Chapter 2: Where I'm Coming From

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

This post is part of the: 'The Digital Renaissance' thread, a blog sequence that explores the capabilities and history of 'The Power Of Collaboration' and demonstrates how we can solve most if not all major issues of our time by leveraging collaborative and distributed principles on a global scale.

Since our time is valuable and scarce, you can speed-read through the articles in this thread by focussing on the emphasized pieces of text.

In the previous post, we briefly spoke about my origins, Almere. Throughout my life, I have always worked on my professional and personal development. I believe that the right balance between these two aspects of life helps you to find a sustainable life where you end up doing what you love. In this post, I want to share with you some of the events and experiences in my life which have given me the insights and principles that are the results of my continuous work on my professional and personal development. This way, I hope to lay the foundation for the remaining posts of this thread.

Phase 0 | The strategy

I started working when I was just 14 years old and have worked ever since. I wanted to learn how to wire the routine and responsibility that came along with working into my system so that I could become an adult as soon as possible (little did I know…). I worked as a store clerk, industrial cleaner, trampoline instructor, bartender, and occasionally as a road worker. In the meantime, I was studying high school and goofing around with my friends. Although I was ‘smart’ enough to skip a grade, I regularly got in trouble up till a point where I wasn’t allowed to enter any classes during my fifth year in high school. Except for philosophy, which was being taught by Freek Fenijn, my mentor at the time. Freek sparked my interest in the field of philosophy and he helped me through a difficult phase of my life in which I had to choose between school or ‘the street-life’. During that period, my best friend’s brother was killed in a gunfight which made me contemplate and realize a lot. I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a decision that would eventually decide the course of the rest of my life. I decided that the time of wreaking havoc and creating problems instead of solving them was over. This was when I found out that next to working on my professional development I also needed to work on my personal development. I needed to come up with a strategy. I learned that I had to design my life the way I wanted it to be by making an objective assessment of my current life and situation and comparing it with the life and situation that I aspired to have one day. This can be summarized in a simple formula:

Desired situation - Current situation = Steps + Milestones

By calculating the difference between the two we can discover the steps which we have to take and the milestones we need to reach in order to get to our desired situation. Some very easy to use templates to do this are the Target Monthly Income and Dreamlines Framework from Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week (more on this in the next chapter). Bundling my interest in philosophy, my love for people, and my interest in everything which was new I came up with the mission I stated in the previous chapter; “Unlocking the hidden potential of collaboration.”. By setting this as my desired situation I could define the steps and milestones necessary. The steps between two milestones I call phases. To quickest way to give you an idea of who I am and what I’m trying to achieve is by briefly summarizing and sharing the three phases that preceded the phase we’re currently in.

Phase 1 | The world and its disruption

February 2nd, 2018. Everything had led up to this point. After two and a half years of studying Engineering, Design & Innovation with a minor in ‘Lean’ Entrepreneurship at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences here I was at Schiphol airport. Ever since I was a kid, I had the dream of traveling the world, exploring new horizons, and immersing myself in loads of different cultures. I was about to embark on my first abroad experience for an internship as Project Manager at Vipera in Madrid where I would learn about the so-deemed disruptive technologies called Blockchain and IoT and their application in the world of the supply chain. Next to this, since I always work on professional and personal goals simultaneously, I learned the Spanish language (I personally believe that learning a new language enables you to express yourself in more ways) and I managed to connect with many cultures and people from around the world (living with seven of them helped a lot). Meeting people from around the globe, experiencing different cultures from up close and learning about supply chains, markets and disruptive tech made me see the complexity of the connected information & network society we live in. I learned that in order for us to unlock the power of collaboration we need people and technology to work harmonically together so that we can keep evolving ourselves and the increasingly complex systems that we ourselves design.

Phase 2 | Connecting people first

Long before we invented computers and the internet we as humans started with organizing ourselves in ‘networks’ or ‘systems’, some of which we call countries, villages, armies, businesses, families. In their nature, all of these ‘systems’ simply consist of a number of human beings arranged in a certain way where each one of them has a certain task or plays a certain role. You, me and every other person alive are part of numerous of these systems throughout our lives. If we want to unlock the power of collaboration, we need to understand how these systems and the connections between the individuals in it operate. 

In this phase of my life, whilst I was finishing my major and preparing for my thesis, I started to work at Heineken as a Brand Ambassador. Tasks as a Brand Ambassador in the old Heineken Brewery mostly revolved around pouring thousands of beers a day for the many daily visitors (also drinking loads of them with colleagues after work) and telling them stories about Heineken and Amsterdam. The latter is what intrigued me most about the job as it taught me a lot about the connections between people. I saw the opportunity to repeatedly tell the same stories to crowds (read: systems) of about 40 to 50 people a time as a way to experiment with the dynamics and rules on which these systems operate. Building upon the principles of ‘Lean’, I started doing micro experiments by slightly adapting my story each time I gave it. The goal of my experiments was to see if I could get the crowd to act in a certain way if I stimulated the connections between the individuals in it. Since human behavior is so easily influenced by different factors (such as emotions, context but even the weather or an overfull train), I figured that I needed to counterbalance this effect with my stories. In a very simplified way, this led me to the following formula:

Sum(Individual behaviors) :  Stimulation = Desired Outcome

In that regard, if we know the ‘Desired Outcome’ and we are able to assess the respective behavior of all individuals in the crowd, we are capable of calculating the stimulation necessary to get the Desired Outcome. I found out that the connections between people lie at the core of anything that is bigger than our individual selves and learning how to leverage these connections to fabricate our Desired Outcome via storytelling (the cornerstone of human communication) has proven to be an invaluable lesson in my professional and personal life. 

Phase 3 | A New Economy

When looking at the world in search of connections, it is easily noted that technologies such as computers and the internet are tools that help us as individuals with creating more and more complex systems to connect ourselves with. Undoubtedly, you will have heard about startups and disruptive tech before. These words have become too commonly used jargon which unfortunately has resulted in people failing to analyze the (in)direct effects that this new way of business has on the world and our economy.

After my time as Heineken, it was time to explore the world of startups and the new economic landscape that comes with it. I joined Startupbootcamp, the third-largest startup accelerator in the world, to write my graduate thesis about ‘Corporate Startup Collaboration’ whilst working in their internal innovation team. Corporate Startup Collaboration (CSC) is based on a model called Dual Core Innovation (DCI), a model which we will further explore in a later post. It revolves around the collaboration between vested, executive organizations with newly-founded, exploratory startups as a means to accelerate innovation within the (new) economy. 

In its entirety, this phase can be summarized as the phase in which the accumulated knowledge from previous phases was to be bundled to not only comprehend but also design solutions based on the Political, Economical, Socio-Cultural and Technological (PEST) frameworks of the 21st century. Next to this, it was really awesome to closely work together with the most innovative startups out there to design all sorts of innovations. It was an extraordinary experience in which I had the luck of meeting and working together with some of the greatest minds of our time, some of which you will be introduced to later in this thread.

Phase 4 | The Digital Renaissance 

“The Black Death (1347-1350) was a pandemic that devastated the populations of Europe and Asia. The plague was an unprecedented human tragedy in Italy. It not only shook Italian society but transformed it. The Black Death marked an end of an era in Italy, its impact was profound, and it resulted in wide-ranging social, economic, cultural and religious changes. These changes, directly and indirectly, led to the emergence of the Renaissance, one of the greatest epochs for art, architecture, innovation, and literature in human history.”

Often, disasters and catastrophes preceded the most innovative and groundbreaking periods in human history. These periods made change a necessity instead of a luxury and adaptability the benchmark for a chance of survival. Though I had planned to start writing this blog and the book it goes with after phase 3 anyways, faith had it as such that history seems to repeat itself.  As I’m writing this post, the whole world is in self-quarantine at home, the hospitals are full and economies are standing still, all effects of the so-called  ‘Corona Crisis’. Was it a coincidence? I don’t think so... As Paulo Coelho would say: “Maktub!”. The world is once more on the brink of change. Corona has forced us to rethink what is important and has proven to be a catalyst of digitalization across each and every industry. We’re about to redesign and build our global society machine as a whole. Although “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when creating them” - Albert Einstein, it is plainly stupid to throw away the old machine and its solutions without reconciliation. Instead, we can see which parts are optimized and if there is a place for them in the construction of the new machine. Just like the free-minds of the European Renaissance such as Leonardo da Vinci, Bracciolini, and de ‘Niccoli, we will have to study the (lost) knowledge from the past to shape our future. It is time for Phase 4, the Digital Renaissance. To find out how history has led us up to this point, stay tuned for chapter 3: The River Of Time.

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