a conference on a different future

The House of Beautiful Business in Review

The House of Beautiful Business was a one week pop-up community on the relationships between man, business and technology. From November 3rd to 9th – parallelling the opening of Lisbons infamous Web Summit – an international cluster of prolific participants from many areas of society met to co-create an exceptional experience in Lisbon, Portugal.

When organizer Tim Leberecht tweets “Back home […] and trying to understand what just happened” about his own event, we are not talking about the usual, post-event “We love you all” marketing messages. I was lucky enough to attend most of the 6 day program in beautiful Lisbon. As many other attendants, I found myself involved in an intensely dense program and witnessed a profound week of collective exchange of thought and perspectives: All based under the core question “How to make business more beautiful?”.

 

No to hype, yes to humans

“Next Startup: Humanity” was the catchingly phrased title of a supposedly cornerstone session during the conference Saturday (here’s the program). Yet even here, the conversations went well beyond the buzzword world of “Startups”, “Capital” and “Growth”. The other part of the title – “Humanity” – seemed more exciting. The carefully curated program carried a solid balance between the humanities, technology and the arts. The later was not only thoroughly placed on the Agenda – Art in its most intimate forms was thoughtfully woven into all the moments of our experience.

The mixed group of participants did in fact consist of entrepreneurs, psychologists, biologists and dancers, designers, artists and a good selection of leaders of various shapes and sizes. More importantly, the place was brimming with openminded, full hearted, highly reflective and highly motivated individuals.

A shot from a performance of her WhitePageProject by danish artist Helene Lundbye Petersen.

The Balcony view of the Palácio da Rocha do Conde de Óbidos, where the conference took place.

 

Food for thought

With this diverse group and a high velocity programming (with daily midnight sessions to really close of the day), the conference as and for itself served as a good collection of dots to connect. A recognizable amount of sessions was set up to produce personal experiences rather than purely intellectual transfer of facts. In the following paragraphs, I will put a couple of spotlights to the intense program and purposefully explorative conversation we all encountered during the house of beautiful business.

 

Artificial Intelligence

The smaller and the bigger scope of AI

The startup x.ai is dealing with exactly one use case of artificial intelligence: Let an AI assistant schedule your meetings for you by e-mail. A timesaver for sure, no more back-and-forth conversations and calendar checking. Will AIs in that magnitude take over the world? Sure thing they won’t. x.ai’s CEO Dennis Mortensen shared a vision of personally trained, cloud-based assistants becoming essential parts of our personal careers and even becoming professional assets. We’d all just automate our routine tasks. Even the more complex, but seemingly low value occupations such as scheduling an appointment with 3 parties while traveling would be handed over to a bot – a piece of software deeply mimicking our personal behavioral patterns. When the assistant truly learns my most important behaviors, it would be trained for both efficiency (e.g. planning back-to-back meetings physically close to each other) and/or personal preferences (eg. avoiding scheduling back-to-back-situations at all). In the future – we will all be constantly connected to a bunch of individually trained pieces of personal software helping us day-in and day-out.

First, we would willingly have all kinds of services scanning our habits and preferences – in order to provide ourselves with better assistance. What if my meetings were scheduled in accordance with – say – my biological reactions to jetlag and travel? I could have the most important meetings scheduled around my optimal physical state. Would we not go on to help software programs figure out how to connect to each other? Would we not be better off if the computer mind would schedule my meetings and my travels according to my DNA – even taking into account the effects of that day’s rain temperature on the skin of my face. So I look the most appealing to the preferences of my algorithmically selected business partner. I could do with an upfront script – at least a short brief on how our psychological patterns match, hopefully accompanied by a list of three to seven memorable catchphrases to build rapport with my partner. He or She would have the same available to them.

This scale of transformation – powered by increasing connectivity, the availability of data and some intelligent nodes connecting the two – lead to one key question:

Will we manage to put humans on top of our technology or will we let technology become the ruling force?

I did not even go as deep and wide as steven hawking did at the websummit opening.

Im equally scared and excited about the possibilities.Gemma Mortensen
(More in Common)

It seems unsure which ones and how many aspects of a distinctly human life could be taken over or at least changed beyond recognition by an even more massive kind of machine interference. Surely, the emerging presence of Artificial Intelligences will provide us with countless opportunities to identify what is (or is not) a “human essence”.

There is much mystery about the human role in our soon-to-come systems of economy. All and any routine and low value tasks that require sorting, categorizing, recognition, memory and generally handling data will probably fall away. In a world of augmented intelligence, humans will co-create with machines. As we already do – just unimaginably different.

Relationships

if this – then what? – The world is not straight forward any more

In the very face of technological and societal changes – Not only human relationships were a matter of discussion, but all and any relationships were of interest. The most interesting point in this discussion had been spelled out by BCGs Martin Reeves, Simon Levin, and Daichi Ueda. In their Post Think Biologically: Messy Management for a Complex World as well as in a corresponding session, a probably valuable point about our patterns of thinking was introduced.

When we look at the growing amount of relationships available – endless, interdependent processes on different scales and in different dimensions taking place in parallel and in real time – can linear thinking still promise relevant results? Or should we rather try and perceive our human and entrepreneurial ventures in terms of ecosystems and reframe growth in a less mechanic but a more biological sense? Maybe there is hope in a world that can rather grow and cultivate its workings in accordance with all its facets. The results this thinking promises are probably superior to those that spring from singular and low dimensional actions.

HR, New Work and the psychology of people

By people, with people, for people.

New Work and Entrepreneurship – economic or artistic – were equally well present in the community. What is a beautiful business anyways, if there are no people in it to enjoy the beauty? Obviously the notion of a working world geared towards curiosity, creativity and learning has two main drivers:

The corporate side

Be more creative!

Creativity in organizations is becoming a new corporate asset. Those most creative Corporations are promised to survive – or even thrive – in a changing economy. The responsiveness of an organization to changing paradigms in markets and customer behavior is seen as crucial to *win* or *make it* in an evolving world market.

The humanist side

You are creative!

The humanist side turns the game around: Suddenly, we are all inherently capable creators of new ideas. In everyone of us there is a leader, a creator, an artist waiting to be freed. If only we could open up a space and let those wild and colorful human flowers of wonder bloom fully: We would have a nice array of flowers.

However your perspective, wether a humanist, business driven or a mix of the two, it seems the core message comes through for both parties: In order to progress, an organization in all its parts, with its habits and unwritten cultural rules, will most probably need to connect to some deeper human qualities – probably on more than one level.

When true willingness and the ability to change and transform are the goal, we are looking at the very top of maslovs pyramid of needs.

The capacity and especially inherent impulse to actualize oneself as a person is largely developed after more basic needs are met.

When the goal is to achieve a culture of transformation, we need to consider the pyramids foundation: Once transformation is key, there would be little use in humans that fail to even cover the base of their pyramid. But even more potential may be lost by those that do have their needs met, yet feel they need to further expand their basis.

In times of rapid development, communities of all sorts will aim, try and fail to create this delicate basis.

Future organizations will want to help their stakeholders – staff, customers and business partners – find and contribute their very best, most mind- and useful selves.

Purpose and Human-Centricity

Why we do things

Concerning an awful lot of talk about human action and its results, purpose and human-centricity were ever returning themes. It seems that higher goals would motivate people and let them take on agency and pride for their work. One would assume that such a “purpose” should be present for everyone, yet even in our time of massive opportunity, a lack of clear direction leads to stagnant and even diminishing results for many. It’s not burnout-plagued managers and bored employees, its our collective entities that seem to be in urgent need for a good coach – or a shrink. “Why are we doing this?” is a question worth answering on any scale. Sometimes, the answer will be available in plain sight. Sometimes the doing is almost right and can be readjusted. Sometimes, we may want to find new occupations all together – maybe a valid, and always a scary finding. Recognizing the true and real value of what we bring to the world makes for a good indicator of long-term financial success to be expected.

beautiful business

What makes beautiful business?

What makes beautiful business? The question has hardly been discussed explicitly, yet the framework was there all along. From the manifesto of beautiful business, we learn that there is not even much either-or in our choices. It seems some of our most pressing transformational challenges are integrative in nature. Purpose and profit together provide a nourishing ground for growth. Thoughtful and loving relationships to other humans seems a “core strategy” (“key asset” works no better) for the future. When we encounter partners, coworkers, clients, customers or staff – any kind of human involved with our organization – can we recognize them for what they are? Can Corporations – those social places that we all spend so much time in – become places where value is not “extracted” by schemes and processes, but rather created on the basis of a heart-felt connection to our fellow humans? When efficiency is outsourced to machines, will all our jobs be focused around acts of compassion, kindness and care?

My personal key quote was pasted on a poster featuring a fellow resident from the house:

You can’t rely on being solely one thing. You need to become multifaceted.Martin Wezowski

 


 

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Further resources on the House of Beautiful Business

Others have also been sharing their experiences in the house. Here is a list – in case you want more:
The Human Future of Business: Hints for Future Gazers by Martin Reeves (BCG), Léa Steinacker (WirtschaftsWoche), and Tim Leberecht (HoBB)
Can Robots Teach Us How to Be Human? by Moulsari Jain (Artists Are Among Us)
In the Shadow of the House of Beautiful Business by Jonathan Cook
The Future of Business Growth by Sophie Devonshire (Caffeine)
How Future Technologies Enable a Human Era of Work by Soulworx
Next Startup: Humanity by Ethan Imboden (frog)
A Review with lots of testimonials on the house of beautiful business website.