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The Blog Files: timeless writings
Selected blog-posts 2012 – 2018 on topics related to creativity, innovation, social
entrepreneurship and sustainability
Introduction: what are you reading
From 2012 onward I regularly published blog posts on a variety of web-sites. Many of these
blogs are no longer accessible mostly because the sites ceased to exist or the posts
(inadvertently) got lost during technical upgrades. Fortunately I have found the source texts
of several of these posts.
As it turned out, even with several years between versions in many cases the primary
messages, visions and ideas conveyed in the initial posts remained quite relevant. I consider
all of the posts to be the result of asking inquisitive questions on a host of topics, exploring
beyond the common boundaries of these topics, and making new, sometimes seemingly far-
fetched connections. The fact that a few years down the line the connections still make
sense and some clearly having moved towards actual common sense tells me that the
messages are relevant enough to re-publish.
All in all, this publication contains about 20 blog posts that I have been able to recover and
that I consider worth publishing here. The texts below are the same as the original ones, only
references that don’t exist anymore or are too time-speciific have been removed.
The red thread as I see it: Be Curious about any topic and you may surprise yourself, and
readers (for better or worse) with the result of that curiosity. Possibly even a few years later.
All pictures in this document have been downloaded from www.pexels.com
This document has a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License
Feel free to send comments on any of the blogs to email@example.com
Introduction: what are you reading ........................................................................................................ 1
Group Access Power: new business model and cool vintage? (2012) .................................................... 3
Tweetonomics: do you sit on oil or produce fuel? (2012) ...................................................................... 5
Mega-cities: an urban or rural matter? (2013) ....................................................................................... 7
Of Tribes and Men (2013) ....................................................................................................................... 9
Open source next level: software is not all there is (2013) .................................................................. 11
Reverse this: a brief Tour of Innovation, with a punch (2013).............................................................. 13
A better society, relations vs transactions (2014)................................................................................. 15
Taking lessons from the Jazz of Nature (2014) ..................................................................................... 17
To Connect or not to Connect (2014).................................................................................................... 19
Relation economy revisited – stimulating “loyalties” (2015)................................................................ 22
The limits of circles (2015) .................................................................................................................... 24
The “Good Carbon” society: from RoI to YOLI’s (2016) ........................................................................ 26
Impact 3.0: Building a Pie Factory (2016).............................................................................................. 28
Putting some Jazz in Innovation (2016)................................................................................................. 31
The importance of Relevance for social entrepreneurs (2016) ............................................................ 34
Wherefore art thou Creativity, and Innovation? (2016) ....................................................................... 36
Responsible business: tracking the walk or cherishing the talk? (2017)............................................... 39
The Innovation ABC (2018).................................................................................................................... 41
The New ABC Blogs (2018 -).............................................................................................................. 43
Group Access Power: new business model and cool vintage? (2012)
Sometimes inspiration for new ideas, or as it turns out here, business models, comes from
not agreeing with what is out there. Get inspired by what you don’t like, to turn negative into
positive energy. In this case I’ll start with what I do like, after that I will elaborate a bit on what
the inspiration was, and why using ‘old news’ is not a bad thing.
Group Access Power
What I like is GAP. Group Access Power. A (business) way of thinking where Groups are
facilitated to get access to whatever they need from each other. In one direction: a market
that was not interesting, for example because the individuals were too inefficient to reach; in
the other direction, a solution provider that was inaccessible for example because of
unattractive financial conditions for individuals in need. So that opens up the third likely
partner in this arena: financial service providers. Dealing with a group rather than an
individual reduces risk and by enabling a connection between supply and demand they earn
previously inaccessible revenues. With an open mind you could apply this to any need but it
becomes all the more relevant when it concerns life’s necessities.
The world is my inspiration, even dislikes
Now, what was one of my inspirations? It was the well-known phenomenon called Groupon.
In a nutshell it convinces (mostly small) companies to provide a fat discount if a minimum
number of clients can be found for the particular offer. The company gets many clients and
Groupon gets a (large) % of the discount. Interesting business model. However if looked
upon from a sustainability perspective, I would consider it flawed. While governments across
crisis-struck countries convince us to consume more as only way out of the misery, from a
sustainability perspective I would say this is really not the paradigm to blindly follow.
Why do I think that? Basically because it is supply push instead of demand pull. There is a
something to be sold and the model seduces us to buy it. Regular stuff. But not the only way
the world should work, in my own opinion (and anyone is welcome to think differently).
However, how can it then still inspire me? Take what you don’t like and reverse it. By
definition that should result in something you like. In this case collect similar needs and find
solutions for that need. Most likely these solutions already exist, but just are not visible, or
rather, not accessible to the people who need them. Accessible in terms of physical,
psychological or financial terms. This is lose-lose situation because the people with a need
don’t have access to a solution and the solution providers miss out on a market they could
serve. Basically we see a number of groups here, passing each other as ships in the night.
Everything is a remix
Is this type of thinking new? Not necessarily. It feels a lot like cooperative or consumer-united
like structures: people wth similar needs unite in a group because as a group you have more
power to achieve something than by yourself, and dealing with a group is more efficient for a
But is it important that a way of thinking is brand new? In this case GAP in fact can bridge
gaps. Isn’t that more important? Many innovations are variations of or inspired by existing
things. Or as this video says: Everything is a remix.
Name of the Game
Perhaps one of the strongest parts of GAP is the name, and the fact that some strong
elements of other models are pulled together. No shame in that, everything is a remix, and
the power of the remix rather depends on letting it sound right, and being able to play the
music with modern instruments.
Tweetonomics: do you sit on oil or produce fuel? (2012)
Is Twitter evil and are tweets farts of the devil? Now that I have your attention: much has
been said about social media, their use, their banality, their tendency to immerse the planet
under a tsunami of mostly trivial information. Here I will explore only a few aspects of it,
mostly what this flow could mean in economic terms.
Focus on Twitter
For now I will focus on Twitter because it is more public than Facebook, and well, if you
compare Tweetonomics with Facebookonomics the latter does not really have the same
snappy ring to it now does it?
How I look at Twitter is primarily as a means of information sharing. In many cases it may be
dull, it may be boring, it may be downright toe-curling, but that is mostly in your own making. I
will get back to that. I am actually talking about the estimated 10% that is generally worth
reading. For me that 10% is part of a broader discussion on sharing of information and its
The values behind sharing information
In traditional modes of thinking, sharing information for free is considered to be for the naive
since information has value and value has to be paid for. Right? Look at the whole system
that revolves around patents and lawsuits. I will not get into that now. I mainly see
information-sharing tools like Twitter as potential distributors of social value. They open the
doors for generous flows of facts, insights, observations, trivia and all other variants. Yes, the
senders include self-absorbed ego-boosting “look at me” types, but so what?
Don’t like the contents of the soup that gets spit into your eyes through the screen? Well, in
the immortal words of Brian (from the Life of-movie): “You don’t need to follow me, you don’t
need to follow anyone”. Which means you have the choice to not follow, unfollow, or simply
not pay attention to whomever and whatever does not hold any value for you. You decide, it’s
your social prerogative. You decide what information, which sources and which exchanges
are valuable to you.
Tweetonomics: reflecting a new way of value exchange?
Tweetonomics therefore reflects how sharing is taken to a new level, and it may be a level
that we all still need to get used to. It seems to be a clear example of a new type of
engagement, where the value exchange is purely social, and here is the key point, without
any expectation of direct financial benefit (or cost). The real value does strongly depends on
you: as a sender, the more interesting you make your tweet, the more social value you
create, as a receiver you can add value by reading and using or sharing the information,
simply retweeting it, or by reacting on it.
The bits and bytes that make up the tweets are merely information. It’s old economy oil. And
just like sitting on oil is worth very little. It only turns into value once you are able to turn it into
fuel either by turning the bits and bytes into an interesting tweet, or by taking someone else’s
tweet and actually doing something with it. Absorb, share, react.
That’s Tweetonomics: extracting meaningful fuel from the waste-stream of oil. Generation of
value without financial transactions.
p.s. with initial version: this post has absolutely nothing to do with a book with the same
name, which uses Twitter-length sentences to explain economic concepts. It could be a good
read, I have no idea.
p.s. with this version: This post was written well before the rise of (the term) fake-news. By
and large the above still holds, but admittedly it is not always evident what is fake, just an
opinion, or fact. Which only puts more responsibility on the reader to be inquisitive instead
of just believing everything Internet pushes your way…
Mega-cities: an urban or rural matter? (2013)
In the quest for a more sustainable planet, increasing attention is being given to the
development of mega-cities. In a way this is understandable as the majority of people live in
cities nowadays and the rise of mega-cities seems unstoppable. By 2050 seven out of ten
people will live in (mega) cities, with besides some excitement a sh**-load of problems that
comes with it. So, that’s what we need to focus on, getting mega-cities out of the poo? Or
should we for now be a bit more inquisitive?
Between rock and a hard place
When striving to anticipate on or – as is more realistic – start curing the ailment that huge
metropolitan areas bring with them, quite different views exist. To outline the difficulties in
deciding which way to go, here are two views that both seem to have clear merits. But can
they both be right?
Vision 1: Majority rules: cities need our immediate attention
The point why (mega) cities deserve all our attention is crystal clear: the majority of people
world-wide is already living in urban areas, their percentage will only grow in the future. It is a
trend that cannot be reversed: urban areas simply attract people. We need to deal with it and
now rather than later.
Such dense concentrations of people cause all kinds of issues in all conceivable domains
ranging from waste, resource use, pollution, mobility issues (congestion), health, poverty,
crime and more. Knowing that these problems occur, we simply need to address them now,
before they get worse. We cannot afford, morally and financially, to let these problems fester
until they not only result in the literal traffic standstill, but also in steady decline in the quality
of life of all people in urban areas, as always starting with the weakest groups.
Fortunately, it is not all gloom and doom. Solving serious issues requires serious
innovativeness. And this is the one advantage of areas where people live so close together:
this means that not just bad viruses, but also good viruses can spread easily: ideas are
created where connections occur. The idea of cities being innovation hot spots is an often
heard vision. Cities obviously also have the human resources to actually execute the ideas.
So making financial resources available to invoke these processes is money well spent.
Vision 2: why would we mop the floor with the water running?
If you want to solve a problem, do you address the effects or the causes? Two of the known
reasons that cities become mega is because people feel attracted or forced to move there
because of the assumed allure, and because of lack of opportunities back home respectively.
So it really makes more than a little sense, that to address mega-city problems in a
structured way you simply have to reduce the number of people going there in the first place.
Better to prevent than to cure.
This in any logical line of reasoning means that more attention needs to be paid to
sustainable development of the other parts of the planet where people live. Conceptually, it is
more effective and efficient to spend time and energy on removing the causes. Stop the
water from running instead of just mopping up the floor with the faucet wide open. In
development cooperation, this paradigm is already becoming more mainstream: effective
support to countries to develop themselves, reduces the need to migrate to other countries.
Why would this paradigm not also hold within countries? Making the context where people
start out from more appealing and filled with more opportunities has multiple benefits: you
immediate improve lives of people not living in the largest cities and at the same time reduce
the pressure (and therefore problems) in these cities. That’s what you call a win-win.
Can we rock this hard place?
So where does this leave us? Can both visions be correct? And – in practice the question
that will receive most attention – where should money (public and private) go, since it can
only be spent once?
Well, we have no direct answer. This is actually one to fish out together. What however does
seem to be apparent is that the question about financing should be less “Who is going to pay
and how much to clean up the mess”, but rather “How can we organise pathways forward so
they are most effective overall?” In other words, we need the smartest paths, not the
cheapest ones. And this is where we will in all likelihood need everyone’s contribution.
Because in one way or the other, we are all affected by this theme.
Of Tribes and Men (2013)
We are witnessing a Tribal war, but it is not the one you might think. Let me explain. We
used to have the war between the main Tribes of “We want a better society” versus. “We like
things how they are now, because that is what we know”. This is not the battle I want to talk
about because in many ways it is a fight of which the decision is by and large known,
although not everyone may be happy with the result. I want to discuss a war that is in my
mind more interesting, although worrying.
Improving the planet, but not together
With the rising popularity of the desire to create a better society, there is a lot of fighting
between the sub-tribes of the “We want a better society” movement. Beware, they have
discovered marketing: Cradle to Cradle people call Sustainability boring - and oh yes, that is
meant in a bad way - the Blue Economy champions call the Green Economy flawed, and
Sustainability does not know why everyone is calling her names. The tribes fight for their own
piece of land by emphasising what is wrong with the other. And many people are stuck in the
middle. Dazed and confused.
From exclusive marketing …
It is all understandable. The warlords have all read the same marketing books. Thou shall’t
distinguish thyself. The Marketing Gurus smile ear to ear and order their next car. But
basically all this distinction is – to put it mildly – a load of bull’s testicles. A farce. Yes, I do
see the irony of using the metaphor of Tribes as a warning against thoughtless following of
‘leaders’ that only get into that position if they get their story sold. Because this is what these
self-appointed leaders read that they should do, right? That book is called “Tribes”, need I
… to an inclusive society
But to get back to the point, why is all this tribal distinction in this case a farce? Because it’s
all what you -want to!- make of it. If you drop your marketing glasses and look closer,
sustainability is not about doom and austerity, the ‘green’ economy is not about subsidies
and paying more and the blue economy is not about unprecedented heaven on Earth. What
they are about if you care about any of it is that they share a common denominator and that
to me seems more important. It is quite okay to be different, but rather because that creates
a diverse - and therefore more resilient - ecosystem, than as an excuse to enter into ugly
To the leaders of the different Sustainability tribes I say: quit wasting time and energy on
saying why the others didn’t get it and focus on the common goal. There is plenty to be done
and more than enough room for anyone with good ideas. If you increase the entire pie, every
precious individual piece will be larger as well. Now you are just fighting over crumbs, how
very Old Thinking…
To the tribal members and everyone else I say: don’t get distracted by the details of the
marketing stories that focus on the differences, but look at the bigger picture yourself. They
all want the same in essence and the War of the Sustainability Worlds only delays our
journey to this Better, Smarter, Inclusive Society, including the Planet. Don’t get bogged
down and dragged into petty word feuds claiming that the other started, because as a far
from novel quote wisely predicts: “an eye for an eye makes the world go blind”.
And that is the one thing we don’t need.
Open source next level: software is not all there is (2013)
It is time for a smart revolution to address the serious society’s issues. Therefore, we have to
take up a notch of what is necessary, not what is easy and known. We need to create a
system where economies-of-skill can thrive.
Most people will be familiar with the term ‘Open Source’. It refers to a way of developing new
knowledge and products (in the broadest sense), by collaborating and opening up the
intermediate results. The latter in a dedicated community or for everyone to see.
By far the most well-known examples can be found in the ICT and more in particular in the
software domain. That domain lends itself particularly well, because software code can be
‘produced’ in a distributed manner. This is different from decentralised production, where
basically the producer is the user. With distributed production, some extent of centralised
coordination and decision making is in order, to decide which of the contributions are
included. If these coordinators do not have vested interests and are knowledgeable on the
topic, they can objectively prioritise between bad, good and best contributions.
The model results in generally high quality products that are developed against much lower
costs than when everyone would set out to work on their own, and in all likelihood make the
same mistakes, stumble upon the same problems and generally waste time for a solution to
become available. It has been amply proven that by this mode of production money can still
be made off the end results, for example in the form of additional services, so it is not just a
happy-peppy ‘60s free-for-all cult thing.
Therefore, many people have wondered whether this model cannot be used to make more
rapid advances in domains that are in dire need of it, expecting that distributed development
of key knowledge will lead to more affordable products. Especially in areas like health care
(medicines), energy, clean technology, education etc. Areas that we find important and
generally suffer from high prices for end users because of the often intransparent and/or
inefficient and therefore expensive development process.
Attempts have been made in many areas, from coke, beer, cars, to education and books and
even some health care. Most notably, the books Our Common Future 2.0 (Dutch, completed)
and Business Model Generation have to a large extent been produced in an Open Source
manner. Feel free to read the Wikipedia (!) entry on Open Source for many more examples.
Besides software, there are however not many widely acknowledged success stories.
Will not work or Will not Try?
There seem to be a few reasons that are often stated why it would not work, and I strongly
wonder whether these reasons are really valid. For example: it is considered unfair if people
who contribute to the development would not benefit financially from the end result. After all,
software people are just geeks, so their example of free contributions does not count, right?
Especially when we talk about ‘societally relevant’ areas, there are however many people whi
would love to contribute and do not want to get rich out of that. As long as their efforts are not
suppressed and the results of the collaborative effort become available. People rather will
like to work together with and learn from like-minded people whom otherwise they would not
easily have met.
And then, who is to say that they don’t benefit financially. First, as is very apparent from the
software-domain, contributors do not need to stay anonymous. Therefore, everyone can see
who has been valuable in the process, which leads to all kinds of side benefits. This
immediately cancels out the argument of “free riders”. Yes, there will be those who consume
and don’t contribute but instead of constructing all kinds of rules to avoid this, the community
says “So what?”.
To get to market, you first need to explore
There is another important realisation: whereas the period for exploration and development
of the knowledge up to the points of breakthrough in many sectors is the most expensive
one, the actual final product is not yet on the market at that point. So why not collaborate
until that moment, save loads of time, money and redundant energy, and start the
competitive mode once key insights have been co-produced. After all, key knowledge stays
pretty useless until it can be applied, in actual products for actual users.
The skills to develop knowledge are vastly different than the skills to deploy that knowledge.
People understand that, so they contribute in the phase that they are best able to. Therefore,
the stakeholders that have an interest in getting products on the market and making some
money out of that should not feel threatened by this model, they should welcome it
wholeheartedly. Unless they doubt their own skills to actually be able to apply knowledge
quicker than their competition. The only favour they need to return to the contributors, and
the rest of society, is to make the products available against prices that reflect all the free
help they got in the development phase. Possibly with more creative “thank you’s” for the
people who contributed most.
It has often been argued that many people would not mind contributing to something that
may not directly yield them any personal financial results, as long as society would stand to
benefit. The main step that would need to be taken is to move away from the exact model as
is used in software. Take some distance and move to a “Public development, private
deployment” model. Let everyone do what they do best and everyone will benefit from the
economies-of-skill that are achieved in each phase.
Reverse this: a brief Tour of Innovation, with a punch (2013)
Each decade or so a new hip business trend takes its place in the spotlight. In this day and
age the biggest of the buzzwords is Innovation. It’s a bit of a big term, and many people are
justifiably confused what it means exactly. But they do know that if you act like you don’t
know, you are left behind. So when people start talking about “reverse innovation” you can
be sure to see a lot of head-nodding. Let’s have a closer look.
Sliding down the Pyramids
The companies that really feel that they are on top of things, have already moved to the
challenge of emerging markets. Most notably, the groups within these emerging markets that
have such a low purchasing power that until about ten years ago they were not considered to
be a relevant customer group for companies, which largely left them in the hands of charities.
Until Mr Prahalad and his colleagues enlightened the world, that these people at the ‘Base of
the Pyramid’ (BoP), while not having much cash to spend on an individual basis, still
represent an interesting, and totally untapped market. Easy math: 1 to 2 dollars a day,
multiplied by say 2 billion people, still makes for 3-4 billion dollars a day in purchasing power.
And then the group of people slightly higher up, another 2 billion of them, representing say 8
billion dollars a day. Together they constitute a sizable 5 trillion dollars a year in purchasing
power. That's roughly one third of the combined global GDP. Do you really want to ignore
that as a company?
The challenge of course is to be able to successfully develop and market products and
services for this target group, although the term “group” seems wildly simplistic. Anyway, to
get even close you can’t just take a product for a Western market and shave off some
features, change the colour, give it a local sounding name and knock off 50% of the price. It
needs to become 10 to 20 times more affordable, still be functioning properly, in likely worse
conditions (weather, usage) and probably distributed in a way that a Western retailer would
not think of. It is clear: if you manage to pull this off, to design and successfully distribute and
sell products and services in these markets you have done something interesting.
And then what?
So, that is it. That is the most audacious achievement in the realm of Innovation, right? Nope,
because it only just got interesting. Walk with me: if you manage to beat all these adverse
conditions (economically challenged people, real needs instead of luxury wishes, frugal
designs, less is more, totally different distribution models etc), then you could ask yourself:
can I do something with these new skills? Well, perhaps you can. To put it half-jokingly: if you
ignore the climate, language and other ‘trivialities’, many of the characteristics of groups at
the Base of the Pyramid are not as different as you might think from groups in Western
countries, especially people with limited access to (basic) quality of life solutions. These
particular groups of people ‘back home’, both in size and number, will be growing rather than
the opposite. This means they increasingly represent a big (market) opportunity in our
backyard, that companies currently do not serve yet.
Now we finally enter the area of what General Electric (GE) first coined with the term
“Reverse Innovation”. Instead of inventing something for a Western market, changing a few
details and then selling it in an emerging market (for BoP or to other customer groups),
reverse innovation takes the products, services and models that were developed subject to
many restrictions as starting point and attempts to introduce them in the Western context.
Some notable recent examples include low cost health care equipment, mobile payment
platforms and smart self-organisation models.
Anything wrong with that?
Conceptually, I love the whole idea. But as happened before, I have a problem with it. In
particular with the term and the association it creates. This is however, more than just
semantic dribble. While the thought behind why it should be called “reverse” is clear enough,
I object to what it implies. For what it implies is that the natural order of things is that ‘we’ try
out new things and apply them elsewhere, while the unnatural order of things is that
principles that turn out to work elsewhere could perhaps also work in our backyard.
This implication is more than arrogant, it is downright incorrect. A brief surf ride on the waves
of history immediately shows that important discoveries (I won’t even begin to mention more
philosophically inclined insights) that ‘we’ now consider as common and in existence since
eternity, were in fact invented or initiated elsewhere. And in several cases, we missed the
news and re-invented the wheel, so to say. I can mention the examples, you can also gaze
upon them yourself. Here’s the seemingly infinite list from China , India and medieval Islamic
territory. You could say that in much of human history ‘there’ at that time meant highly
developed cultures and ‘here’ ridiculous backwater, but still. Instead of creating the mindset
that if we talk about innovation ‘here’ is the natural starting point, and ‘there’ is not, it seems
to me that two completely other factors are the main determinants of the logical location for
innovation to sprout: necessity and culture. A necessity for thinking up new solutions, and a
culture that allows or even stimulates you to do so. That has to do much more with allowing
flow, e.g. consider the innovations that the Silk Road brought everyone than one particular
And now to the clue of the story
That to me is the natural order of things, the Mom and Dad of Innovation if you will. If we
have to stick a name tag on the concept of “innovations that originate in emerging markets”
and acknowledge that origin, then by all means bring back the high temperatures and the
skin colour that I removed from the story half way this post, and use this much more likeable
suggestion: Sunny side up innovation. If you like it, join me in spreading it. Smiley face!
A better society, relations vs transactions (2014)
Statement: to create a better society, social and sustainability minded entrepreneurs should
focus on designing their business models to stimulate relations instead of transactions.
Thinking about Sustainable Business Models evolves
It is not difficult to talk about sustainability. But like it or not, it will have to be linked into this
vague notion of “the economy”.
When an entrepreneur’s ambition is to create (positive) impact, it is not sufficient to focus on
the effects of processes (CSR 1.0), or the effects of products and services (CSR 2.0), a fully
holistic outlook is needed. In other words: making sure the whole business model results in a
better society (CSR 3.0 and beyond).
So far nothing really new. And this is where it becomes interesting. There is a small
momentum going on for publication on sustainability inducing business models. After reading
this blog, you can for example check out SustainAbility, and Forum for the Future amongst
many others. Triggered by such initiatives, a question kept popping up in my head.
Do we need an overarching vision?
What type of society would be conducive for sustainability to flourish? I am – intuitively, for
lack of a better word – convinced that we need a “Relation economy”. Putting time and effort
into building connections and therefore relationships that create value instead of charging
each other for each and every action. In other words: boost the Relation Economy at the cost
of the Transaction Economy.
This is not just a ‘philosophical’ view. In regular marketing, there is a term called “maximising
customer lifetime value”. This hardcore business concept unwittingly has some alignment
with sustainability, i.e., aiming to create value on the long term instead of just on the short
term. If we upgrade this hardcore term to “maximising relationship lifetime value”, we might
have something that approximates what I mean.
What examples do I have to explain the difference?
How might this be achieved? We can find another key in not-too-nichy management circles.
The work of Simon Sinek has attracted millions of people with his “Start with Why”-
presentation and book. In brief: if you first ask yourself Why you exist as a company, you
stand a decent chance of ending up with a What (what is it that you ‘sell’) that makes
meaning. If you start with thinking about what constitutes value for you and your
environment, and then align your earning strategy with that, it is much more likely to be in
line with sustainability than if you go at it vice versa.
Below I am sharing a diversity of real life examples, that demonstrate differences between
transaction and relationship oriented behaviour. See which you prefer, and how that would
translate to (your) business ideas.
1. Going for holistic propositions vs. charging each and every single element; I have
heard the latter referred to as #Ryanairdification. For non-Europeans: this is an ultra-
low cost airline in Europe that, apart from having just about the worst customer
service reputation imaginable, charges for everything from the moment you enter their
web-site. Taking more than 2 kg of luggage? Want to print your ticket less than 4
hours in advance? Want to print your ticket at the airport, at a machine? Want to see
a smile on a stewardess’s face? Kaching every time. Low prices have its cost…
2. Lighting up people’s lives and creating (durable) emotional attachment (have a look
later at the Philips Hue commercial for example) vs selling light bulbs for a living.
3. “Capturing value” by providing an answer to a question and getting paid for that
(consultancy model) vs. “capturing value” by determining whether the right question is
asked, i.e., is the right problem identified, and then consider whether solutions are
available or need work to arrive at first.
4. Most call centres use metrics that stimulate the employees to keep every incoming
call as short as possible. Until Zappos entered the scene They considered all calls as
a perfect opportunity to get much more insight in what moves and drives their
customers. There were no limitations on the length of phone calls.
New start-ups may struggle with their exact propositions and they face pressure to get cash
coming in. Still, should they keep customers who joined them in the start phase to their
contracts even if they know that they are not happy with these, or should they improve
arrangements even if this results in less revenues on the short term?
Will cynicism rule the day?
Old-thinking ambassadors may consider all of this a no-brainer: you need to charge
transactions or you will lose out economically. But this is not a given. More importantly,
pricing the short term can in many cases erode the long term. Yes, “On the long term we are
all dead”. This is also exactly the cynical attitude that creates crises.
Sustainability is about wholeness, systems thinking, seeing the bigger picture. You can cut
down the trees, but at a point sooner than you think the forest will be gone.
If social and sustainable entrepreneurs want to encourage and boost a sustainable society,
then ideally their own business and revenue models are consistent with that aim. In my view
it would be logical – and yes, challenging – for them to encourage the Relation Economy
instead of the Transaction Economy. The examples above give some direction of choices
that you have, but we need many more of them.
Is all of this realistic? I think it certainly can be and am supported in that opinion by a
conversation with a Sustainability manager of a – perhaps the – global leading company in
terms of integrating non-financial value creation with economic performance: “You just
formulated what we have been working on for the past 20 years in one term: thank you!”.
That’s what I call an endorsement. Income? Zero. Value? Incalculable.
Taking lessons from the Jazz of Nature (2014)
Blog published on Triple Pundit-site
Nature has been around for a while. People have been around for a considerably shorter
time. It is not strange to notice that calls are increasing for humanity to learn from how nature
works. Here I want to give a new twist to that call. In particular, I would like to zoom in on the
analogies between the world of Jazz and the compositions that nature has in store for us.
The obvious start: mimicking nature
Many authors have provided ample evidence of what nature does well and how we would
benefit from mimicking it. Since we are the allegedly most intelligent species on this planet
we would look very bad if we cannot manage to do that. In this post I will explore some
possible connections between nature’s mechanisms and human endeavours.
Let’s start jamming: Nature provides a combination of processes of mastering life’s skills with
adaptation to circumstances. That combination of a solid basis complemented with more
dynamic adjustments has turned our natural environment into a most formidable
development engine. Proficiency in being a living planet takes time, but that does not exclude
the option to introduce new variations. This is done as part of an autonomous process or
forced by circumstances, say an increasingly thick greenhouse gas blanket caused by one of
its species. Earth has a lot of experience to fall back on to move forward in an adjusted
direction, provided it is allowed the opportunity to do so.
Mix in some Music
Now let’s see what jazz, and especially improvisation, has in store for us. As explained in this
video, it is a misconception that improvisation strikes as lightning. In fact, it is anything but an
act of opportunistic randomness. It has serious grounding in some fundamental and
recognizable components: base tunes, rhythm, melody, harmony, internal consistency. This
grounding takes time. According to, for example, the famous statement in Malcolm
Gladwell’s Outliers, becoming proficient in anything takes 10.000 hours. Let’s not discuss the
exact number. The point seems to be: before you can aspire to do something special you
need to have the basics covered. Jazz experts often compare it to learning to speak or write:
you can’t say or write anything meaningful if you don’t know any words.
Experience as condition for creative change
So here is the analogy: you need experience to be able to change things. Oh yes. This goes
against notions that tell us that relying on experience from the past in general blinds you how
things could be done differently. What I think is closer to the truth is this: you may need
“inexperience” to suggest very new elements, say ideas or even more importantly make new
connections. But you need experience to see how these might fit, be developed further and
actually lead to something that makes sense. As long as you are open minded enough to
blend the new with the more mature. Just like in nature, old and new generations can best
work together. A young animal benefits from the experience of the family or larger group it
lives in, even if it also has to discover things on its own. And the older generation might then
help to channel new experiences into benefits for the group. Perhaps a tropical forest is an
even better metaphor than a group of animals.
Appreciate the notes to enjoy the songs
What might we learn from all these musings? I hope it is this: do not discount the past,
cherish solid skill building, introduce novelty by playing with variations to tunes and create
new compositions by jamming in new combinations, age and background wise.
Most of all: don’t rush through life doing “new things” and making changes all the time just for
the sake of “moving forward”. If you appreciate the notes you will get more enjoyment out of
creating new songs.
To Connect or not to Connect (2014)
Social relations influence us to a larger extent than -maybe- we think. Many people know
about the expression (six) degrees of separation. Besides it being a fun game, it can also
affect how we behave and think. This can be for the good (get inspired, gain knowledge), or
the bad (herding, group think).
Two sides of the same coin
Cutting to the chase, I think we can derive two “social connection” hypotheses, which describe
a similar effect, but in opposite directions. There is not one truth, both have merit and it might
be interesting to reflect on the question which direction will dominate in which circumstances.
1. The ‘Proximity’ thesis: if you are close to people you will get affected on opinion and
behaviour level. This is how we all start, for better or worse. In this article, you can read that
this may even result in people leaving less successful friends behind, if they feel that this
Proximity-effect is taking its toll, i.e., if they feel their friends are dragging them down. We get
back to this later.
2. The ‘Mentality’ thesis: you tend to draw closer to people that you feel a connection with.
This is what occurs a little later in life.
Watch a very entertaining video about these phenomena here, a TED speech by Nicholas
Christakis. By the way, somewhat bizarre proof for the second thesis was found in the sense
that friends share more DNA than non-friends… Will scientists engineer future friendships?
Proximity and Mentality in Co-creation
As a specific angle for this blog, what are the implications of these two theses for the much
(over+) praised concept of co-creation, and in particular co-creation competitions?
First the Mentality thesis: one of the principles behind the method of organising co-creation
processes is the assumption that people who are interested in the same theme, but may not
know each other at all, can constructively work together if we manage to draw them into the
same process. Becoming a part of a group with at least partially the same interests is
something utterly human, and therefore a good basis to move a challenging topic forward.
Some are idea creators, others enrichers, other entrepreneurs, the theme binds them.
The Proximity thesis is trickier: the quality of a co-creation process is - especially regarding
enrichment - to a large extent influenced by the diversity of the group. But this diversity should
in fact not lead to people copying each other’s ideas and opinions. To benefit from diversity,
you want to avoid groupthink. So in a way the Proximity thesis would be a threat for successful
co-creation. To contain it, the right group facilitation is essential.
Just for the good of the world?
How do the theses match the chosen incentives? The primary incentive for co-creation is to
achieve a shared goal – in many cases improving the world regarding theme X, Y, Z. The
Mentality draws people together, and then the Proximity-effects (see thesis 1) should be
contained to make sure diversity of the group is optimally used.
However, in many co-creation competitions prizes are awarded, and usually to individuals (or
teams), based on the quality of their idea. The idea has during the process been enriched by
others often through an on-line feedback process, hence the name co-creation. But who gets
the credit? In most cases the prize goes to the initial ‘idea owner’. This can create some
interesting tension: perhaps the idea has been improved so much because of the co-creation
effort, and the collective of commenters should get the prize? But what prize would fit the
mentality of achieving shared goals?
When you award individual prizes for specific answers to a particular question, it seems that
co-creation is not the main way to go, but it seems better to use a related method,
One of the rules of pure crowdsourcing is that the contributions or submissions of different
people are fully independent, so they cannot influence each other. This is important in case
interaction between the ideas might devalue the overall result, or in case of a “winner takes all”
situation might obscure who should be called the winner. Innocentive is one of the most
famous platforms for this: many parallel competitions about different topics, each with one
winner. In total it draws a high diversity of people, but the participants have very little if any
contact. There may be a weak Proximity-effect, you belong to a group of people with the same
interest but have no direct contact with them. The Mentality effect is totally absent since you
are not in touch with these others.
To be close or not to be close?
When dealing with serious societal issues, a competition might be more suitable for co-
creation. Banking on the interplay between people, not the individual strokes of brilliance. After
all, one person can have an idea, but to make it happen, we should rather think in terms of
Wennovation. Finding the right incentives for a Wennovate culture is then the challenge.
So how does that relate to the two theses above? In short, to get people to participate in a
process that requires them to interact, play into the Mentality thesis: emphasise the fact that by
participating they will become part of a group with similar interests. Referring back to the “lose
your unsuccessful friends” article, you might consider the opposite version: gain ‘successful’
friends in terms of people that share your interests, and create actual success by working
Secondly, to get the best results for a particular challenge, assess very well the type of
problem that you want to see solved. If the originality of thought is important, move towards
the crowdsourcing end of the spectrum (anti-Proximity if you will). If a good result depends on
the power of connections that is fed by hunches, knowledge diversity, and human interaction,
in general you may want to move towards co-creation, but with explicit attention for preventing
Feel free to play with these Mentality and Proximity angles, for example by consciously
reflecting in which circumstances you choose which direction, what roles incentives play and
whatever you consider interesting. In any case don’t have too many illusions about “being an
individual”. The point is however, and we used the example of co-creation here, that you can
use it to your advantage, hopefully more so than the audience of Brian 35 years ago.
The initial version of this blog was written in cooperation with Akis Voudigaris
P.S. the term Wennovation is definitely not mine to claim, others have used it before, e.g., this
initiative. Feel free to explore how they and others use the term.
Relation economy revisited – stimulating “loyalties” (2015)
In a previous blog, I touched on a line of thinking that received some support, so it deserves
a follow up. Here I (will) suggest a few more concrete examples of stimulating “loyalties” as
opposed to say the traditional “royalties”.
We live in an increasingly hyper-dynamic “click and swipe” culture. The main point in a
previous on this topic was the assertion that this “transaction economy” may not just be a hip
and happening heaven. For starters, it promotes a lot of short term focused thinking, while
doing little to stimulate long(er) term relationships. Cashing trumps Creating.
So when so many troops seem to be marching to one side, I am naturally inclined to have a
closer look at what they are turning their back towards and whether it’s all bad news on that
side. Below I share some idea directions how stronger instead of weaker connections might
be formed. They need more work, but more than that: will.
What’s so royal about “royalties”?
Watch any episode of Shark Tank and you’ll see a deal proposed by investors where they
invest one off and get a royalty for each product sold which becomes less (but may last
infinitely) once they have recouped their money. You might call that a long term link, but not
a relationship. The investor can sit back and watch the money flow in.
You might think of different variants to change that dynamic. For example a linked equity
deal: they take some equity and the longer they keep it (i.e., stay involved in the
relationship), the higher the royalties get. Or: they start with equity (symbolising they are
serious), which after some years is turned into royalties. Not cashing on the shortest possible
term, but later on, which is an incentive to help a company really grow instead of founders
and funders sprinting to the exit-gate.
Similarly, for inventors that license out, instead of just going for a lazy traditional royalty deal,
combine a contribution for your past work with a long term investment for more work. That
way both parties stand to gain from making sure you can continue to benefit from each
other’s proximity without having to keep a constant eye on the cash register.
In other words, why not experiment a bit with these forms of “loyalties” as an impetus to
create real commitment and long term thinking?
Mutual Flex friends, with benefits
Looking at in particular contemporary non-profit organisations, volunteers with various
degrees of intensity usually join because they like what the organisation stands for. But if you
ask them why they stay, or what impressed them the most, many times the answer is
“working together with great people”. Annoying isn’t it? People again, that hopelessly out-
dated concept. But if people are indeed a core asset then keeping these people, in all
shapes and forms, closely connected might make some sense.
To explore just one example: how to deal with ‘flex workers’? They can have several reasons
for not wanting to be tied to (just) one working place. On the organisation side, the volume of
work available is fluctuating, so having some form of a flex pool makes sense. If the
cooperation was successful in the past how can you combine flexibility with commitment, for
As an organisation, you can think for example about compensating for the flex worker’s risk
of “no projects” by contributing to their pension or other costs that can run very high. In return
they can remain flexible, but choose the organisation(s) that cherish a stronger connection
when there are options for several projects. Because the financial buffer they need to build is
already covered in the “relationship fee”, they can charge a lower hour rate. Everybody wins.
‘Bank’ on staying on board - Time Bandits
We live in an era in which ‘labour relations’ are becoming more flexible. Depending on whom
you talk to, this is either heaven or hell. Obviously it can be both, and regulators will have a
hard time accommodating the transition. We can wait and see or help shape it.
Are flexible labour relations to be equated with just benefits? Just to throw a “bat into the hen
house”: what would happen if a stronger relationship would be valued, also financially?
People can come and go as they or a company chooses, but if you decide to stay on the
page instead of swiping it away, there might be something in it for both. For example: the
longer an employee puts efforts into making the relationship last, the lower the income tax
becomes. and similarly: regressive employer contribution to social security with time as well.
No one is forcing anyone to keep something going that needs to be stopped, but effort to
build is rewarded. Obviously, this measure requires an evolution in government policies. This
evolution does however make sense for governments, at least if they value the type of
society that appreciates social fabric. After all, governments fiscally favour stronger
connections in the personal domain (e.g. married couples usually have a host of tax
benefits), so why not in the personnel domain?
What do you count, what do you cherish?
We could go on, but I won’t, for now. There might be and there actually are many other
examples but foremost interesting discussions, if we choose to have them. Paradigms are
changing, but in which direction and how automatically also depends on us. Yes, a mental
effort will be required to look further than the next corner. No one promised life would be
easy and it may be over at any point in the future. The question is rather: do you want to
spend your time counting the seconds, or cherishing the years?
The limits of circles (2015)
In these times of often cited ‘economic crisis’, we are continuously encouraged by our
political leaders to do everything in our power to create economic growth. The main metric
still used to measure whether we are achieving this is – an increase in - GDP (Gross
Domestic Product), a highly simplistic and misleading metric. The way that ordinary people
are stimulated to contribute to his is to buy stuff: consume ourselves out of the misery.
More consumption = more economic output = an increase in GDP. Hail. First consume – with
which money might we ask, but that’s a whole different story - and then worry about the
effects of a giant heap of waste later. But alternatives are looming around the corner.
The circular economy and my problems with it
Alternatives exist, most notably the concept of the Circular Economy. At first sight a good
and thoughtful principle: stop the linear model and turn it into a circular one, where resources
don’t end up as waste. But good concepts need critical reviews as well. So here’s the devil’s
advocate view: a problem I myself experience with this concept mostly has to do with the
inadvertent mindset that could be created by the terminology.
Just like I have problems with ‘balance’ (implying striving for a static world) and ‘out of the
box’ (implying there is still a box to seriously consider), ‘circular’ for me has as a first
connotation “ending up where you started”. One of the problems of all these terms is that
they sound very sensible and realistic. However, such sentiments are seldom a good starting
point for a vibrant and creative forward looking attitude. It also implies still a 2-dimensional
way to act, although one could claim that the third dimension is time.
Still, I would like to encourage better 3 (or actually 4) dimensional thinking by introducing the
metaphor of the upward spiral.
With each ‘full circle’ you don’t end up where you started, you end up in a better situation. In
terms of metrics, this means we don’t necessarily have to abandon GDP entirely. Flawed as
it is, economists may be too hard pressed to let their baby go just yet. Instead, it is
complemented by other metrics. Take your pick: Health, Happiness, Reduction of
environmental degradation, reduction of extracted resources etc. Instead of focusing on
increase of GDP, the other numbers need to improve as well to be able to call it real
So, an increased GDP because we all spend much more time in hospitals and buying
medicines: no more! An increased GDP with the amount of extracted resources also
increasing: no dice, no progress. Each iteration, each action, each policy measure needs to
take into account the necessity of ‘scoring’ on multiple dimensions. Perhaps we can even
start to acknowledge progress (i.e., multi-dimensional growth) if GDP is not increasing, but
many of the other things that we measure are. Check this blog for a very similar call (and
there are many more). Act like we are living in a 3D world, but look at it with your own eyes
and not through the fancy glasses.
Get in line to improve the world, but avoid the traffic jam
The good intentions of the protagonists of a circular economy deserve more inspiring
metaphors and terminology. We have to move forward, in a smart way, in a creative way and
guided by the ambition to generate a multi-dimensional improvement with everything we do,
not just to end up where we started. By thinking in spirals instead of circles the whole
concept of a ‘Circular Economy’ will be improved as well. This is necessary because we have
won very little if all resources just are brought back to where they entered the economy, but
no one’s life has been improved, and we’re all stuck in the traffic jam caused by this massive
extra transport… It is not that difficult to design a solution in a way that is in line with my
spiral metaphor. But I will not spoil everything just yet by disclosing that here.
p.s. for more information on the Circular economy you can start here. It actually clarifies that
beyond its name, it could contain several of the aspects as promoted above. For attempts to
shed or rather, modernise the GDP-paradigm, check for example this link, and this one.
The “Good Carbon” society: from RoI to YOLI’s (2016)
Life is confusing. Just when there seems to be a critical mass of people working on reducing
carbon, CO2, greenhouse gasses and the lot, I give you this: “Celebrate Carbon”. No, this is
not a sell out to the Dark Side, quite the opposite.
The Value of Money: a slow hunch develops
Ideas tend to develop with bursts. You hear something, you write some words on the topic,
you can’t really do anything with it at that point but it stays present in your mind, you see
events being announced, and “click”, there is the relevant connection. That is also how the
idea that I discuss below has evolved.
The base thought is this: if you get down to the core of it, the actual purpose of generating
and increasing the volume of money, is to improve the Quality of Life of People. Granted, the
People who benefit and the Quality they receive may not be a source of joy for all, but the
principle remains. Money is used to do things and acquire stuff with, which ultimately should
do something in terms of life improvement, including downright survival.
What is Life?
Now what, again taking it to the core, is Life? Using the premise that “rock” does not live, we
could say that life is all that breathes, e.g., flora, fauna and as a particularly dominant
species, human beings. What do we all have in common, besides the ‘breathing’: we are
organic. More importantly, we are all carbon based. Oh yes, just like it is a shock for some
people to realise that they are a mammal, it is worse, the stuff that is holding the 70% water
together is carbon.
Would we consider this fact useful, in terms of our existence? I would. If you agree as well, it
logically follows that unless you want all people (and other organic life forms) to die, you
could say that there is such a thing as “Good Carbon”. Still following?
Straight through the middle
As we have now established that good carbon exists, and we also know that bad carbon
exists, i.e., the carbon that is emitted and above a certain threshold turns our nice little
greenhouse in an unpredictable climate roller coaster, what gives with this seeming
Well, perhaps we can stop the contradiction if we stop taking indirect routes to our goal.
Because, if the eventual goal of creating money is improving quality of life, why not go there
directly? Why not – without unnecessary steps via the road of Bad Carbon – travel directly on
the road of Good Carbon, the road that starts improving Quality of Life of all Organic Life
forms, while we are travelling.
For example, instead of putting up buildings that take energy, start creating health-improving
and otherwise regenerative buildings. Instead of investing in government bonds for
continuation of business as usual, invest in reforestation. Instead of investing in hospital
buildings, invest in social structures that prevent or detect disease in an early stage.
Funding the transition
As always, such a transition takes time, and investments. Sizable ones. Although with some
smart choices these investments may not even be that prohibitive: putting up a health-
inducing instead of energy consuming building will start earning money back for society from
the start, although the benefits may also be for others than the direct investors.
So, what type of parties are we looking for to help kick start this transition? We need parties
that have 1) deep pockets, 2) an interest in societal improvements on both short and long
term, 3) a line of work that prefers a habitable planet, 4) the power to use different metrics
instead of just traditional RoI.
Can you identify a stakeholder like that? I would say, an obvious set of candidates are the
pension funds. For example in the Netherlands alone they manage a capital base that
exceeds the national BNP, i.e., they have more money to spend than the entire country
combined. And as we all know once an ‘oil tanker’ starts changing course, it will be easier for
others to follow suit. Even more so, with so much water starting to move, smaller players
better move in the same direction or get splashed.
Metrics for a Good Carbon Society
So, how do we get there? Well for starters, I hope that people who happen to work at a
Pension Fund take notice. They have the power to start this change. Because it does not
require a revolution. Merely a decision to start shifting investments towards measures that
improve Quality of Life, and not just for the future but starting now. It does not even have to
happen overnight, just phase it in. This can be supported by measuring the return differently.
Not just the boring Return on Investment mind-set, but enhanced by the Return on
Improvement thinking. How many Years of Organic Life Improved, YOLI’s are you creating?
Sounds nicer too…
As one consequence we might even all contemplate to eventually receive our pension
payments not in money, but in (access to) the actual services that we will use that money for
to maintain a pleasant life at an older age. What a wonderful circular thought… But I will
leave that discussion for another time. Time to take a breath.
Impact 3.0: Building a Pie Factory (2016)
According to common innovation wisdom (see note at the bottom of this blog post for more
information) real innovation happens at “the next curve”. I don’t beg to differ. On the contrary,
I will say that for innovators dealing with social issues, the slightly changed version would be
“Real Impact happens at the next curve”. Then the logical question becomes: what is “the
next impact curve?” My proposition: building a Pie factory. Let me explain.
If impact were a pie…
The argument goes like this: if you innovate (i.e., move) on an existing curve, you can
achieve incremental improvements, gain say 2% with each step. If you jump to next curves,
you can achieve improvements that are 2 (or 4 or 10) times better. Translate this to the aim
to achieve social impact. First curve: achieving a little more impact yourself by focusing on
and competing with others for the crumbs of a small pie. Second curve: working together for
the same cause to increase the size of the pie so every impact-piece becomes bigger as
well. This still hits in a limit, so I want to add the third curve: building a Pie Factory, a
metaphorical one, of course: empower people to achieve their own impact, alone and
together, in different flavours and shapes.
Sounds excellent, example por favor?
So far so good, love the metaphor, but what would that look like in practice? There are many
cases that demonstrate the idea in practice. Below follows a range of examples, deliberately
not described and analysed in minute detail to leave room for your own musings.
curve: Buying and selling new fuel efficient cars
curve: Sharing cars with limited number of people (e.g. car pooling)
curve: Creating a platform for sharing cars (each country has examples)
curve: Manufacture furniture
curve: Provide the parts and a manual for home assembly (IKEA model)
curve: Full DIY instructions + 3D printing service
curve: Use Investor rounds for financing your company
curve: Crowdfunding to open up to more investors
curve: Starting a Crowdfunding platform
Closer to home (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), based on the example of RotterZwam
curve: Growing and selling mushrooms
curve: Cooperating with companies to obtain their coffee grounds to grow mushrooms on
and sell them (less waste for them, revenues for you)
curve: Facilitate others and show them how to do this themselves with a Growkit.
Why are Pie factories good for sustainability?
As shown in many of the examples, the “Pie Factory”-versions show some similar
• more impact comes not necessarily from global expansion, but from playing into very
local needs. This brings the possibility for people of changing something themselves
much closer to home, and therefore…
• … many people (also individuals) are more empowered to take charge themselves
instead of being part of a recipient group that companies sell their stuff to. This makes
“taking charge” more actionable, for more people.
• It is actually fun to make a change, and it becomes easier.
What is the relevance if you are an organisation that supports (social) enterprises? Put plain
and simple: become a Pie factory with many flavours and shapes of ‘pie’. Strive to give
ventures a good starting position but then they have to go out there and achieve the impact
they aim for themselves. Be it in terms of quality of life of rickshaw drivers, improved incomes
of artisans, affordable food for migrant workers etc. Support organisations don’t sell the
products or work together to sell more products, they empower entrepreneurs to achieve
their own impact and in that way, the total impact becomes much bigger. Ideally the business
models of the start-ups on their turn also empower others.
Why are there not more pie factories yet?
So if all this is true, why are not more social impact-driven companies and support
organisations doing this? I think there are two main reasons.
1) There are more uncertainties: the exact results and outcome of the “3rd
curves” are much
less certain than for a first curve-venture, because it depends on what the “empowered
people” do. This can be a problem if society at large and direct stakeholders define your
success in traditional metrics like “number of units sold”, or “emissions were reduced by x%”.
You may not be able to say, foresee or even aim for this. And this makes people nervous.
2) It is less evident how to draw sufficient revenues from a 3rd
curve model. Any company
that just sells a product has a clear revenue model (X units times price Y), the 2nd
curves require more creativity, more experimenting. This is where entrepreneurs
come in. So “let a thousand flowers blossom” and be inspired but not limited by current
frontrunners. The road to success may be less obvious, but let me make a bold statement:
companies that stick to a pure 1st
curve model will be on the endangered species list within
then tears. The world is moving and if you don’t adapt, you die.
What’s in it for you?
Suggested take away from this blog: if even just as a thought exercise, try to imagine what
curve you, your company or sector is in and what the next curve might look like, and if you
are up to it, how you could get there. If you find yourself in a situation where your biggest
problem is that you don’t know where on earth need to get the right permit for building your
metaphorical Pie factory, you are well on your way.
Links for further reading:
Video link: Guy Kawasaki, Art of Innovation; story about innovation curves starts at 4 minutes
in, but better to watch the whole video, well recommended.
The case of Rotterzwam.
Putting some Jazz in Innovation (2016)
Are you serious? Jazz I am. I care about inspiration in questions, solutions and the entire
process to get from one to the other. And I think looking at Jazz might help. How? Let’s find
out. This blog is a compressed combination and update of two blogs I wrote earlier.
Free association: 50 shades of blue
In the process from nothing to say, a successful start-up, many activities are necessary.
Especially the first part – getting ideas and enriching them – provides some room for
experiments. This phase tends to be particularly fuzzy.
I’m not talking about traditional brainstorming here, free association and so on. It’s a painful
but known phenomenon that human beings are notoriously bad in combining the two rules of
“free association” and “defer your judgement”. I know I’m stepping on toes with this
statement… However, if you ask 100 people to free associate on “the colour blue”, 98 will
say “sky” or “water” and only the occasional daredevil will come up with “smurf”, “moon”,
“whale” or even more creative thoughts. Just saying “free your mind” does not cut it.
Looking at Miles
So, what do you need to do to really free your mind to be able to make new combinations,
ask new questions and work around problems that are too daunting for others? For starters,
you inherently need to look outside your regular domain. How? One of the areas that I
became fascinated in is the one of Jazz (improvisation). I encountered the possible link
between Jazz and organizations (leadership to be exact, see for example here and here)
some time ago and decided to let my thoughts about it ripen for a while. Now it’s time to pick
up the trumpet. Miles, are you hearing me?
Catching the uncatchable
Jazz improv incorporates characteristics that have a lot to do with intuition, “balancing
freedom and constraints”, “design for serendipity”, orchestrating (literally) instead of
managing and so on. Now the tricky thing is, can you capture or influence inherently
intangible phenomena like intuition and serendipity? Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers
famously said, and he was not the first, that what we perceive as talent and intuition to do the
right thing at the right time in the vast majority of cases has a lot to do with practising. A lot.
10,000 hours on average as it turns out.
My quest then became to see if there is a way in which we can try to make the principles that
govern the improve of jazz musicians more explicit. Trying to identify the tacit knowledge,
capturing it somehow and bringing these principles to the surface. In a way the almost
counter-intuitive challenge here is to catch the uncatchable. Not “Just free associate”, but
something more concrete. Could we do that?
Together with two junior jazz musicians I analysed what seems to happen during a jazz
improv session and we did a bit of research on what experts have to say about it. One
important eye-opener was that probably contrary to what many people think, improv (i.e.,
creativity) is built on deep proficiency. You need to master the notes before you can start
playing tunes let alone devise seemingly ad hoc variations. A point explained in this video
and expanded upon in this blog.
In the end we used the following main principles as building blocks to set up a creative
• Build narratives, focus more on new connections than on single ideas
• Use different skills, start with skills that people are proficient in. Improvisation is rooted in
being good, nay excellent, at the basics.
• Make sure the process has a good level of unpredictability, even noise.
• Allow interpretations to take the process into different directions than ‘intended’
So, what did this result in? For starters, we tried to stimulate all the senses, in a way that
they connect with each other. So people in the session ‘play different instruments’: not just
talking, but also writing, drawing and making sounds, possibly complemented by someone
showing visuals that ‘capture the mood’. Finally, there is a jam leader, responsible for loosely
directing the flow.
Interpretations and narratives
What we did instead of having rounds of people saying random associations out loud, was to
let the participants build on each other’s idea, but using their own instrument: writing,
drawing, talking. The transitions then were dependent more on their interpretations of what
their predecessor thought up.
By letting everyone participate based on their proficiencies, and allowing several
interpretations in the process, the final result for each ‘round’ was much less predictable than
in regular sessions. The transitions in a way encouraged ‘noise’. In next rounds the
associations were combined to form small narratives. To allow that to materialise even more,
an intermediate round was aimed at creating ‘original problem statement narratives’, instead
of jumping straight to ‘solutions’ which often happens when trying to come up with ideas.
Fish be happy
While the main aim was just to practise this type of experiment, in the end some of the
results were in fact very nice already, with ideas ranging from clearly impossible to potentially
feasible. Some examples? The chosen theme was Noise pollution under water being harmful
for animals. Some first round results were frozen rivers, airplanes, waves, birth, death,
evolution, dead people flying, love noise. Arguably many of these were quite creative.
More interestingly, two of the generated problem statement narratives were: How can you
relocate noise? and How can a problem evolve to an opportunity? Some of the results in the
final round (answers to the problem) included: manipulate the sounds so they can work in a
therapeutic way, freeze sounds, and inhibit sounds by using different materials. And let’s not
forget let animals evolve into adaptable noise-cherishing versions…
Onward and (diagonally?) upward
It won’t change the world just yet, but it is a promising start for unleashing more creativity to
get there. We did face some challenges of course. Ironically, given the fact that music was
the main inspiration for the experiment in the first place, the biggest hurdle was how to
prevent the sounds (music!) as integral part of the session becoming too much of a
distraction. Like in all properly executed innovation, such issues only call for a slightly
amended version next time.
I would love to hear back from others who have done something similar or have other
thoughts to move this type of thinking, and acting, forward.
The importance of Relevance for social entrepreneurs (2016)
“If efficiency is your ONLY master, relevance will suffer”
For more than a decade we have seen a proliferation of statements regarding the inefficiency
of charity-based aid and development programmes. For the purpose of this blog post I do not
want to go into the discussion whether it is a law of nature that charity-based programmes
are inefficient. What we can safely say is that initiatives that solely rely on charity (donations
and subsidies) make themselves vulnerable: their inflow of funding may dry up anytime, also
before they have achieved their goals.
Where social entrepreneurship comes in
This is where social entrepreneurship makes its entrance. Social entrepreneurs aim to
achieve a positive social (which may include environmental) impact with an autonomous
earnings model. What they provide constitutes value and they have found a way to capture
that value financially, paid for by their direct beneficiaries (end-users) and interested 3rd
parties. Put simply, the difference with previous paradigms is that the combination of the
primary aim to achieve positive social impact and having an autonomous earnings model is
now a possibility. Previously it felt like having to choose one or the other.
In this new world of combined social impact and financial self-sustainability the volume of
revenue streams depend on how well a social entrepreneur performs its activities, not on
gifts and government support. There is however also a strong need to pay attention to the
cost side, i.e., pay attention to “efficiency”, especially because the revenue streams are likely
to be less voluminous than companies who put ‘just another product’ in the market. Once
again, whether charities do not pay this attention is beyond the scope of this article. My
concern is the social entrepreneurs: how well are they able to manage the mix of achieving
impact (being relevant), attracting revenues (being financially autonomous) and working in a
sufficiently efficient way (managing the cost side)?
Mixing it up, in a good way
A social enterprise basically has to combine three mind-sets: the entrepreneurial mind-set
takes care of financially capturing the value that is created (the revenue streams), the social
mind-set takes care of the creation of impact (relevance), and the management mind-set
takes care of the efficiency. In my mind one of the biggest pitfalls is that the management
mind-set gradually takes over. The entrepreneurial mind-set will have to satisfy “social
investors” but more often than not these are still first and foremost investors and thus want to
see a financial return. The social mind-set will have to make sure that the activities achieve
impact, i.e., that the enterprise stays relevant. So where does this leave the management
mind-set, i.e., the focus on achieving efficiency on the cost side?
This is my assertion: if due to whatever reason the management mind-set takes over and
pushes the efficiency considerations too high on the agenda, there is a serious risk that the
social mind-set will suffer. This means the creation of actual impact, and therefore relevance
will decrease and obviously in due time this will erode the revenue streams.
Achieving the virtuous circle
What can we conclude, if anything? I think two things: more so than in regular companies,
social entrepreneurs need to be the ultimate business cooks. If the statement is true that the
majority of entrepreneurs that start a company are in it to make meaning, change the world
etc, then this prospect should attract them: their challenge and therefore achievement will be
more impressive. Secondly, a regular check back is required to make sure that the three
pillars are in check, or even better push each other upwards in a virtuous circle: achieving
more impact equals increasing revenue streams providing opportunity to create efficiencies
that make sense, e.g. based on being able to scale. The focus should be on scaling the
impact, bot necessarily on scaling the venture. If the emphasis is on the latter just for the
purpose of “growth = efficiency of scale”, the former may easily suffer.
Don’t kill your chickens
It’s a variant of the ancient chicken-egg question. To use that analogy, the egg needs time to
be hatched to its full potential, and replacing the chicken with cheaper, possibly more
efficient, artificial heat sources is not the solution. Just going for the egg gives you focus but
you lose the broader picture, i.e., generating more eggs. In short: social entrepreneurs, don’t
kill your chickens. It costs money to feed them, but without it you will soon suffer the
This blog is a slightly updated version of the original.
Wherefore art thou Creativity, and Innovation? (2016)
The great minstrel William S. was often misquoted in writing “Where art thou, Romeo”, the
actual phrase was “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Or in other words: why do you exist?? We
might ask the same questions about the illustrious concepts of Creativity and Innovation.
While sometimes these are considered the same, the answer for these two, in my mind,
turns out to be very different.
Creativity: Rebel without a cause?
To immediately get to the point, the key question is whether Creativity needs a direct
purpose i.e., needs to work towards an accepted result. Or whether it (also) makes sense to
stimulate creativity (i.e., generating novelty with a spark) because it serves a higher not
strictly defined purpose? And if so, what are the implications?
This is how I see it: if we want people to be creative, start with the basics. This may very well
mean that we need to allow more space for creativity to be exercised during our formative
years. For ease of use, let’s call these our school years. This does not necessarily mean
that creativity needs to be trained according to guidelines, learning goals, formal testing and
grading. Grading children’s creativity will motivate them to do exactly what they are told to
pass the course. By the way, I doubt whether adults will react differently if the same types of
incentives are being used.
Rather than grading the result, the emphasis should be on developing the intrinsic motivation
to get the basics covered. To me these basics are: 1. Cherish the process of creating without
being obsessed with the result, and 2. Be inquisitive: put effort into formulating a better
question may be more valuable than giving the perfect answer to a bad or irrelevant
question. However, this capability is discouraged between 6 and 18, or even up till in your
twenties. We are – by and large – trained to produce answers, reproducing knowledge
humanity already knows. Don’t get me wrong, knowing what we know is valuable, but mainly
as a basis to discover more on what we don’t know. One initiative – in education and broader
- that is trying to turn the tide is the site (plus book, blog etc) A more beautiful question
(#AMBQ). I recommend to take a stroll there. You will amongst others find out that in fact the
second week of March [in the year of initial publication] was Question Week.
We cannot demand from people to be creative, i.e. create something novel, if their progress
is solely assessed based on their capacity to do what is expected of them, and/or to
reproduce everything that is not novel.
“Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” (Einstein)
Innovation: Rebel with a Cause?
Innovation is a rather different story. Just a new idea, without a purpose, or follow up in
practice, remains ‘just’ an idea. For innovators, this is not enough. An idea needs to be
translated into something that can be used in practice, or is “adopted by the market”.
It is important to remember that a new idea, especially when it has indeed been
implemented, is not necessarily something we need to be happy about. Atomic bombs, ponzi
schemes, obscure financial derivatives, drugs. they all started as innovations: they were
novel and have been implemented at some point in time. But should we just for that reason
uncritically applaud them?
To move from an idea to an innovation, the ‘Why’ or ‘Wherefore’ question cannot be asked
enough. Not everyone can have the incredible skill-set of Leonardo Da Vinci, but there is no
excuse for not wanting to know more. Inquisitiveness is the key to any progress ever made.
Whereas with Creativity the purpose of this is ‘to create’, for innovation the purpose is to
make sure it does have meaning. One recommended book on starting anything, but
especially companies, acknowledged this as such [Art of the Start, 2.0]: on top of the Holy
Grail for entrepreneurs (Economic Viability), also make sure your “to be implemented idea”
has meaning (Value) and is in line with your larger vision.
Especially if your aim is to address major problems in society, as one can agree is the goal of
social entrepreneurship, the starting point is a problem. But we have to be critical about the
definition of that problem and whether it is worth solving. A million app developers and some
of their investor posse in Silicon Valley may focus on the profit-potential rather than how
meaningful the idea is. Social entrepreneurs however have a duty to reflect more critically on
the meaning (= value for society) of their innovation, the problem that it aims to solve. Even
when we leave aside that subjective judgement, we can see that without market acceptance
there is no innovation.
“Without market acceptance, there is no innovation (like it or not)”
So then wherefore indeed, art thou, Creativity, and Innovation?
Here’s the 101: innovation cannot exist without a purpose and whether that purpose is
something humanity will be happy about depends on the world vision of the “innovators”. To
achieve innovation, at some point Creativity has come into play. By definition: you cannot
achieve novelty without the skill of creating.
Vice versa, Creativity does not need Innovation to be worthwhile because it has intrinsic
value, that also goes beyond the professional sphere. Quite some work has been published
about the links between creativity (not only by the “creative sector”) and liveability, for
example. Note, this is a (strong) opinion. There are also people who feel that Creativity also
needs to serve a purpose otherwise it is an exercise in vanity. What I think they mean is that
just creating new ideas without any of them reaching “the market” is a waste of resources.
See, that’s innovation. Note the difference…
This is what it boils down to: before you can hope to successfully innovate with a purpose
and achieve success, the underlying skill of Creativity needs to be present. But here is the
catch: for the process of becoming more creative you may have to accept that there will not
be a direct, concrete, definable purpose. You don’t saw seeds expecting to eat the fruits the
next day. If you see it differently, good luck.
Post-note: this blog post was written and published end of 2015 on several sites (by me, so
no copyright issues), but most urls turned void because of technical reasons. So hereby
Acknowledgements with original post:
This post was amongst others inspired by two earlier articles in the Dutch initiative of
“investigative journalism”, De Correspondent. That initiative is an example of a counterforce
against the ‘click and swipe’ culture, fast consumerism of anything (in this case news),
instead of building something lasting and meaningful. I have written blogs about that as well,
they will be republished soon.
“Hoe creativiteit een talent van iedereen en een oplossing voor alles werd”, De
Correspondent, 16 Februari 2015. Article on creativity.
“Gij zult innoveren!”, De Correspondent, 6 November 2013.
Article on innovation.
Responsible business: tracking the walk or cherishing the talk? (2017)
What are the most important elements for companies if they are serious about contributing to
a better society? I think these are considering it strategically and working on trust. Zooming
in on the latter, how to build trust? I see two main ways: track and monitor, and engage in
dialogue, And in fact, we are likely to need both.
From intention to performance
A flood of reports shows that there is a growing case for “responsible” or “purpose driven”
business. There is a growing belief, ‘even’ amongst millennials, that the private sector can in
fact transition towards embracing these paradigms. Here I want to mention two aspects that
will crucially influence the way how a company will be able to contribute to a better world:
o Strategic outlook: to which extent is its main driver to create an as large as possible
overlap between Value for the Company, Value for its Employees and Value for
Society. They all matter, and ideally to an equal extent: one does not exist without
the other, they feed into and depend on each other.
o Building Trust: creating a “contract” between the company (say its Board), its
internal stakeholders (employees) and the rest of society.
In the remainder of this blog I want to talk about the second aspect.
Building trust with written or social contracts?
How can a company build trust in delivering on its promises? Roughly there are two main
• A written (one might call it ‘commercial’) contract: set socially relevant targets for
performance, track, monitor and report on them. Show that you can deliver, and use
that as a basis towards especially external stakeholders so they can recognise that
you Walk the Talk. Advantages are that there are many metrics available, they can
usually be well measured, compared, benchmarked even. Disadvantages however
are that it encourages to set targets only on things that can (easily) be measured,
which do not necessarily represent the most important changes, the world may evolve
faster than old targets can be met and a focus on mere numbers can encourage
some form of manipulation or incomplete perception.
• A social contract: based on an initial collection of numbers and ‘stories’ the company
engages in a continuous transparent dialogue with its stakeholders, internally and
externally. Metrics that show how the company scores on these can serve as input for
that dialogue, they are however not the endpoint. By means of joint interpretation of
facts and experiences by internal and external stakeholders, all assess how the
company is doing. Advantages are there will be more room for adaptation to a rapidly
evolving society, like abandoning numbers that have lost their meaning, it allows
more space for personal experiences entering the equation and all in all it represents
more of a “breathing” process. Disadvantages can be found on the other side of this
coin: it will be more difficult to tell exactly whether a company made good on its
promises, and how they perform compared to others. You can’t compare stories and
dialogue as easily as numbers. This can give the impression of losing objectiveness.
Numbers, dialogue or both?
So which one should we prefer? Building trust by establishing measurable facts (which are
likely to tell only part of the story), or by engaging in open dialogue (which is more difficult to
track and compare)?
Or is it, as so often is the case, a matter of combining the best of both worlds? Put some
effort in determining meaningful measurable metrics, but only as one part of a continuous
dialogue with internal and external stakeholders, and a willingness to let the mix of the two,
and the exact contents, evolve. In other words, in a good way combine the guidance of
numbers with the dynamics of dialogue.
It is not difficult to see which of the three scenarios I prefer myself. But it would be even more
interesting to find out what everyone else is thinking. Feel invited to share your opinions.
The Innovation ABC (2018)
It occurred to me that many previous posts on various (closed down) platforms contained
isolated snippets of innovation ‘wisdom’. Many of these snippets were on their turn
constructed from combinations of other sources, including Life itself. What is the absolute
Almost all nuggets are in effect variations on my central theme, which I call The New ABC
- Always be Curious. They are not atomic, isolated tips but feed into and build onto one
another and in some cases might even be considered as different versions of the same point.
It’s all intentional: a resilient system needs some redundancy and you need different
formulations to resonate with a variety of people.
Here goes, in more or less arbitrary order, 5 of my main insights to give a rough idea of the
1. Don’t worry about the answer just yet. Real innovation, and indeed, creativity, is more
about asking better questions than giving perfect answers. Worse, the ‘perfect’ answer to a
bad or even irrelevant question still brings you nowhere. Spend time on asking better
questions. Also check out #AMBQ.
2. Don't take Yes for an answer. In line with the previous point, any quick solution that you
think you brilliantly came up with, is suspect. Rather, assume that you did not ask a
challenging enough question. Go back one step before you rush forward. Being satisfied too
soon is a precursor to innovation death.
3. Ask why, then again, and then again. If you don’t scrutinise your answers by default,
this is the solid trick to force yourself to. Ask “Why?” at least three times, and you’ll see that
you were chasing the wrong problem to start with. Asking Why actively helps you to
reformulate and reframe and only that can help you to create novelty.
4. Principles without testing are just excuses not to change. "Beliefs are hypotheses to
be tested, not treasures to be protected" (freely after JM Keynes). Should you be allowed to
have principles then? Of course, but how dogmatic you want to stick to them in light of new
information is an important question to ask yourself.
5. Zoom in - Zoom out. Get the details right, but the bigger picture as well. Superior
products that do not work in a larger system are as useless as visions of a brighter future that
no one can relate to tomorrow. Very few people master both levels so you might need to
For good measure: No Friction, just Fiction; and vice versa. Life is not a vacuum. Without
creating any friction you will be doomed to remain at the level of fiction. But with only friction
you will stay there as well (and be a not-so-nice person). Vice versa without fiction (i.e. an
appealing narrative), you will create just friction. To quote Guy Kawasaki: "Don't be afraid to
Polarise people", and to add my own caveat: “…but that does not mean you have to be a jerk
And are you wondering where “Life” comes into the picture? Then feel free to visit my short
pondering on the creative process looking much more like a DNA-string than the much more
commonly used visual of a funnel.
So there you have it, a few ways to boost your curiosity in a world raging with complexity.
The list is far from exhaustive but should get you going just fine. And it is the basic gist of all
innovation literature. So this saves you time reading which you can now spend on practising.
The New ABC Blogs (2018 -)
From 2018 onwards, I irregularly post blogs on my web-site www.thenewabc.nl with copies
or translated versions elsewhere, most notably on Medium, usually with slightly modified