From Pancakes to Pyramids – An Interview with Josephine Green

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Next week, Josephine Green will be delivering the closing keynote at The Web and Beyond 2010. I was able to chat with Josephine to get a sneak peek into her closing presentation and learn more about her experience performing Strategic Design over the years. 

Could you please give our readers some information about yourself?

JG: I have always been fascinated by ideas, in truth I think ideas are really sexy. I believe that the imagination, thought and ideas  are what truly make a difference and help us to positively think our way to the future; They are the stuff that inspires us to action. For me thoughts and ideas are as strong as actions. This is why I very much liked being in Design at Philips. The Culture of Design is about imagining, conceptualizing and creating. The difference today is that it is less and less designers in splendid isolation and more and more designers and stakeholders working together, This reflects the shift away from doing things for people to doing things with and eventually by people.

Tell us about some of the work you are doing at Phillips. What are some trends that you are seeing?

JG: I joined Philips Design in 1997 and much of my work has been around imagining and thinking about the future, based on research into  society, cultures and people. At Philips Design we promoted new thinking and new knowledge in the field of social foresight which in turn fed into company knowledge,  innovation, strategy. This is a period of unprecedented change and transformation and while it is scary it is also a golden opportunity to re-address the kind of society we wish to live in. Is it the old Pyramid society of top down command and control through large organizations and based on economies of scale or is it a more Pancake society based on customized and contextualized solutions, enabled by the new technologies, and sustained by all the stakeholders involved in those solutions on a continuous basis. I believe there are two powerful trends that will re-shape our societies. One is a more human scale and intimate view of society and economy based on smaller and more local economies and the other is a much greater participation by the stakeholders in the ownership and outcomes of these economies.

What has Phillips done historically with regards to Strategic Design?

JG: Design has increasingly been positioned strategically in Philips. This means that Design has and is an integral part of the innovation and branding approach and process. This was explored back in the nineties when Philips Design carried out a number of Vision projects for Corporate and the Business to explore the next ten years and the implications for Research,  Innovation, Branding and Business; Throughout Design in Philips has emphasized putting people, rather than technology, at the center of our thinking and at the center of our main Functions and Processes; This is now the established approach . I left Philips in 2009 to return to live in the UK.

What is the one thing you want attendees to take away from your keynote “Engaging with the Future Differently – From Pyramids to Pancakes”?

JG: The one thing is that as we go Pyramids to Pancakes we need a new way of perceiving, of being and of acting in the world if we wish to prosper and flourish in the future. People are now able to be the creators and innovators , through the connectivity and diffusion of the new technologies. In the Pyramid world innovation was the responsibility of experts and the process was a linear one where ideas were fed into the front end and a ‘product’ emerged at the other end. Now, in a more messy and chaotic approach,  people are increasingly creating their own content, films, music, extended networks etc . This is mirrored also in the real world by growing grass roots movements to re-design how people wish to live and love in their communities.

What do you consider to be one the biggest impacts of social networking?

JG: The democratization of the future. In the constant battle between control and freedom, people are beginning to grasp that , individually and collectively , they can have more control over their lives . Of course the battle continues
also on the web, between control and monopolies and freedom and open source but ultimately I believe that the web will free us.

What’s the biggest hurtle of going from a world that has traditionally been driven by linear thinking to one driven by system thinking?

JG: The biggest hurdle is ourselves. Many of us were brought up in the linear world and so we have those mindsets. There are no rule books for the future and this is frightening for people who believed that the world was more linear, predictable and controllable. We have to learn how to embrace complexity, continuously learn, act intelligently in the now and trust in letting go. Unless we begin by changing ourselves we cannot let the world go where it needs to go.

What are some examples of new patterns of demand and supply?

JG: I believe demand will go from finalized finished products or services to more ‘open’ solutions based on the context of place and time and activity. We can talk of a Context Economy in which we live in and are enabled by an ecosystem of products, services, solutions and experiences that change over time. Another change in demand that will mark the 21st century is that we can talk of a Social Economy, meaning a shift towards a social demand rather than a consumer demand. We face many challenges in the 21st century e.g. health, care, ageing, pollution, etc. Which means  that we need to think about Social Innovation which, unlike product/consumer innovation, must involve all the players in the system if the solution is to be meaningful and work. This means more empowerment for more people.

How can the people in leadership roles prepare for this coming shift?

JG: If everything is changing then so is Leadership. I believe that identifying change agents is as important as identifying leaders. They may in many cases be one and the same. I think, Women, GenY and the so called Cultural Creatives are powerful change agents as they, for one reason or another, are less tied to the Pyramid system. If we think in terms of Transformational Leadership then these leaders need to have one thing and lots of it: courage. Courage to maximize a vision and mission that makes sense to society and not primarily to shareholders and financial elites. Courage to create the space for longer term investments and returns, courage to enable the change agents I have mentioned and courage to let go. Perhaps the role of our leaders today is to enable the change agents and then hold the ship steady while those agents do what they do, namely change things.

Are there any organizations you know of that are best prepared for the future? Why?

JG: There are some examples of first steps. Rather than a single company, there is evidence of different ingredients for the future in a number of companies. At Philips we did research on what we called Pancakish companies and some of the examples were interesting. Examples such as abolishing job titles and ranks, of re-thinking the role and mission of the CEO, of creating self-organized teams to drive innovation and results, all examples of greater freedom to decide and act .

What kind of dangers do you see in a world where innovation has been decentralized?

JG: As the capability to innovate spreads then we can innovate for the good or for the bad. Take for example the latest news about the first creation of artificial life, the first artifical organism. This  means that we can have many possibilities and benefits, for example in the health arena, but also it means that we or someone also has the possibility to be destructive by for example creating a threatening microbe that could wreak havoc across the world. The danger is that we become stronger and weaker at the same time. We are certainly introducing more fragility in the system. I think the only thing we can do is to try and ensure that there are a lot more goodies in the world than badies, but how, one way is by raising the learning, capability and responsibility of all of us, and then keeping our fingers crossed.

The Web & Beyond 2010

Want to know more about Josephine Green’s thoughts? She is one of the speakers at The Web & Beyond (June 1st), a one day event held in Amsterdam.

Brad Nunnally

Brad Nunnally is a User Experience Design Consultant at Perficient based in St. Louis, MO. Aside from writing, plotting UX world domination, and tweeting a whole bunch , he fills his time playing with his son and dog.

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