Changing the Metaphor of Money

Credit: Dominic Alves, Flickr

Credit: Dominic Alves, Flickr

Following on from my previous article on metaphors and paradigm shifts, I thought I would write about one particular monumental shift in paradigm, which was central to the development of VISA’s credit card system. VISA was inspired by the vision of Dee Hock, who himself was inspired by nature. Here is one of his quotes, which comes from his book Birth of the Chaordic Age:

Dee Hock Quote

It is extremely clear just how profound Hock’s comprehension of nature is, as a continually changing process in flux, which he is able to comprehend as a whole:

Dee Hock Quote

In order to understand the urgent requirement for a new organisational structure, it is important to understand that in the 1960s, the credit card industry was in a crisis, with the system on the point of collapse. Losses were in the hundreds of millions and growing and in the Bank of America there was a fundamental lack of awareness of the problems.

The clearing system was disintegrating under the volume of transactions, a system in which there were very high authorisation costs. This meant that it was vulnerable to fraud, and therefore in Hock’s words was “a bonanza for criminals”.

Dee Hock: Credit - Social Action DK

Dee Hock: Credit – Social Action DK

As Hock describes in his story of the creation of VISA, the only approach to solving this entangled nightmare was to examine the fundamentals: what is the function of a bank, the function of money and the function of credit cards.

As the thinking process evolved, Hock’s team began to strip away the “onion” of their business, and they conceived credit card’s as having three functions:

  1. Identify the buyer and seller
  2. Act as a guarantor in the purchase and exchange of goods and services.
  3. The origination and transfer of value data.

In this ah ha moment, Hock describes the insight as a revelation, being able to think in a more holistic manner. For the team, “a change of consciousness occurred”.

In this way of conceptualising the business, the “demand for value” would be in the form of “energy impulses” circulating around the globe, seven days a week. The implication and realisation was that no single organisation would be able, on their own, to develop a system capable of meeting the predicted demand and usage patterns.

Hock calculated that while no single bank had the resources (and at this point in time, Bank of America had their own legal patented credit card system which they licensed out as a franchise). What he was able to imagine was a “transcendental organisation” linking partners together in whole new ways never previously known.

In reflecting on his thinking process, Hock breaks down the creative process about visioning the future into four distinct ways of looking at things: as they were, as they are, as they might become and as they ought to be. It is important to synthesise and hold all four ways of seeing in mind at once, an act which Hock describes as the work of “genius”.

What is also vital I feel in the story, is that VISA could only have been developed with a very clear set of values that each partner adhered to. These were openness, fairness, trust and confidence. When these universal values are absent, genuine co-creation and innovation becomes near impossible. We should always work hard not only on our creativity, but on our values, since without values, the creative work will have been in vain.

Related articles

Dee Hock In His Own Words

The Power of Metaphor and the Limits of Paradigm Shifts

A Radical Approach To Natural Business – Holonomics


Giles Hutchins, author of The Nature of Business and The Illusion of Separation reviews Holonomics.

Originally posted on The Nature of Business:

Giles Hutchins explores a dynamic way of seeing in business and beyond, in reviewing the book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, authors: Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson.

Publisher: Floris Books, UK, 2014. ISBN 9781782500612 find here on Amazon

Much has been written recently about the increasingly desperate need for radical approaches to business, leadership, social change, politics and economics. We have Einstein’s words ringing in our ears in recognising that we cannot face today’s problems with the same thinking that created them.  This much is certain.  And yet when it comes to radically overhauling our way of attending, relating, engaging and thinking in business and beyond, we all-to-often find ourselves falling short, restricted by ingrained habitual frames. To truly see ‘outside the box’ in a systemic way is most challenging and yet nothing less is now called for.

holonomic authors

Holonomics unpacks what it practically means to think differently…

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The Power of Metaphor and the Limits of Paradigm Shifts

Given that we seem to be living int he age of the paradigm shift, I thought I would mention some thoughts about paradigm shifts, and relate these to creativity, innovation and design thinking. The reason is that sometimes we do not quite see the nature of metaphor in the act of creativity, as well as not noticing the limits within what we feel are authentic paradigm shifts.

We can explore this by going back to one of the most iconic moments in the history of science, from one of the greatest scientists, Sir Isaac Newton.

Credit: LadyofHats, Wikipedia

Credit: LadyofHats, Wikipedia

From an early age Newton was fascinated by the sun, and built devices for telling the time from shadows. By charting the daily and yearly passages of shadows, Newton experienced in a tangible way the regularity and patterning of the great celestial mechanism, an intimate awareness of the cosmic order.

Newton studied at Cambridge, but the dons were still entrenched in an Aristotelian curriculum and not in touch with the revolution in natural science happening in continental Europe. Aristotle’s notion was that the Earth and Moon were of two different natures. A great deal of evidence began to accumulate after the Middle Ages which suggested there was no fundamental difference. However, scientists never asked why the moon doesn’t fall because it seemed evident, as a result of its celestial nature, that it naturally remains in the sky where it belongs.

Credit: Arthur Marris, Wikipedia

Credit: Arthur Marris, Wikipedia

When Newton went back to his childhood home, and experienced the apple falling from the apple tree, he had to be free of the habitual compartmentalisation of earth and celestial matter. His insight into universal gravity can be seen as a metaphor “the moon is an apple”. This can be extended to “the moon is an earth”.

As Bohm and Peat put it:

Metaphors take the form A = B such as in Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage”. This notion of a metaphor can serve to illuminate the nature of scientific creativity by equating, in a metaphoric sense, a scientific discovery with a poetic metaphor. In science it is essential to unfold the metaphor in even greater and more ‘literal’ detail, while in poetry the metaphor can remain relatively implicit.

Source: David Bohm and F. David Peat (1987) Science, Order and Creativity

Newton did not believe that gravity was an innate property of matter. It was either the spirit of nature or directly the agency of God.  Newton argued that space must be absolute because it was synonymous with the presence of an absolute God. Thus the conception of space and time are theologically inspired:

Newton wanted his science not only to be compatible with religion, but to reinforce it. While Descartes had appeared to write God entirely out of the universe, Newton’s natural philosophy was grounded in the belief that God was both the providential designer of the universe and its active and beneficent overseer.

Source: Margaret Wertheim (1997) Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics and the Gender Wars

In this world view, God is seen as a cosmic watchmaker, stepping in every now and then to make small adjustments to stabilise the system again, using comets for this purpose.

When Newton introduced the world to his discoveries, very few people had the ability to follow his thinking and mathematics. While certainly revolutionary, and quite certainly a new paradigm in equating the matter of the moon with the matter of an earthly apple, we still see elements of the old order remaining, i.e. that time and space are absolute.

Bohm and PeatBohm and Peat offer a very interest critique of Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shifts in science, suggesting that new paradigm shifts do in fact contain much of the prior order’s concepts, and also that science evolves not just in revolutionary shifts, but also that science does also make progressive steps in between the paradigm shifts as well.

What I have learnt from studying the history of science is the way in which metaphors play a central role in the act of creative insight. Bohm and Peat offer an extremely interesting way of describing this, but talking about the way in which at that moment when the mind equates two very different things “the mind enters a very perceptive state of great energy and passion, in which some of the excessively rigid aspects of the tacit infrastructure are bypassed or dissolved.”

The implications of this are that in order to develop creative environments, we have to be able to enter a state of free play, allowing ourselves to explore metaphors creatively. This is very different to brainstorming, and it is an art that has to be nurtured and developed.

In addition, new theories, ideas and creative acts of perception sometimes need time to evolve and be nurtured before they are ready to see the light of day. How can we therefore design our organisations to facilitate this free play? For me I think design thinkers can really begin to explore the notion of metaphor more deeply, and begin to think about what activities and methods can help inspire these deeper insights in those involved not only in scientific breakthroughs, but in innovative developments as well.




Goethe on Empirical Observation and Phenomena

Goethe by Andy Warhol 1981

Goethe by Andy Warhol 1981

I haven’t had much time this last week to blog properly, so I just thought I would offer this fantastic quote from Goethe on his classification of phenomena.

Goethe on Phenomena

The quote comes from Goethe: Collected Works Vol. 12 – Scientific Studies, edited and translated by Douglas Miller.

Some time in the future I will pull together some more thoughts on the nature of “data” in Big Data and phenomena, especially the relationship between a phenomenon and a piece of data, since as we can see, for Goethe, there are different levels.

A Dialogue with Lourenço Bustani – Conscious Innovation

This dialogue with Lourenço, exploring conscious innovation, follows on from a recent guest article by him – Less Mind, More Heart. Lourenço is the co-founder of Mandalah, a Brazilian innovation consultancy with offices in Brazil, Mexico, USA, Germany and Japan, focused on helping organizations bridge profit with purpose. In 2012, Lourenço was included in Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.

Credit: Mandalah

Credit: Mandalah

Lourenço: It’s hard to imagine, but as recently as 20 years ago, systemic approaches to sustainability were all but unheard of, and the idea had barely surfaced in the corporate world. Only two decades later, both citizens and businesses are actively involved in trying to build—or rather, rebuild—a more sustainable world.

Simon: Absolutely. If I look at my own experience in the mobile phone industry, there was simply no talk about sustainability in the 90s. But now not only do we have companies like Nokia receiving recognition for their work in developing sustainable technologies, there are other new initiatives such as FairPhone and PhoneBloks which are really catching people’s imagination with what is possible.

Lourenço: The question is, where do we go from here? I believe it’s time for a shift in mental models—a shift to a model that emphasises sustainable, globally conscious decisions—a model on which Mandalah’s work is based. This model focuses on enabling organisations to see sustainability as more than one of many corporate objectives. It should also be the natural consequence of a series of factors: a sense of ethics and coherence, a solid and positive organisational culture, innovative and integrative practices, and, most important, a sense of purpose beyond profit.

Lourenço Bustani

Lourenço Bustani

Simon: The same is true for “innovation”. Companies have both innovation and sustainability departments, but now the work is to shift the notion out across whole organisations. Keeping these two areas only in single departments is a bit like saying management should just be done in HR.

I do though see a real desire to change in many organisations, and so we are now moving from implementing ever more complex management methodologies, to implementing profound learning journeys.

Lourenço: It is no longer enough to rely on one social responsibility department to “compensate” for the negative impacts of a company’s business activities—a problem that is compounded by the fact that these departments are often poorly integrated in the company’s decision-making structures. In short, sustainability should cease being simply a cause, a pillar, an attribute, a flag, or a department. Sustainability should instead become an organic part of all businesses.

Some companies are already undergoing this paradigm shift—a shift that can only materialise when a company’s employees, and corporate leaders especially, believe that people and the planet are worth more than profit. Patagonia, for instance, took the world by surprise when it told its customers to “buy less.” This is the kind of thinking that has informed what we at Mandalah think of as “conscious innovation.” By qualifying innovation as “conscious,” we consider only those initiatives that improve people’s lives to be innovative.

It is not logical for an organisation to grow and profit at someone, or something else’s, expense. We can all evolve together: a company can improve its processes, expand its business, while doing so in a way that is compatible with the real needs of people. The beneficiaries should, in turn, feel happier, more engaged, and more connected. It’s the concept of shared value: everyone is a winner, both in terms of the market and in terms of life.

Simon: I really like Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi’s definition of “growth” in their new book The Systems View of Life. We need to move to a model of consumption where growth is not mainly waste, but where growth is defined as “that which enhances life”. This means that we have to understand this new concept of qualitative growth, which is growth which enhances life.

Credit: @NikeRio

Credit: @NikeRio

Lourenço: Since Mandalah began its operations in 2006, our consultancy projects have all focused on conscious innovation. We helped Nike develop a vision for its brand in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, both in Rio de Janeiro. We engaged with individuals from the world of culture, with the residents of the favelas, with the residents of the city, and we discovered that Rio is pulsing with an integrative energy: its various “tribes” are opening themselves to each other.

On this basis, and using sport as a catalyst for further social transformation, Nike has positioned its brand through initiatives that influence and improve the lives of Rio’s residents. Examples abound: Nike has sponsored the transformation of the urban park Aterro do Flamengo into a football training ground for the city’s youth, the renovation of the skating ramps in the Arcos da Lapa, and community football championships such as the Favelas Cup.

Simon: I really like the work you have been doing at Mandalah in this area. I myself have been developing the notion of holonomic brand values, and this takes into account the brand and its meaning in the whole context. Just as organisations can be seen as living systems, so can a brand, but it’s meaning can no longer be 100% controlled by the owners of the brand. This is a scary proposition for brand owners, but I see there being a huge shift towards living co-created brands, genuinely co-created, and thus being fat more meaningful for those who interact with them.

Credit: @NikeRio

Credit: @NikeRio

Lourenço: In my view, the key to innovation is seeing the forest for the trees—the entire picture—and understanding the ripple effect that an organisation’s activities have on the most diverse spheres of life, with people at the centre. This is Mandalah’s invitation to a better future.

Simon: That’s great. Seeing is everything, and it is why I say that “to really see well is an act of humility”. When we move out of our ego and into ecological awareness, we really begin to see the world in a new light, where people and planet matter.

Nike Running Rio

Credit: @NikeRio

Related articles

Guest Blog: Lourenço Bustani – Less Mind, More Heart

Guest Article: Lourenço Bustani – How Mandalah are Shifting the Consciousness of Politics in Brazil

From Economic Brand Value to Holonomic Brand Value

Holonomic Thinking and Sustainable Brands – Co-creating our Future

Sustainable Brands was founded in 2006, with the vision of developing a global community of business innovators who would come together to co-create the future of commerce. The network has since grown include thought leaders, brand strategists, marketing executives, product and service innovators, and other change agents from several hundred of the world’s most influential companies.

There are many ways to participate in the network. The website has a wide range of resources including webinars, reports and tools, as well as weekly news and articles covering every aspect of sustainability. There are now also many Sustainable Brands events across the world, which allow professionals to network, collaborate and inspire each other.

This year has already seen three Sustainable Brands events hosted in Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro and San Diego, with three more taking place in London, Buenos Aires and Kuala Lumpur, in addition to Sustainable Metrics.

I am very excited to be taking part at Sustainable Brands in London in November, where I will be discussion Maria’s my own work on Holonomics and holonomic thinking, and how this applies to strategy, innovation and the evolution of brands. The theme of the event is Reimagine, Redesign, Regenerate, and so in discussing the shift in consciousness to holonomic thinking, I will be able to explore how we can see the world with new eyes, and what the comprehension of authentic wholeness means for brands, marketing and the new economy.

Holonomic ThinkingThe conscious shift into holonomic thinking is one that facilitates a shift into comprehending the meaning of phenomena at the deepest level. It is a dynamic shift which allows us to see the coming-into-being of a phenomena, and this applies as much to brands as it does to comprehending the coming-into-being of natural phenomena, such as colours, plants, and the organisational principles found in complex systems in nature.

I hope to be able to see some of you there, taking a deep dive into the shift from economic brand value to holonomic brand value, and co-creating a brighter, connected, and authentic future.