Kill Your Business to Keep it Alive! Organisational Implosion for Post-Innovation Survival.


Kill Your Ideas Early

In a blog post by Peter Diamandis last weekend, he gave some hot tips on how to organise creativity. The advice is based on his work with semi-secret R&D facility Google X, or  X as it’s called now.

It’s an interesting read, and there was particularly one section which grabbed my attention. Principle 2: Try to Kill Your Best Ideas Early.

According to Diamandis, we need to kill ideas as soon as possible. Because we don’t want to waste resources, time, money and people on ideas that won’t work.

This makes sense to many of us who love ideas and ideation, but become bored once we need to act on them.

But for me Diamandis’ principle triggered another thought. Can this principle of killing ideas be applied in a larger context?

Kill Your Organisation

An organisation is also an idea.

An idea, which usually exists for a long time. But it’s still an idea. Google was originally an idea to catalogue all the world’s information. Twitter is the simple idea to let people write instant 140-character blog posts. Uber is an idea to let everyone be a taxi driver.

These ideas seem to work. Most people even consider them to be good ideas. They’ve obviously inspired and helped many many people and made a dent in the universe as Steve Jobs put it. The companies threw out these ideas from the drawing board into the global marketplace to see if they worked. And they did. Or rather, they seem to work today.

But if we take a longer perspective, we don’t know if they actually are good ideas. They might be considered bad ideas in hindsight. Or even destructive.

In the 19th century we humans began to drill oil. This seemed like a great idea at the time. The black gold helped modernize societies and our living standard increased vastly. But now we know that this idea wasn’t that good after all. Unintended consequences, which were unknown back then, has damaged our planet enormously – and together with mining of other non-renewables – perhaps so much that it will become uninhabitable soon.

Standard Oil and other organisations, which were founded on the idea to remove oil from the ground and sell it, are now rapidly being killed. By lack of innovation, external pressures, a change in values, shareholder fear etc.

Kill your organisation! shout the anti-oil and gas protesters who are now after COP21 backed by the majority of the world’s politicians and more and more investors.

Innovation is Dead

Diamandis’ creative / destructive principle of killing ideas also made me think about how to generally “do” innovation these days.

I’m actually pretty fed up with the word innovation. There are so many ways to innovate, so many books, blogs and consultants who help organisations innovate. So many…. no, too many people talk about innovation.

I think it’s time to cut the crap and be really innovative. I think the best way – or perhaps the only way – to innovate is to actually extrapolate Diamandis’ principle and kill organisations from within. Before external pressures (like those mentioned above) will kill an organisation, an organisation should kill itself.

Let me explain.

One of the buzz words of the past decade (since Clayton Christensen wrote the book The Innovator’s Dilemma) is disruption. Digital disruption, disruptive innovation, disruptive everything. How to avoid being disrupted. Disrupt or be Disrupted! 8 ways to avoid getting disrupted within your industry. Blah blah blah…

I believe that the only way to avoid being disrupted is to disrupt yourself. Innovation is dead. Implosion is the way forward. A slow implosion if you want your organisation to survive.

Nine Principles for Organisational Implosion

So how do you disrupt yourself? Because I think it’s only the organisations which manage to do this that will survive in the future. Here are my nine principles:

  1. Make the decision that your organisation is obsolete.

    First you must realize that your organisation will be disrupted and die. If you don’t do this already, start by researching and reading. Douglas Rushkoff and Jeremy Rifkin are good for instance. When readning books you have shied away from, you will realize that your organisational structures are wrong. Your culture is wrong. Your staff are great people, but there is no place for that greatness in your organisation. As soon as people come in the door on Monday morning they enter another state of mind. Sure, you encourage creativity and push for a new innovation culture, but the structures and systems in place won’t tolerate this. Too many people will try to stifle it. It’s too dangerous. It will rock the boat so that it capsizes.

    So first you have to deeply believe in that your organisation will be disrupted. This is not 2006. Disruption happens much faster today. So you will make the decision that your organisation is obsolete. Most CEOs won’t / can’t do this, so you’re ahead of the game if you do it now.

  2. Launch the Organisational Implosion.

    Once you’ve convinced the few people in power that you are history, decide that you will attempt organisational implosion. Most organisations won’t do this so will be disrupted and die at this principle.

  3. Create a parallel organisation on the edge.

    And now for the real innovation.

    Once you’ve let go of your organisation, you’ve left it behind, and truly realized that it has no reason to live, you shift your focus on a new organisation at the edge of the old one. There is quite a lot of literature on this work, for example by John Hagel, @ScottDAnthony, Gary P. Pisano and Prof. Thomas Schildhauer. Literature on how to set up a space / lab / experimental unit in parallel to your organisation is easy to find.

    To do this, you basically start from scratch and look at the problems and challenges you want to solve. What was the original purpose of the organisation? What could we do to make this happen instead of the old useless way?

    Of course it’s impossible for you to answer these questions as your leaders and staff work in the old tired organisation, and hence don’t see fresh ideas with a beginner’s mind.

    You need new blood.

  4. Put new people in charge of the new.

    So the only way to create a parallel organisation on the edge is to let new or fresh employees loose. Let them experiment. It’s the only hope you have. Hire new interesting people who you’d never hire in the old organisation. Then let go of control. You might as well, as you will die if you don’t. It’s either new blood or death.

  5. Suck out the blood from the old dying organisation, purify it, and inject it into the new.

    This is hard.

    The aim of this exercise is to move as many people as possible from the old to the new organisation. Most people are not ready to move. So one of the tasks for the new organisation is to educate the hesitating people so that they can take the leap. Why do we need to implode? Why can’t we just continue business-as-usual in the old organisation? Most people will not be able to shift their mindset, and hence cannot thrive (or even survive) in the new organisation. A landing pad must be built. Upsetting but still safe experiences must be designed. Provocations followed by reassuring activities are key.

  6. Clear Goals.

    The only goal of your organisational implosion is to close down the old organisation asap. Nothing else really.

  7. Pull, Don’t Push

    Don’t ever explicitly try to push people from the old space to the new. They will come when they’re ready. If they’re ready… Some people will never move. They cannot or do not want to shift to the new. Retrenchment programs and costs will be a heavy burden for you.

  8. Don’t Bring Them Back!

    Here’s a thing that most organisations don’t get, but that you must understand: When people jump from the old to the new, they cannot be expected to come back and operate within the old one. Once they have made the leap and changed their thinking, learnt the new way, opened their minds, gone through the dark night of the soul, the catharsis etc, they will not identify with their old role. So don’t ask them or expect them to share or implement their learnings back in the old organisation.

    No, what they learn in the new space on the edge will be used only in the new space. If it would be used in the old organisation, it might help that entity survive longer. And that’s exactly against principle 6 – the goal of implosion is to kill the old organisation asap.

    Many organisations struggle to implement or embed knowledge they gain through hiring outside consultants, sending staff to external learning and development programs, letting staff work in open innovation hubs such as coworking spaces etc. Why this fail is obvious. Knowledge, understanding, insight and wisdom and other “content”, which is new and fresh, should not be stored in a container that is old, rusty and falling apart. This might have been the case before – McKinsey and others might have helped organisations over the years do this, but it won’t work any more. Organisational implosion must come from within.


  9. Give Them a Home

    A physical space where people can build the new organisation will speed up the process. Physical interaction and experimentation, which is kept separate from the old organisation is important. Buy them a big old house at the other side of town. Don’t give them bean bags, ping-pong tables and fixed-gear bikes though. They can decide what to buy themselves. A free innovation space like this is impossible to control. The new people might waste all your money and sink your ship. But that’s a risk you’ll have to take. So give them a home.

Organisational implosion is obviously an incremental exercise. A gradual shift of power and people from the old to the new. The old organisation must of course still run the old business, which pays for it all, but that can be done with less people as you know.

I strongly believe that organisational implosion is the only cure for disruption. In order to survive the ongoing slaughter of weak organisations, you have to disrupt yourself. No matter whether you’re disrupted by the digital, by Silicon Valley behemoths, by new values or by your own idiocy.

Organisational implosion is the new innovation. And a hell of a lot more fun.


A Stakeholder Model for the 21st Century

Who’s left out?

Every time we create a stakeholder model we exclude someone or something. We consciously or unconsciously decide that only some groups have something at stake – are holders of stakes, are affected by our actions, objectives and policies.

According to Wikipedia; the stakeholder concept was first used in a 1963 internal memorandum at the Stanford Research Institute. It defined stakeholders as “those groups without whose support the organization would cease to exist.”

But stakeholder models are often too narrow-minded. There are always groups left out. Externalities who will suffer from our ignorance and unintended consequences.

In a UNESCO workshop held by Dr Anita Kelleher of the Centre for Australian Foresight last year, we discussed how to improve the global, long-term decision making process. During a big-picture discussion about who to involve in such a process, we began by listing the stakeholders.

“Of course we need to include everyone on the planet – not only the Western world. Indigenous people are equally important and must have a say. ”

“Of course future generations must be included in a stakeholder model – after all, our actions have huge impact on their lives.”

“I think animals should also be there… ”

“But if you put in animals, why not trees?”

“And we can’t forget that some indigenous people consider their ancestors as important as people who live today!”

“The same goes for North Korea actually, where Kim Il-Sung who died in 1994, still is president and always will be in his role as Eternal President of the Republic.”

Nine stakeholders

So, after some discussion, we came up with the following model. Nine clusters of stakeholders.

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We were quite happy with this model.

But after a few weeks I had a nagging feeling that something was wrong. Were we too narrow-minded?

15 Stakeholders

Yes. The beliefs of some religions and movements were not represented in this model.

For example, some religions and indigenous philosophies consider inanimate objects as very important. Rocks and mountains for instance. And non-living but moving things such as rivers, the sun and the moon are major stakeholders in some beliefs.

Transhumanism is a movement based on the belief that exponential technology will lead to very fast developments in augmented humanity and artificial intelligence. Today, such developments and implications of these, are now incomprehensible to most of us. Many philosophers who belong to this creed, argue that carbon-based life (humans, animals, plants etc) shouldn’t be considered more important than robots, automatons etc. Such silicon-based life should be worth as much as carbon-based life! Equality for all – no matter chemical composition. Extraterrestrial life – no matter atom composition and structure – should naturally also be included in a stakeholder model for the 21st century.

My new, improved model suddenly had 15 clusters of stakeholders.

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When I look at this model as I write this post, I feel uneasy again. Have I missed any groups?


The Holiday-Break-Sense-Making Experiment

Over the Christmas / New Year break I decided to do an experiment. Instead of aimlessly throwing out things that interested and excited me online (retweet them, post them on to my Facebook wall etc), I decided to save them for after the holiday.

Instead I wanted to try an experiment where I tried to find logic in the combination of this  information, of these thoughts and feelings. Thoughts from others which generated thoughts from me. Generated feelings and intuitions from me. To find patterns and make sense of these social media fragments. To weave them together.

After the break I had collected 15 “scan hits”.

1. An article about how “A New Working Constitution Emerges to Codify a “Liquid Holacracy” Governance Model”. Apparently “Bitnation in partnership with Swarm is developing a proto-constitution, or what it referred to as a holonic contract to govern interactions within its “Slack Community”, which is  a collaborative messaging and sharing platform used globally by organizations for a better workflow, while emphasizing the autonomy of its various holons and individual contributors.”

2. A new book called Platform Scale: How an emerging business model helps startups build large empires with minimum investment.
You’ve heard of it: “Over the last decade or so, we’re seeing the emergence of a new form of scale. Today’s massively scaling startups – which rapidly grow to millions of users and billions in valuation – do not sell a product or service. Instead, they build a platform on which others can create and exchange value.

3. A public policy paper put together by Stacco Troncoso from one of my favourite organisations, The P2P Foundation. Proposal for Public Policy Paper: “From Smart Cities to Smart Citizens: City as a Commons”. A policy advocacy paper to explore and promote the vision for a ‘city as commons. The paper will bring together specialists and advocates in a range of area, including: tax policy, co-working, co-ops, food production/consumption, peri-urbanism, sharing, political space, place-making, cultural diversity, de-gentrification, anticipatory governance, social enterprise and making / industry (to name a few). Overall about 20 authors can be accepted in this first round.

4. A tweet conversation with Nadia El-Imam, co-Founder and CEO of Edgeryders, a online community and distributed think-tank of citizen experts from across the globe. It was spurred by a quote in one of her recent blog posts: “Make relevant art“. This quote felt very important to me.

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5. An article on about the rise of the techno-Libertarians: The 5 most socially destructive aspects of Silicon Valley. It argues that the tech industry is morally and ethically bankrupt, and it’s starting to take its toll on ordinary Americans.

6. An old article in The Age, where former US president Jimmy Carter tells how he is losing his religion for equality.

7. A blog post by one of today’s most interesting thinkers and doers Vinay Gupta: Tell Me Who You Are. Identity, institutional memory, and the persistent illusion of the self.

8. Another p2p foundation blog post about living amongst the ruins after capitalism.

9. More doom and gloom in A NY Times article by author Roy Scranton. We’re Doomed. Now What?

10. A third collapsitaritarian post (!) from one of my Facebook friends about the carrying capacity of Earth.

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11. A quote in a TV interview with the master of weird and wonderful cultural production David Lynch. He described his creative process and ideation with a fishing metaphor. Apparently he uses that often, as I found it again online:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure.They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

12. An article about eight New Types of Digital Fabrication Machines from 2015.

13. Another NY times article – How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity.  This one written by Pagan Kennedy, author of the forthcoming book “Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change The World.” I wrote about serendipity a couple of years ago. A concept which is very popular and overused in management blogs at the moment. But I think it’s hugely important and needs to be considered and further explored.

14. A third text from the p2p Foundation by founder Michel Bauwens (actually excerpted from Matthew Heskin): Cooperation is better for innovation, than competition.

15. A tweet from @macroscope_ about how systems thinking can help you become a better person.



So after putting these themes down on a paper I started to think. I saw a couple of connections and clusters, but nothing interesting. I looked at them with my explorer glasses. Which of these 15 themes would I like to explore further? I ended up with serendipity, ideas as fishing, identity & the self and relevant art.

The next day I looked at my paper again. This time I tried to divide them into three categories: problem, dichotomy and solution. This was interesting and I saw some similarities between the solutions and those I wanted to explore more. Perhaps I am drawn to solutions rather than problems at the moment?

Finally I used Wilber’s four quadrant model, which I find very helpful to check that I’ve taken a broad perspective on something. I placed the remaining five themes in it as per the figure.

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All these quadrants are linked and the themes in one of them will impact on all others. For example an  internal idea in my head (coming from my identity and Self) will lead to external output (art). Serendipitous encounters will rearrange my view of systems. My creations (which can be seen as art) will serendipitously lead me to new people, which will lead me to new ideas and a new identity.


Well, this experiment didn’t really turn out as expected. The sense-making became more of a personal guide for my future thoughts and actions. But that’s not bad I guess.

Understanding our Actions


In the normal era (now past), the reason for most our actions was clear before and while we did them.

In this new post-normal era, the reason for most our actions will only be understood in hindsight.

This is difficult for those of us who were born and raised in the normal era.

Chaos and Order in Living Systems


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A question for systems geeks out there…

I’m thinking about the relations of various bubbles we live in. A bubble with a living system within another living system. I am a living system of cells and organs within a larger ecosystem of other humans and organisms, for example my neighbourhood. And that living system is part of another living system, for instance the city I live in. And so on and so on…

This organisation of “bubbles within bubbles” is sometimes known as a holarchy – and in a holarchy the health or thrivability of a whole nested system is depending on the health and thrivability of each of the levels.

A couple of years ago I tweeted something about Berlin being a living system within the larger living system that is Germany. My interest in this relationship was that Berlin seems quite chaotic, while the larger, surrounding system of Germany is very organised. And that’s probably why Berlin is so attractive to many. The chaotic system within would not be so cool if it wasn’t surrounded and supported by the ordered, structured and über-organised system around. If Berlin would be situated in Somalia it wouldn’t attract many graphic designers.



As a complex systems hobbyist I wonder about the validity of the following statement:

Every second layer of a system must be ordered and every second chaotic for healthy development of the overall system-of-systems.

In my question, I wonder whether the health and thrivability of every-second-layer implies that it oscillates between chaos and order. As a layer in a holarchy (which is self-contained and sustainable) turns towards chaos or towards order, the layers above and below can turn toward the opposite. As a cancer cell turns “chaotic” i.e. out of control, the larger surrounding system and layer above, must structure itself orderly to fight the disease.

For instance; many people see the natural state of the world as chaotic, so we need the sub-system within it to be ordered, i.e. a country, the European union or the United States of America.

If a country is seemingly in disorder, for instance Italy, we need the lower living systems to be ordered, i.e. the family structure within that country.

If a person is disordered and chaotic, she needs to be in an ordered environment in order to develop.

The universe is to most of us very complex, but there seems to be some kind of order, as we don’t see or we’re not affected by any of the challenges or problems in this system.


So there might be four relationships:

  1. An ordered sub-system in an ordered system leads to stagnation. Too boring…
  1. A chaotic sub-system in a chaotic system leads to explosion. Too much craziness…
  1. A chaotic sub-system in an ordered system becomes grounded. It hates the structures, systems and rules, but eventually compromises in order to thrive. “They are annoying but we have to play the game to move ahead…”
  2. An ordered sub-system in a chaotic system initially struggles but eventually adapts to the chaos in the surrounding system. It finds patterns in the chaos (increased level of complexity reached). “Holy shit! How will we deal with this chaos? Well, let’s sit down and think about it. We might have to loosen up a bit in order to find the simplicity beyond the complexity. Dance with the system.”

How does that sound?

Our Antipathy


I haven’t written anything about the Syrian migrant crisis which have fragmented Europe this year. I wrote about the EU, its borders and potential to bring the local and global together, but beyond these structural challenges, there are other cultural aspects to consider.

Earlier this year, Mark Rice-Oxley wrote a piece in The Guardian about our antipathy towards migrants. He noted the struggle between our emotions and rational, practical consequences of immigration:

“… the sad fact remains that until public opinion cares more about children drowning at sea than it does about immigrants settling next door, politicians will be loth to take a lead.”

We suffer emotionally when seeing pictures in the newspapers of rescue teams carrying children’s dead bodies onto Italian or Greek beaches. But when we hear about new temporary housing for immigrants in our neighbourhoods, our rational brain takes control and feelings pop up. Fear of the unknown?

Yes, but I think this fear can be explained by even deeper drivers. I believe that the antipathy we feel towards these unwanted refugees actually is an antipathy to ourselves, our dark shadow side, our unwanted selves.

I have earlier argued (in a post in Swedish I might translate if someone asks me) that this oppressed side in ourselves comes out occasionally in our fear and hatred of the stranger. The migrant, the nomad who does not settle. The person who always moves. The unwanted in our societies.

The European Union politicians, and a plethora of thinkers and analysts, are writing about the refugee crisis today and what needs to be done. Most of them are right. Everything we read about what needs to be done has some truth to it.

But I’d wish that policy makers and legislators would think about our disowned self. Think deeper about the oppressed wanderer. The part of ourselves, which indigenous people so well know needs to be acknowledged and exercised.

That part within us, which we Westerners buried a long time ago. Together with the accompanying curiosity, restlessness and wanderlust.

So the question is: How do we bring this part back?

Do We Need More Professional People?


A while ago I tweeted the following:

Sometimes people tell me I should be more professional. But I don’t think more professional people is a thing that’s good for our planet.

Professional people get more shit done. No doubt about it. They can influence people, engage people and push people to do things. They have more money and power. They dress sharper, have better social media profiles and attract people, as we trust serious, sharp professionals. They know what they’re doing. They find people to invest in their ideas. They are sometimes ruthless in order to get what they want, but that’s part of their modus operandi.

The thing is; I don’t think the qualities of professional people are what we need in the world right now. I actually rather think that unprofessional people have the qualities we need. Those who don’t focus on money, surface and self-promotion, but rather those idle, slow-living, unorganised people who often give away their time and their knowledge for free.  Those who take a lighter, more quiet approach to life than the high-octane professionals. Those who realize that speed and efficiency only leads to a need for more speed and efficiency.

You get what I mean. Even if we don’t like smelly, naive hippies, we know that they’re doing the right thing. They consume less, care for the Earth and their carbon footprint is lighter than ours. And even if they’re often hypocritical (which we are quick to point out), they are actually better for the planet.

My problem is that in order to get somewhere with my projects right now, I must be more professional. People I work with need me to be this, in order to trust me, fund me, and help me. They don’t want to fund an unprofessional person – a hippie. And I want to move forward. I want shit done. Together with them. So I want to be professional.

And therein lies my problem. I don’t think we need more professional people on the planet, but I want to be more professional myself. A clear contradiction.

This is the classic NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) thing applied to one’s actions. In Holland some years ago they asked people if they thought less people would be better for the planet. A majority said yes. Less people in Europe? Yes. Less people in Holland? Yes. Less people in their neighbourhood and family? No!

The NIMBY logic is clear. The closer we are to a problem the less likely we are to be generous and understanding; the less likely we are to accept foreign and unwanted elements.

And I want less professional people in the world, but want to be more professional myself. That’s not being the change you want to see. That’s not putting your money where your mouth is.

I don’t know how to solve my problem.

I guess it’s the same as my relation to work. I think people in general should work less. But I work more and more for every year. I want my projects to move forward and hence I need to spend more time on them. Most activities I do for this are fun, but some of them are boring, i.e. I must label work.

But how can I reconcile these “be the change you want to see” dilemmas? I can work less and be less professional, or I can change my mind to a belief that professionalism and work are good.

I wonder what’s the easiest.

Three Scenarios for the Future of Capitalism

We currently see many articles about the the evils of capitalism, the end of capitalism and possible post-capitalism futures. I was invited to talk at the One Planet Anti-Conference a couple of weeks ago on the topic ‘whether or not capitalism can be transformed to “realize” that the earth is capital’. I wasn’t well, so couldn’t do the talk, but thought I’d write down my thoughts here anyway.

As a futurist I often think in scenarios, so with this question in mind, I tried to explore three of these.

1.  Capitalism will eat itself


This is a scenario which probably has been best described by Jeremy Rifkin. Capitalism will eat itself and self-destruct as exponential technology pushes marginal cost towards zero. Rifkin says:

No one in their wildest imagination, including economists and business people, ever imagined the possibility of a technology revolution so extreme in its productivity that it could actually reduce marginal costs to near zero, making products nearly free, abundant and absolutely no longer subject to market forces.

As we know, capitalists are some of the most excited cheerleaders of exponential technology, and if Rifkin is right this will lead to self-destruction of capitalism.

2. Capitalism will be replaced by something better


This scenario is popular in leftist and progressive press, which has long anticipated and pushed for a new system beyond capitalism. Most of them have now realised that Marxism is inflexible and won’t work, but that there are other possible futures. Some look at hybrids such as conscious or responsible capitalism (see my thoughts on those here), which still keep elements of capitalism, and some look at completely new post-capitalist systems. The most interesting of the latter is the peer-to-peer movement, which is working on a so-called commons transition, with “policy proposals and ideas to implement a Social Knowledge Economy:

“…an ethical economy, a non-capitalist marketplace that re-introduces reciprocity and co-operation in the market’s functioning, while co-creating commons and creating livelihoods for the commoners. This type of economy and market in which co-operation, mutuality, and the common good define the characteristics of a new kind of political economy, point the way to a new state form, which we have called the Partner State.”

This economic system is already found in some clusters around the world. In Greece, Spain, some American cities etc. where collapsing economies have spurred local peer economies, community exchanges and complementary currencies. The open-source software and DIY hardware movements have always had a peer-to-peer philosophy. And the internet has enabled new global links between these clusters, which now begin to form networked neo-tribes (intentional communities, hacker & art collectives, coworking spaces, grass-roots movements, eco villages, entrepreneurial hubs, etc).

These post-capitalist clusters of people with local-centric AND global-centric values might with cryptocurrencies and local exchange mechanisms, create true peer-to-peer economies, which are more relevant than capitalism in our modern networked societies.

3. Capitalism will be around forever


We often forget that economic systems are fluid, organic and not fixed in time. No one decides that we suddenly shall have a new dominant global economic system. Sure, they do in China and other totalitarian places, but most systems have historically emerged as various factors have allowed this in a few clusters. And then found relevant in other regions so have migrated there.

I’m not that well-read on the history of capitalism but according to Wikipedia, “Early Islam promulgated capitalist economic policies, which migrated to Europe through trade partners from cities such as Venice.” Industrial capitalism then emerged in England with the industrial revolution, and later global capitalism became the dominant global system, as various countries adopted the gold standard and started trading in the globalized world.

But in most of the world, other economic systems still prevailed. In fact, earlier systems such as slavery and feudalism are still used in many places in the world. Once, systems and practices that were accepted for us in the developed world are now seen as despicable. Values and wordviews shape our economic systems. And vice versa.

So in the same way that bartering, slavery and feudalism are still used in the world (there are between 12 and 30 million slaves working away in the world as I write this), capitalism will likely also be around for a long time.


What interests me with these three scenarios is that they all pretty likely will happen. They are not mutually exclusive of one another, and we can choose to step into any of them as individuals, organisations or societies.

So how would you approach these scenarios?

How would you act if these stories of the future would become true?

An Experiment with Living Labs

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What is a Living Lab?

For about three months we in the enkel collective, a group of Western Australian changemakers, have explored the potential to set up three so-called ‘living labs’.

A living lab is a research concept. A living lab is a user-centred, open-innovation ecosystem, often operating in a territorial context (e.g. city, agglomeration, region), integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership.” (Wikipedia)

We were very interested in this concept as our organisation is founded on the collective intelligence, knowledge and skills of people from various sectors and organisations – both public and private.

It wasn’t easy to facilitate this process. Collaboration is a beast. And cross-sector collaboration in a voluntary living lab is even harder. Here are some of my reflections as an insider and part-facilitator. The whole series of co-creation workshops (our living labs forum series) was skilfully facilitated and led by my colleague and enkel Ambassador for Collaborations Jordan Ivatts.

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Food Lab excursion

On Collaboration

“A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.”

This is a quote from The Book of Life, and is obviously meant for a marriage: A partnership between two demented people. But this can also be used for a team of people working together. Everyone in the group has their personal challenges, delusions and worldviews. Everyone has their fears, underlying drivers and ways of doing things. Everyone is there for a particular reason.

That’s why we wanted to “extract” as much as possible from people as early as possible. What are your values? Why are you interested in joining this series of workshops and living labs? What do you want to achieve when this is over? These and other deeply personal questions were asked in the first workshops.

After finding commonalities in various areas (which took many weeks for some groups) the collaboration in the groups started to happen. But not until one person in each group stepped up as a leader.

This was one of the many things we discussed in the ‘team of curators’, which oversaw the living labs process: The balance between individual drive and collective input. When a person steps up to lead a group, other group members will leave the group, as the direction suddenly changes to be focussed on one individual rather than the group. This might be impossible to avoid.

The balance between the individual and collective is one of many challenges we identified.


Education Lab flyers


Collaboration that works is probably to find the right balance between different things:

Individual gain  Collective gain
Face-to-face meetings Virtual platform discussions and decisions
Closed group to get things done Open group to allow further diversity
 Clear manifesto, purpose, vision, theme Uncertainty to allow a living lab emerge naturally.
 Clear outcome Open-ended. No outcome – the process is the valuable thing
 Defined process Experiment
 Intellectual Property Open Source


 Individual Labs

After starting with eight different labs, we narrowed down to three:

  1. The enkel Food Lab is exploring the idea of introducing scale-able, automated, local food production to WA. We are currently looking to hack current hydroponics systems in order to build a small, modular, automated hydroponics system for suburban homes.
  2.  The enkel-powered Education Lab aims to improve student learning through developing better tutoring methods. This will be approached by tutoring disadvantaged students at no cost; creating a user-provider open research relationship.
  3. Community Lab is a group of people interested in developing a concept for using under-utilised assets in the community for the benefit of connecting and growing neighbourhoods. These assets can be after-hours use of schools, community halls, libraries etc.

We in the curators team also discussed how the level of participation depended on ‘tangible gratification’, i.e. whether a lab worked better if there was more fun, hands-on work and “action”. We noticed that the food lab, which worked with research followed by building a prototype of a hydroponics system attracted most people at times, but the education lab after the Living Lab series came to an end.

In general both head, hands and heart must probably be present for success.


My lecturer in Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University, Dr Peter Hayward, often spoke about Snyder’s theory of hope, and how that is key in his teaching of the future. From Wikipedia:

“His theory of hope emphasizes goal-directed thinking, where a person uses both pathways thinking (the perceived capacity to find routes to their desired goals) and agency thinking (the necessary motivation to use those routes).”
Dr Hayward said that his role (as program director and teacher) was to give us students pathways thinking. But he said that he was no Yoda, i.e he could never give us agency thinking.

I think there’s something similar in the facilitation of these living labs (and in our role to help each other in the enkel collective). We can give pathways by inviting people in to participate in the collective emergence unfolding in enkel.  But we cannot give them the agency to act – the entrepreneurial drive and inner will to create their individual journey.

I think the individual / collaborative dilemma is a good example of this.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.23.50 PM
Vic Park Mini Lab

Living Labs Continued…

The projects we did were technically not Living Labs, as per the formal definition. We were not doing “real” government-business-academia partnerships. We had people from all these sectors, but not in an official capacity. They came as curious individuals and many of them stayed – but not representing their organisation.

 So what were we doing?

Well, all of the three labs decided to steer clear of various models based on dependency of external funding, such as grants, government funding etc. In today’s economical environment in Western Australia (our ‘resource boom’ is over, which has lead to a downturn in the economy) and globally (Grexit and Chinese stock market crash happened during this series of workshops) this seemed short-sighted. Instead, the discussions on how to fund the labs were focussed on self-sufficiency and social entrepreneurship models.

I started to think that perhaps living labs can simply not work here in Western Australia, as there is no culture of cross-sector collaboration. In Europe, where the living labs concept is pretty established now, with The European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) there is a tradition of funding these types of experimental initiatives by government partnerships or innovative EU programs. This does not exist here yet. Nor does the culture of collaboration to great extent.

For the next iteration of these multi-disciplinary open research labs, I therefore thought we had to move away from the Living Labs model and work together with the MakeSense network – a global network of local “labs”, which help social entrepreneurs solve their challenges, and accelerate their impact.

If academics and governments business partners wanted to join, we could always reconsider labelling these labs living labs again.

My recommendation after the enkel living labs forum was to wait. Neither enkel nor partnering academics, governments or businesses are ready in my view.


In parallel we worked to find a space for the enkel collective. We spoke to local governments in various parts of Perth, and were fortunate to find a space in East Vic Park, where we could host our workshops, events and activities for 12 months – courtesy of Town of Vic Park. This was mainly thanks to local community organisation The Vic Park Collective.

After being open a couple of weeks we had a university institution coming in to the space. The Architecture Department at Curtin University wanted to collaborate with us.

So suddenly we had a public-private-people-academic partnership between Town of Vic Park, Curtin University and the Vic Park Collective.

We had a real living lab!

And this living lab – The Vic Park MiniLab – has now started to operate. I’ll update our reflections and learnings as we go.