that enrich and propel us to open the
aperture through which we see. They push us to unlock our whole-brain potential.
We take these three ingredients in turn and unpack their meaning, as the deeper we
experience and live them, the faster we grow our whole brain and the faster we help our
colleagues and clients grow when we come in contact with them. As with all big concepts,
Ownership, Freedom and Mutuality can be interpreted in many ways, and as we grow a
company of star whole-brain people we wish to develop a shared uniting definition of these
ideas. Although each definition is beautiful in itself, it is their intersection that truly unleashes
our unique ability to unlock whole-brain potential. Therefore our expectation of ourselves is
that we understand and live them together in an integrated way.
We all share passion for our work, our clients, and the impact we have. The environment that
stretches and nurtures our people is one of self-direction. We believe in unconventional
leadership from within and from everybody, not in conventional top-down management. We
intuitively know (and research has shown) that self-direction unleashes tremendous
motivation, especially when people are asked to perform complex tasks; everything we do and
our clients do is becoming ever more complex. We are proactive. At our company you own
what you want to see happen for yourself, your work, your team…it is your company after all!
We have little compassion for victim orientation and complaining, because we believe that if
we don’t like something we step up and do something about it. If we want to see change, we
lead it. When everyone is inspired to bring their unique strengths to the table, we evolve as a
diverse ecosystem and grow the company in a more whole-brain way.
We each have a superb level of responsiveness and dedication to our clients and to each other
in serving our clients. In our delivery we demonstrate extreme levels of ownership. We don’t
dictate how you manage it; you self-direct. Our lives are not the same and therefore our work-
life integration patterns differ, from person to person and from time to time as we adapt to
change. At our company you define it, and you own it. We ask every team to define how to
make it work together at the beginning of an engagement or in a new working relationship, and
we hold each other accountable within the team. In this co-creation, you own your outcomes
and the team’s outcomes; you take ownership for your team. This is how we build a culture of
Leaders at Vermeer are not the people who have been here the longest. Some of the most
impressive leaders are some of our newest members. And we expect everyone to step into
their highest leadership ability regardless of role. We expect our freshest recruits to be the
most dynamic shapers of our business. When a more senior person asks a more junior person
for progress on a particular project, both the senior person and the junior person have failed:
the junior person has failed because he should have proactively engaged the senior person and
led the progress, and the senior person has failed because she didn’t create sufficient
inspiration and space for the junior person to amaze her.
Self-direction does not imply that everybody does whatever they see fit. Ours is a “wisdom
profession.” Unlike a gymnast whose athletic career peaks right after high school, the advisory
profession continues to blossom with long time periods. There’s deep learning and
development in apprenticeship with experienced practitioners. Still, unlike conventional
workplaces, we only select people who passionately want to grow new talent and new talent
who is hungry to take on more and more from seasoned colleagues. There is, therefore, a
natural delegation of very important pieces of the work that are owned by our newest team
members. Our junior people are thus our brightest stars, and our clients relish deeply
connecting and learning with them how to adapt in the VUCA world. After all, entrepreneurs in
Silicon Valley have shown us just how possible deep ownership can be driven by the youngest
minds. The energy, intensity, optimism, and ambition at Vermeer is one of a pioneering startup.
We vow to nourish that startup mentality as we grow bigger, and although we’ve grown rapidly
in the last few years to over 200 people, we still carry the same relentless resourcefulness that
optimistic entrepreneurs carry when they embark on realizing their dreams.
To exhibit ownership, love what you do, love your clients, love your team, own the business, be
a believer, intensely and passionately drive impact for our clients and the success of the
company, never compromise on quality, and always, always push the boundaries beyond your
and others’ comfort zone.
At Vermeer we select individuals who love the freedom to be themselves and to express their
potential to the fullest and who exercise that freedom, being direct and authentic with
everyone they interact. We thrive on colleagues who want to make their mark and succeed on
their own terms. We see the company as a theater stage, which provides for our star
performers to do their best life’s work. That’s why we have little tolerance for hierarchy,
protocol, and bureaucracy.
As Krishnamurthy says, “When there is no fear, you’re free.” Bravery and resolution is thus not
only encouraged, but expected, because we know that only when our people are pushing the
boundaries do we experience transformational personal, team, and client growth. We believe
the fastest way to cultivate fearlessness and freedom is to nurture a giving orientation in our
people. We transmute difficult situations with others into opportunities, by asking in the
moment “do I have a giving mindset or a getting mindset?” This expands our perspective to see
things from a place of abundance, which opens up our choices on how to handle challenges,
magnifying our freedom.
We see our work as play, where people authentically express their curiosity and experiment
with new ways of thinking and of doing things. We intuitively know that a focused yet playful
environment unleashes tremendous creativity and energy for the benefit of our clients.
Freedom does not imply, however, that people do whatever they want without consideration.
As an ad campaign recently stated, to break the rules you must first master them. As we said
before, we are a wisdom profession. We are a flat organization but we also benefit and learn
from the wiser members in our teams who become our coaches and mentors. As the intensity
of our ownership increases, the quality of our freedom deepens. Everyone at Vermeer is
welcomed as a star, into a family of stars, from day 1: we don’t soften the blow; we take
everyone to battle from their first days here, with no protective boot camp, no shield, and no
excuses. We nurture beginners of every level with extra mentoring for growth, but we never
see this support as a crutch.
The freedom Vermeer creates is a privilege. To nurture it you have to model it, for yourself and
for others. Modeling your freedom means pushing your own boundaries, making yourself
uncomfortable, and relishing in the discomfort which naturally comes with growth. It means
translating the fear that comes with exploring new paths to positive energy. But modeling
freedom equally means you hold in regard others’ expressions of their talents which are just as
important in building our company, receiving the whole person and not just what you need
from them at that moment. It means celebrating the different thinking that emerges from our
diversity, replacing judgmental language of others’ styles with coaching language for others’
development. As we grow our whole brain we also start seeing that our style is itself not a fixed
part of ourselves; the emerging ability to experiment with our identity is a hallmark of true
whole-brain growth and of rapid expansion of agility.
To practice freedom, be your best self, authentically express yourself, break convention, own
the discomfort emanating from your growth, respect your freedom, and be mindful of others'
freedom in being who they are and how they are evolving.
One of the strongest sources of meaning we derive at Vermeer is being with our friends and
colleagues at work. Because of the significance of what we do, we spend a big part of our lives
at work. Our profession entails working closely in teams to come up with the recommendations
that will shape our clients’ careers and businesses. It’s in our teams that we learn new
aptitudes. We develop our whole brain through connection with others whose skills juxtapose
our own. We share our disappointments and celebrate our victories with our closest coworkers.
There is tremendous significance in this sense of camaraderie and interdependence. In a star
culture and apprenticeship model like ours, relationships become deeper and more complex
than other workplaces. We ask people to bridge what on the surface may seem paradoxical,
and therefore, this requires us to step into our whole-brain capacities even more. For example,
we expect 100% collaboration of our people, and at the same time, we hire pioneering people
who want to have impact and are highly competitive. We expect 100% reliability of our
teammates while at the same time we celebrate people who are comfortable with ambiguity
and succeed in unexpected ways. We expect 100% responsiveness to clients and colleagues
while at the same time we promote people who own their freedom and create a Vermeer that
becomes their personal platform for development and success. All this sets the stage for a very
intricate nexus of relationships which can be uncomfortable to navigate, but we trust makes
everyone better and stronger.
In our live ecosystem, with all its might, rigor, and complexity, it is mutuality that truly enables
us to unlock our fullest potential. It’s like in a star sports team, where all payers are stars, albeit
on a journey of star development, and without all players dancing perfectly together there can
be no victory. Or it’s like a human organism, where everything needs to work together for the
person to thrive; the head and the heart and the pancreas may be more central, but without
the foot or the hand his physical effectiveness deteriorates quickly.
Mutuality is also about us seeing and reminding ourselves that things “go together,” that
everything is related in inextricable and mutually defining ways. At its essence, Life is
Relationship: in the physical world, there is no light without darkness, sound without silence,
objects without space. In the human world, there is no growth without recovery, no success
without failure, no good without evil. In the social world, there is no we without me, no us
without them, and importantly no me without we. We define who we are always in reference
to the other, and this is particularly important because it shows us just how much we need
others, even competitors and opponents, as it’s exactly through them that we know who we
This principally applies to what we are building at Vermeer, as thriving in the VUCA world
requires, as we said, the ability to bridge paradoxical situations and, therefore, to see the “go-
togetherness” of things, even those which may appear unrelated or even conflicting on the
surface, as ultimately inseparable and harmonious. This ability to see the whole from this
expanded perspective is a key source of advantage for us. And it’s a hallmark of whole-brain
To excel in mutuality, love your colleagues and your clients, give without expectations, trust in
others and trust in that it will work out in the end, see that we are all in this together and
embrace the ‘go-togetherness’ of everything even when your immediate reaction to a
challenge is to operate from a partial view or not from your best self.
So what does our company look like when we live these three values of Ownership, Freedom,
It looks like a “people-only” business. Our source of true competitive advantage lies in our
belief system and a high-potential-only culture, based not on entitlement, not on insecurity, but
on ownership, freedom and mutuality. First, we believe that creating a space which nurtures
people to truly transform by tapping into a powerful and contemporary capacity they haven’t
discovered in their past, is deeply meaningful and value-creating. Second, we believe that
systematically tapping into this new potential is so attractive for new generations of talent and
ambitious clients that we haven’t even scratched the surface of the opportunity it represents.
Third, we believe in possibility as opposed to protection: anyone who truly intends it can
become a whole-brain leader (possibility), and therefore, we support radical responsibility and
personal freedom unlike other formal consultancies that aim to protect and limit self-discovery
and active divergence. This produces a culture with an edge, creative tension, generative
conflicts, and intense exchanges. The benefit of operating from this kind of dynamic harmony
within our own system trains us to respond to external changes much faster and better than if
we were a rigidly structured and product-led firm like most other consultancies are. As a
metaphor, we operate much more like well-coordinated navy seals engaging in cavernous and
unpredictable terrain than like a tactical army lined up in field battle. Like in the navy seals, an
underperformer on my team puts my life at risk. I tell my teammates this, which simultaneously
bestows an incredible responsibility for performance on them but also unlocks tremendous
freedom in them, fostering instant total mutual accountability. If I trust you implicitly, I’ll be
tough as hell on you, and on me, on your behalf, as well as on mine. And if it isn’t a fit, it’s in
both your and my interest to be upfront about it, and to be ok with it. The alternative is quite
Being a people-only business means that the growth of our business is 100% attributable to the
growth of our people which, in turn, generates other assets including our thought leadership,
our brand, and our methods. These assets then become a further platform that serves to
nurture our people’s whole-brain development, forming a virtuous cycle.
When we live the values of ownership, freedom, and mutuality our business feels much less like
a machine and much more like an organism. The metaphor of understanding business like a
machine was fitting for the linear, engineering-led transformation business underwent in the
centuries. This was the time that coincided with the primacy of the left brain
to produce all the scale-based abundance we have today. But as with all good things, when we
overly rely on them we face anomalies that cannot be addressed from our previous mindsets.
Machines follow fixed processes, they break down when a part malfunctions, they use parts
that are replaceable, and they don’t have purposes. The paradigm we practice and believe is fit
for the 21st
century context is the whole-brain paradigm that uses both learned behavior as well
as intuition to create solutions. Instead of reacting to a stimulus mechanistically, we respond to
adapt and help clients adapt to shifts in the business environment. We expand our perspectives
to include not only certain outcomes but also uncertain yet exciting possibilities. We transcend
traditional notions of success to include a search for deeper significance for our clients, for our
teams, for society, and for ourselves.
The whole-brain transformation we suggest really matters. As Martin Sorrell notes, post-
Lehman’s collapse, the corporate psyche has undergone a lasting shift. Like the driver that
presses harder on the brakes when his car hits ice, businesses have doubled down on
linearization which will eventually cause them to further skid. As generating growth in
conventional ways has become more difficult, many businesses have reduced risk-taking and
instead have pushed harder on efficiency, rationalization, and value extraction rather value
creation. It isn’t hard to imagine that there is an expiration date to that strategy. Our
Insights2020 findings show that the companies who resist the automatic slam-the-brakes
temptation, who experiment, who redefine success to be more purposeful, and who transcend
lines to become more holistic are the ones who already are growing faster and doing more for
society and the planet than reactive businesses do. Therefore, fulfilling our mission of unlocking
the whole brain in business leaders isn’t only important for our own success but it matters in
bigger ways. Only looking back at what we create in several years’ time will we be able to
connect the dots of the significance of our professional lives. But as Steve Jobs says, if we love
what we do, we know the dots will connect.