Monday, February 12, 2007

Innovation - a hybrid connection between old practices?

Humberto Schwab, Director Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher, Moderator of the Club of Amsterdam LABs in Girona near Barcelona, Spain

Club of Amsterdam:
Humberto - you are an Innovation Philosopher - most people hardly see a connection between philosophy and daily life and even less between philosophy and business. What is the added value? Why has philosophy something to say?

Philosophy is the body of experimental and theoretical knowledge collected and shared by humanity since the invention of this specie. It is the richest fountain of wisdom about our selves as human beings, our needs and aspirations, our world outside and inside us and most of all about our values.

In philosophy we investigate falsehood and truth, the permanent and the temporarily, good and bad acting, good government and bad societies, beautiful and ugliness.

Most of all we have gathered wisdom about the quality of life. We try to make our daily life every day an experience of quality. At least many people try to reach this. This striving for quality is what connects our life with philosophy. Essential in our daily life is that we have our eyes wide open to see the right elements in their right relation; this is where philosophical methods are. We need to get rid of prejudice and false presumptions.

In business – more and more – the essence lies in the ability in enhancing the quality of life, in part or as a whole. This quality is related to issues of ethical policy and sustainable business. Sustainable is not only a matter of the natural environment, more and more we realize that sustainability concerns the quality of our communities. The pursuit of the good life is more and more the frame in which innovation in the experience economy is moving.

Last but not least, philosophy contains all the possible concepts, approaches, notions and strategies to frame productive ways of reasoning. Innovation is essential the rethinking of tradition, tradition as recipes for life. Taking traditional steps over again leads to new insights.

That is why innovation is often a hybrid connection between old practices.

Innovation sometimes demands new paradigms; philosophy is the producer of new paradigms.

You have been involved in large-scale educational programs. Can you give us an example of what you did and what the outcome was?

We managed to position philosophy in the official juridical structure of the secondary school system in the Netherlands. This old philosophy was recognized as one of the strongest innovation in Holland. I designed a complete program for the schools. A big innovation was the transformation of 100 excellent Dutch teachers from different disciplines into real Socratic teachers. That means wise people who put forward the right questions and not the answers.

At the moment I am involved in fundamental innovations of education in the Netherlands and in Spain.

In our society of the future learning is a value as such. This demands a totally different perspective on education and schooling. In an i-society learning has a different place then in the past hierarchical society. We need business, ngo-s, academies, citizen’s organisations and local government to co-create a challenging learning landscape in Europe.

In your EuroLab you use a special combination of techniques - some have been widely used in industries. Can you tell us why you choose them and how you adapt them to your projects?

The most used techniques are used instrumental while I always want to work in dialogues. A dialogue involves the total presence and commitment of the individual as reflective being. This means maximal awareness and maximal responsibility.

We cannot oppose general techniques on humans, without losing their individual strength. The Appreciative Inquiry method is very strong dialogue method in business, especially when - like the present situation - the relations between the stakeholders become totally different. The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) bring to light all the hidden good practices and experiences of all the individuals involved, emerged from their personal life. The top down model of the expert above sending his missives down kills the experience wisdom present in the whole organization. This AI method is fruit of a bunch of scientific insight on the effects of positive psychological approaches.

The Socratic method I have adapted to learning situations in school and business is the strongest context I know. Fundamental in this method is the key role of the good question. Putting forward basic questions is the art of collaboration. It gives new air to breath new ideas. People hardly share basic questions, let alone basic assumptions. Yet they work in contexts as if they share assumptions, values and concepts. The deconstructing of a basic question and the reconstructing of a shared answer uses collective intelligence as a rich fountain and provokes strong bounding on crucial challenges. In the Socratic discourse, the philosophical tradition serves as a support system, it helps to articulate good intuitions, good arguments and good ideas of all the participants. The Socratic chair (trained philosopher) represents the tradition and embodies it in a supportive way for each participant.

In a Socratic discourse the group transform in a natural way into a reflecting body that emerges a higher intelligence and a higher responsibility. It exercises human collectively at his best. It has strong rules that forces people to rethink other positions and to rehearse steps in thinking taken by others, it forces people to listen and repeat and to clarify all concepts used. The strong authoritative way of safeguarding the rules by the Socratic chair, gives rise to a real strong participation of all in an egalitarian way.

The strong relation between flourishing business and democratic cultures lies precise in the opportunity to put forward any valuable question of the quality of human life. The dialogue starts with the rethinking of standing practices and will virtualize new possible worlds and actions.
Good business ideas are in fact very often philosophical brainwaves!

More and more good business and good government are critically checked on qualitative grounds, from citizens perspectives.

From the Socratic brainstorms we have to come to a stage of productive planning. The future scenario methods are excellent in binding people on shared visions of the future and on shared actions to realize desired scenarios. Good dialogues generate an emergent intelligence that will give complete new frames and horizons. Yet scenarios without value dialogues are blind.
That is why in my EuroLABS the basic structure is the embedding of the personas in a value dialogue context. The revitalization of the basic existential questions generates an energy that also creates strong creative content.

I often hear that there has been enough talking and we should act now. Why do you put dialogue into the centre of your labs? And how does it relate to Do-Tanks?

There has definitely been enough talking, but then we talk about talking in the one-dimensional level we are used to do. Besides this talking is mostly discussions without any check of concepts, understanding of each other or reflections on principles or presumptions. This talking is often a chat between deaf people, they afterwards will follow their own routine in the way of thinking they were used to do.

The Club of Amsterdam LABs lead to a change in internal dialogue; people really need a strong dialogue with other beings to change their internal reflections and dialogues. This will directly lead to action, when you make shared action plans and design a sustainable dialogue with the stakeholders. To shift from a money driven society to a value driven society needs a new way of talking: the real human dialogue.

Action is always for a crucial part guided thinking or unconscious frameworks of meaning. The Socratic dialogues make sharing intelligent action possible.

Club of Amsterdam LABs:

LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Early Bird registration till March 9th!
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Moderated by Humberto Schwab, Director, Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher
With the Thought Leaders
Nathalie Horbach, Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee, UK
Simon Taylor, Director and Co-Founder, Global Witness, UKChristof van Agt, International Energy Agency, FrancePaul Holister, Nanotechnology & Energy, France

LAB on MEDIA and Human Experience
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
May 29 & 30, 2007
Early Bird registration till March 16th
Girona near Barcelona, Spain

Moderated by Humberto Schwab, Director, Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher
With the Thought Leaders
Laurence Desarzens, urban communicator,
Paul F.M.J. Verschure, ICREA research professor, Technology Department, University Pompeu Fabra
Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Director, Yahoo! Research Rudy de Waele, Founder,


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