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.

A Very Special Summer Offer on Holonomics

HolonomicsI just wanted to let you all know that there is currently a very special offer running on Amazon’s European sites for our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter.

It is currently available for £1.09 in the UK, and €1,39 on the other European sites.

Kindle books can be read on on Kindle devices, iPads and smart phones using the free Kindle app.

So if you have not already dine so, why not take this great opportunity to discover holonomic thinking by following the links below:

UK: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JZQZSR0
Germany: www.amazon.de/dp/B00JZQZSR0
Italy: www.amazon.it/dp/B00JZQZSR0
Spain: www.amazon.es/dp/B00JZQZSR0
France: www.amazon.fr/dp/B00JZQZSR0

Holonomics-MargaretWheatley

The Infinite Obsession of Yayoi Kusama

These are some of my photos from the first retrospective of Japanese artist Yayoi Kasuma, from 1950 to 2013, currently on show at the Tomie Ohtake Institute in São Paulo.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

I had gone with the intention of this being a photographic opportunity, not having had many chances to really plunge myself into a sensory project. This wash exhibition demanding time, attention and reflection, and it would of course be amazing to take a more contemplative tour.

As it was, the exhibition has drawn vast crowds, so rather that offer too much in the way of as yet unfinished hermeneutical analysis, I offer you more of a visual tour of one of Japan’s great modern artists.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Since 1977 Kusama has voluntarily lived in a psychiatric home, and so her art has to be seen in the context of an artist who is open about her fears, depression and psychological complexes, at times ugly and base, but at other times uplifting and transcendental, as can be seen in her work with light and mirrors.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

A maverick painter and sculptor in a wide variety of media, Kusama’s art plunges the spectator into an often shocking and at times mesmerising foray of her seemingly depressive and broken soul, with her neuroses laid bare for all to see.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

The exhibition has been a huge success, and after queuing to enter the institute, visitors then have to queue further to enter each section. The Infinity Mirror Room is one of the largest Kusama has constructed to date, although interestingly the psychological focus for me was taken from a contemplation of the internal state of the artist to the myriad of visitors taking selfies on their smart phones. One wonders who has the obsession – artist or visitor?

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

For me the most compelling piece was one of her series of Infinity Nets paintings. These had an immensely organic feeling in their patterns of simplicity, giving way to a sensors exploration of the patterns within patterns that the minds eye could follow.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

How Holonomics integrates with Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer Programme

The Complexity Explorer project is being developed by the Santa Fe Institute and provides online courses and other educational materials related to complex systems science. This week Maria and I were honoured to find that our book Holonomics has been accepted into the on-line resource section of Complexity Explorer and so I thought I would take this opportunity to explain a little more about Complexity Explorer, why it is important, and how their on-line courses (MOOCs) can help lead you into a deep dive of complexity science.

Holonomics and Complexity Explorer

The Santa Fe Institute is a private, not-for-profit, independent research and education center, founded in 1984, dedicated to the multidisciplinary study of the fundamental principles of complex adaptive systems, including physical, computational, biological, and social systems. The project leaders for the Complexity Explorer are Melanie Mitchell and Ginger Richardson.

Figure 1: (a) A hypothetical normal distribution of the probability of financial gain or loss under trading.  (b) A hypothetical long-tailed distribution, showing only the loss side.  The “tail” of the distribution is the far right-hand side.  The long-tailed distribution predicts a considerably higher probability of catastrophic loss than the normal distribution.

Figure 1: (a) A hypothetical normal distribution of the probability of financial gain or loss under trading. (b) A hypothetical long-tailed distribution, showing only the loss side. The “tail” of the distribution is the far right-hand side. The long-tailed distribution predicts a considerably higher probability of catastrophic loss than the normal distribution.

Melanie recently wrote an overview article looking at how complexity science can help evolve our world view and understanding of the concept of non-linearity. One example she gives in the article examines the inability of the majority of economists to predict the recent global economic turmoil:

In 2009, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said, “Few economists saw our current crisis coming, but this predictive failure was the least of the field’s problems.  More important was the profession’s blindness to the very possibility of catastrophic failures in a market economy.”  At least part of this “blindness” was due to the reliance on risk models based on so-called normal distributions.

The term normal distribution refers to the familiar bell curve.  Economists and finance professionals often use such distributions to model the probability of gains and risk of losses from investments. Figure 1(a) shows a hypothetical normal distribution of risk.  I’ve marked a hypothetical “catastrophic loss” on the graph.  You can see that, given this distribution of risk, the probability of such a loss would be very near zero.  Less probable, maybe, than a lightning strike right where you’re standing. Something you don’t have to worry about.  Unless the model is wrong.

Source: Melanie Mitchell, How Can the Study of Complexity Transform Our Understanding of the World?

It is very clear that many people in many professions rapidly need to acquire a working knowledge of complexity science. Even if your work does not involve the development of statical and computational models, for example business strategy, product marketing, business operations etc, many of us do rely on the quality and accuracy of economic, financial and many other forms of complex forecasting, and we do need to have confidence in those who profess to be the experts in their field.

In order to facilitate the dissemination of the great body of knowledge that has been developed over the last few decades at the institute, the Complexity Explorer initiative was launched, the foundation being free open and on-line courses on complexity, the first one being An Introduction to Complexity with Melanie Mitchell which launched in April of last year.

Following the success of this course, Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos, run by Dave Feldman launched in January of this year. This September, two advanced courses will run: Nonlinear Dynamics: Mathematical and Computational Approaches and Mathematics for Complex Systems.

I enrolled on both of the first two courses, and in order not to repeat myself in this article, you may wish to read my two articles about them:

A Review of Santa Fe’s Complexity Explorer MOOC and the Future of Education

Thoughts on Santa Fe’s new MOOC – Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos

The great benefit of the courses of Complexity Explorer are exactly that, i.e. in addition to the theory students are given the chance both to build working models using computer simulation tools such as NetLogo, and to explore the (for me) wondrous intricacies of fractal equations interactively. (You will see actual examples of these in my two articles above).

Bifurcation diagram

Our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter is divided into three parts: The Dynamics of Seeing, The Dynamics of Nature and The Dynamics of Business. In Part Two we discuss chaos, the butterfly effect, attractors and strange attractors, entropy, dissipative structures, emergent behaviours, bifurcation, feedback, evolution and Gaia theory. One potential route into learning about complexity and chaos would therefore be to read Holonomics first, and then for a more in-depth study enrolling for one of the introductory courses.

Holonomics and Complexity Books

If this is the route taken, a read of Holonomics could be followed up after the course with Melanie Mitchell’s Complexity: A Guided Tour and David Feldman’s Chaos and Fractals: An Elementary Introduction, both books being two of the best foundation texts on complexity and chaos.

The second route would of course be to first take one or two of the Complexity Explorer introductory courses, read the books by Mitchell and Feldman first, and then read Holonomics afterwards. In addition to covering the work of Stuart Kauffman who was faculty in residence at Santa Fe from 1986 to 1997, much of Holonomics is inspired by the work of the late Brian Goodwin, a founding member and member of the science board of the institute. Last year the book The Intuitive Way of Knowing was published as a tribute to Brian, and you may wish to read my review to find our more about his life’s work: Book Review: The Intuitive Way of Knowing – A Tribute to Brian Goodwin

As well as being the author of a number of books on complexity such as How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity and Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology, Goodwin had a deep interest in developing a phenomenological and hermeneutical approach to science, a science of qualities as well as quantities, a vision he described in his final book Nature’s Due: Healing Our Fragmented Culture.

Holonomic Thinking

In Holonomics we introduce what we call holonomic thinking, an expanded form of consciousness which integrates insights from complexity science and chaos theory into this phenomenological and hermeneutical conceptualisation of wholeness of both Brian Goodwin and his great friend Henri Bortoft. Maria and I articulate this journey into the comprehension of wholeness as it relates to both economic and ecological systems, building in universal human values of love, peace, truth, right action and non-violence as the foundation. This is the journey we feel people must take in order to comprehend a system whole.

Maria and I have been working with Holonomics in both a business and economic context for some years now, and the feedback that we are receiving is that empowering people with a higher level of consciousness enables them to break out of fixed, hierarchical-based bunker mentalities, and into a new way of seeing which is dynamic, expanded and inclusive. People are no longer seen as resources, limited in their capacity, but as fully human, fully-valued, contributing to the evolution and long-term sustainability of their organisations.

As I have already mentioned, I have taken both of the first two courses, and found them to be wonderfully engaging, broad in their scope and also deep in the level of analysis that they lead students into. As we discuss in Holonomics, computation models of complex systems are extremely important, and in these courses you will be able to explore their at times awe-inspiring dynamics and behaviours in detail.

But a model of a complex system is not the system itself. There are times when we feel a calling to plunge deeper into an exploration of the very meaning of a system, its Being, and for this we need to complement a computational approach with holonomic thinking.

Credit:Adaptive Path

Credit:Adaptive Path

To offer just one example, in order to model the complete customer experience, we do need to understand the complexity of the flow of work throughout an entire organisation. We also need to understand the complexity of multiple data bases as well as the front-end services such as web sites and smart phone applications. All of these needs to be modelled, but this modelling needs to be complemented with a profound understanding of the lived experience of the people who are all a part of this system.

What this means is that we need to master a double-hermeneutic – that is – be able to interpret the way in which stake holders within a system interpret their own experiences. We need to understand systems as phenomena as they dynamically appear to people. If we wish to truly transform our thinking, we have to transform ourselves, and this comes from encountering the authenticity of a system, its wholeness, and our embeddedness within.

About Complexity Explorer

Complexity Explorer is a web-based repository of educational materials related to complex systems science. Currently under development by researchers and educators at the Santa Fe Institute and Portland State University, Complexity Explorer hosts SFI’s online courses, as well as an extensive complex systems glossary and easily searchable databases of syllabi, citations, and other resources related to complex systems topics. Complexity Explorer will also host a “Virtual Laboratory” consisting of open-source simulation programs illustrating complex systems ideas, theories, and tools, accompanied by curricula designed for both teachers and independent learners who want to take advantage of these simulations. All content of the Complexity Explorer website will be open to anyone.

Complexity Explorer: www.complexityexplorer.org

Rethinking business strategy for a sustainable future

Simon:

This is an article by Maria on how strategy can be re-thought from the perspective of holonomic thinking.

Originally posted on The Nature of Business:

A new logic is now required in the formulation of business strategies, a logic that recognizes the holistic and dynamic environment organisations are required to operate in.

This is a guest article written by Maria Moraes Robinson, a consultant, lecturer and co-author of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, Strategy Management: Experiences and Lessons of Brazilian Companies and The Strategic Activist.

Each year thousands of organisations engage in a strategic planning process. This includes adapting the existing strategy and rethinking fundamental assumptions, a process which involves many people from various departments and levels of leadership. Traditionally, the approach involves a study of future scenarios, an assessment of external and internal environments, a competitor analysis, a risk assessment, a SWOT analysis, and the definition of strategic guidelines for future project decision making.

These strategy practices were developed within the old logic of yesterday’s paradigm where the world is…

View original 597 more words

A Simple, Elegant, Sustainable and Cost-Effective Solution to the UK Government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy

Credit: Simplicity Computers

Credit: Simplicity Computers

I had a really great chat this week with Nigel Houghton, CEO of Simplicity Computers, who shared with me some of the company’s latest product developments. As a champion of Simplicity Computers, I have previously written about the sustainability dimension of their products (see for example A Simple Way to Recycle Your Old Computer), but in this article I would like to focus on their core target audience, people who are not currently able to access the internet.

Before we explore the solution, it is worth looking at data from the UK:

  • In 2013, 36 million adults (73%) in Great Britain accessed the Internet every day, 20 million more than in 2006, when directly comparable records began.
  • Access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, from 24% to 53%.
  • In 2013, 72% of all adults bought goods or services online, up from 53% in 2008.
  • In Great Britain, 21 million households (83%) had Internet access in 2013.
  • Broadband Internet connections using fibre optic or cable were used by 42% of households, up from 30% in 2012.

Source: Office for National Statistics, Internet Access – Households and Individuals, 2013

If we look at usage by age groups, a sizable increase in daily computer use, by age, in the past seven years has been for adults aged 65 and over. In 2006, just 9% reported that they used a computer every day, this compares to 37% in 2013.

Daily computer use by age group, 2006 and 2013

A recently published Government Digital Inclusion Strategy policy paper reports that:

    • 21% of Britain’s population lack the basic digital skills and capabilities required to realise the benefits of the internet.
    • 10% of the adult population may never be able to gain basic digital capabilities, because of disabilities or basic literacy skills.
    • Over 53% of people who lack basic digital skills are aged over 65, and 69% are over 55

In terms of actual numbers therefore, issues like disability and old age mean that 6.4m adults (13%) have never gone online. Disability remains the single biggest problem area and the ONS states that 3.5 million disabled adults have never used the Internet. Income also remains a factor. 5% (253,000) of those earning less than £200 per week still had not used the Internet (down from 286,000 at the end of 2013).

I have direct experience in these issues. One really interesting piece of user experience design work I did at BT was to work with older customers, and how they coped with mobile telephony. Mobile phones are a huge issue in many ways, such as small keys, small text, and it can be difficult for people with reduced mobility and dexterity in their hands. There are major issues which current user interface accessibility requirements only partially resolve.

(Source: Internet Access Quarterly Update, Q1 2014)

Four main challenges that people face to going online were identified:

  1. access – the ability to actually go online and connect to the internet
  2. skills – to be able to use the internet
  3. motivation – knowing the reasons why using the internet is a good thing
  4. trust – a fear of crime, or not knowing where to start to go online

In recognition of the size of the issue, the UK Government has committed to the following charter:

  1. Use a common definition of basic online skills and capabilities
  2. Support the cross-sector national partnership programme across the country (building on Go ON UK’s partnership programme)
  3. Identify and support best practice initiatives to grow through cross-sector working and complement the national partnership programme including:
    • uniting to support each regional partnership programme to give them the greatest chance of success
    • piloting and scaling up initiatives which bring support to where people are in their daily lives
    • embedding digital inclusion into partners’ communications activity to encourage people, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSEs) to take the first steps to going online
    • piloting practical ways to make internet access, kit and digital skills cheaper and more easily available
  4. Make things simpler for users who lack basic online skills and capabilities by using a shared language
  5. Establish digitalskills.com as the trusted source of information about good quality help available to get people online
  6. Support the development of a national volunteering network of digital champions to enhance existing networks
  7. Support an online skills and capabilities programme for SMEs and VCSEs
  8. Share best practice and use data to measure performance and improve what we do
  9. Build the online skills and capabilities of people in our own organisations
  10. Work together to support the aims of the digital inclusion strategy

(Source: UK Digital Inclusion Charter)

Complementing the UK Government’s drive towards digital inclusion are a range of not-for-profit charities and think tanks who are also contributing ideas and programmes:

Digital Inclusion Programmes

(Source: Sarah Fink, Simple Things Done Well, Policy Exchange)

The majority of these initiatives are focused on training as the key to digital inclusion. Policy Exchange, a UK Think Tank offer the following cost estimates based on the concept of Technology Advocates:

For a full-scale programme, we estimate that the creation of around 1,000 Technology Advocate roles working over a five-year period would have the potential to get around 500,000 to 750,000 people independently online. The cost of running the programme might be around £150 million over the five-year period, and the potential savings from cheaper government transactions worth  around £170–225 million over the same period. Our assessment, therefore, is that such a scheme has a reasonable chance of delivering a small net saving to government of perhaps around £20–75 million over five years.

Source: Sarah Fink, Simple Things Done Well, Policy Exchange

If we look at the business case for Technology Advocates, the assumptions of an overall cost saving are not certain, and based around lower government transactions. The time scale covers five years, and a major cost of getting older people on-line, the equipment itself, is not factored in.

The Tinder Group have also carried out similar studies. They estimate that the cost of getting 6.2 million people on-line by 2020 will be £875 million. Their model also includes a wide range for the average cost per person, from £47 to £319, and their model does not factor in the costs of any hardware, software or connectivity. (Source: Tinder Foundation, A Leading Digital Nation by 2020: Calculating the cost of delivering online skills for all).

There are other initiatives of course, such as the Bournemouth Peer Support Groups where older volunteer users guide other users, and Age Concern’s Intergenerational Computer Club, which particularly help older people get over their fears of going online.

Initiatives based on training are good, but the training can be both complex and takes a long time. The other hidden aspect of people who are digitally excluded is that many may have an ability to go on-line, but do not have the skills to be effective once on-line. As we have seen, there are cost benefits to the Government enabling better access to on-line services, but these require a complete understanding of the whole problem, and not just a part, i.e. offering more training.

So what can Simplicity Computers offer that other programmes currently do not? And how can they offer a cost-effective solution which is has an important ecological dimension as well?

Credit: Simplicity Computers

Credit: Simplicity Computers

Simplicity Computers flagship innovation is their simple-to-use operating system they call Envelope. This offers email, web and an application to store and view documents, as well as video tutorials from British television presenter Valerie Singleton. The first offering from Simplicity Computers was Envelope on Simplicity branded desk top and lap top computers, with a range of service options including specialist computer support for one year.

My mother was one of their early customers, and I spent some time observing her learn and use the system, which now comes with a version of Skype. Sometimes we do not realise just how complicate modern operating systems are, and I would venture to say that Simplicity Computers are the people who managed to get my mother on-line.

Simplicity Home Key

Simplicity Computers followed up their initial offering with a new solution, Home Key, which is the Envelope operating system on a memory stick. This solution transforms any Windows computer, however old, into one that operates Envelope, and as such it means out-of-date computers no longer have to discarded, even if the Windows operating system is broken in any way.

For people like me who are “good with computers” Envelop also comes as a pure download, so that if you want to give your old computer to someone who wants to get on-line, you just download the software and with a few tweaks you are up-and-running. For clarity, someone new to computers would not be able to do the installation themselves, but if you are OK with making a few alterations to the booting procedure, you have the ability to convert your old computer and give it to someone who would benefit from Envelope.

The very latest version of Envelope now works with any Windows system, including Windows 8, which has been extremely badly-received. Envelope therefore offers a solution for people wanting to buy a genuinely easy-to-use system for first-time adult users.

Credit: Simplicity Computers

Credit: Simplicity Computers

As I said, Nigel and I had a discussion about their new product which is still a few months away from being commercially available. This is a very small box which sits on top of a television, and allows Envelop to run using the television and a wireless keyboard.

Credit: Simplicity Computers

Credit: Simplicity Computers

In terms of price points, initially it would be available for £140 (not including the keyboard) with a view to reaching £100 once volume sales were being achieved. Given the challenges the Uk and other governments face with digital inclusion, Nigel and I discussed the following aspects of what this could potential mean:

 1) Costs of Training

This product, as with all other versions of Envelope, includes video tutorials. Looking at how my mother learnt ow to use the system, she still needed my father who does and has used Windows for many many years to show her the ropes, such as how to work the mouse and what a cursor is. However, inclusion of video tutorials provides a very rich source of training, and also inspires confidence in users. (For those of you not from the UK, you may not know Valerie Singleton. She was a well-respected BBC television presenter, and is in the same age group as the main audience, retired people, and provides video tuition).

2) The Concept of Training

For many people, the word training has some negative connotations. With Envelope, training dissolves into the background, and is therefore not seen as a ‘bad’ thing to have to deal with.

3) People with Memory Problems

Simplicity Computers have anecdotal evidence that people with certain degrees of dementia are able to learn how to use Envelope, and retain their skills. Although psychological studies are needed to validate this claim, Envelope could be a solution for people for whom more complex operating systems are simply not suitable.

4) Access to Government Services

As we have seen, a number of think tanks and organisations are looking at how to enable full UK digital inclusion, and these costs do not factor in the equipment. Given that no screen or expensive computer equipment is required, this could offer dramatic cost savings compared to other solutions which have not factored in the cost of equipment, and which may be under-estimating the full cost of training.

5) Effective computer use

Those people who use Envelope do not just get on-line, but are able to use their new on-line skills effectively. The training normally needed to take someone from being on-line to being on-line effectively can also be high and should not be under-estimated.

6) Ecological factors

The obvious element of this solution is that it works on existing television screens, including older ones, and the new physical equipment is minimal compared to purchasing a whole new computer.

In this article I have focused on the UK, since at this moment in time Simplicity Computers are mainly UK-based and I am familiar with the various work happening in the UK on digital inclusion. With little effort Envelope can be translated into other languages, and it would be interesting to see which initiatives start to explore Envelope and its various implementations as a very real solution to digital inclusion.

In Brazil there are many obvious ways in which Envelop could support not just the elderly, but in educational programmes too, driven by the private and NGO sectors.

To summarise, I see a huge potential upside in incorporating hardware and software solutions such as Envelope from Simplicity Computers into digital inclusion initiatives. It is not always the case that people recognise all the complexities and costs involved when only current operating systems such as Windows and Apple OS X, as has been seen in the reports I have mentioned, and so for me, Simplicity Computers do offer a realistic and fully costed solution, which is both scalable and sustainable in the long term.

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