Being Streetwize in Business

Many years ago I saw a graph of the Total Entrepreneurial Activity Index which is a ranking of the countries according to the percentage of entrepreneurs in their population(*). To my surprise, Belgium was one of the last countries in the ranking at that time and still is. Even more surprising to me than Belgium being one of the last, was that the top of this ranking was populated with a lot of African, South-American and developing Asian countries. The explanation was however simple. In these countries people have to be entrepreneurial and creative to survive, while in a country like Belgium we all have our comfort zone and a large social safety net. Of course there is more than necessity; but nevertheless.

Some speak about Jugaad Innovation. Wikepedia learns us that Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word that can mean an innovative fix or a simple work-around or a person who can solve a complicated issue. It is used as much to describe enterprising street mechanics as for political fixers. Jugaad Innovation is often used to describe the creativity to make existing things work or to create new things with very limited resources. Sometimes you get nice results even with imperfect tooling or limited resources. Although not having the right tooling or resources causes often inefficiencies; it sometimes results in innovation and sharpness.

As a bass player I cannot resist to quote Este Haim, bass player of Haim – pop revelation of 2013: “a good carpenter doesn’t blame his tools; it’s my job to make the bass sound good”.

Or, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Apollo 13 didn’t land on the moon. The lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days after launch. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and especially the critical need to repair a carbon dioxide removal system with very limited, maladaptive resources, the crew returned safely to Earth.

Forgotten where the adage came from – “Je kunt beter met een kromme lucifer een vuurtje maken dan je hele leven te wijden aan het uitlijnen van een lucifer” (loosely translated to “It is better to use a curved match to light a fire than to devote your entire life to straightening a match”) – it makes sense to me.

So let us enter Arnoud Raskin, he has hands-on experience.

Arnoud Raskin is the founder of the companies Streetwize and the Mobile School. Mobile School is a Belgian organization dedicated to helping street children throughout the world. They have developed mobile school carts and they train local street workers in 21 countries, spread across Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Under the motto ‘if a child cannot come to school, we will bring the school to the child’, they make it possible for street workers to organize educational activities with moving blackboards with hundreds of educational games. But the educational curriculum does not aim to replace the traditional school curriculum. All the materials and games target to increase the children’s self-respect and identity, and to empower the discovery of their talents.

Streetwize translates years of research and the experience on the streets with Mobile School into ‘unorthodox’ training programs for companies. The major identified street skills are a positive focus, agility plus resilience, creativity, pro-activity and cooperative competences. Indeed, these skills are very valuable in our business context as well.

(*) has been refined over the years taken into account the different phases of the entrepreneurial process


Introduce some jazz crispness in your IT organization

On this year’s Belgian itSMF conference I presented “ITSM, building blocks and what we can learn from jazz”. Indeed; this year the conference theme was about building blocks and ITSM frameworks: the pros’s of using them but at the same time daring to ask if ITSM frameworks can become counterproductive in certain circumstances. Having experienced myself how counterproductive processes and frameworks can become for innovation and business agility, and being a musician myself, I found the comparison between a symphony orchestra and a jazz ensemble an enriching metaphor. And playing jazz music I think I was in a good position to do so 🙂 .

The jazz metaphor in business is of course not new. It has been used many times. I remember for instance John Kao’s book Jamming – The art and discipline of business creativity released in 1996. Using the jazz metaphor it was a great book on innovation and presented in 1996 a clear view on the would-be business approach (a correct view as we can experience now).

Pivotal in my presentation is that many of us have a preference to solve problems with a left brain approach, thinking that – referring to the Cynefin model [1] – we can solve problems with a complex nature with techniques and approaches we have used with success for simple and complicated problems. Or that we can still address business needs with an industrial-speed IT approach [2]. But contemporary business needs have a complex nature and can in the current reality not be addressed with an industrial-speed-IT approach. Instead a digital-speed IT approach is required [2]; which I would just call business-speed IT.

So too often we apply the symphony orchestra approach. To create the symphony the conductor is the person with the overall authority to pull the individual parts of the orchestra together. The orchestra cannot do this on its own as there is not the ability to communicate across the stage or even hear what other sections are playing.  Therefor the musicians – restricted to playing their music scores – need to rely on the conductor to make sense of the whole.

Now jazz music is created most of the time without a music score; or with a lead sheet if melody and/or chords are not known by the musicians. Jazz is about creating music in real-time, being explorative and expressive within a certain concept (a framework if you like). Jazz is about listening and interacting; shared or servant leadership and challenging each other.

Following are some basic elements of jazz which we can use in our business environment as well.

STRATEGY: create a clear framework (enriched with values & culture) with just enough rules and processes (KISS). Create emerging solutions by continuously listen for change and react.


Listening/interacting: the value is created in the interaction; in other words use the power of communication, collaboration, networking, knowledge sharing, etc.

Technique: develop and master your competences but letting them loose again at the right moment. The real danger is in the continual cycles of process improvement and optimization of the wrong capabilities.

Experiment: no solo is perfect but good enough; make the difference between doing things right and doing the right things. Use unexpected outcomes as an opportunity and create emerging solutions.

Small teams: multidisciplinary and no duplication, facilitating empowerment and self-organization where everyone can lead by taking initiative. At the same time no team is an island and must be aware of the context.

Groove: maintain momentum and create continuous progress by establishing regular cycles and steady rhythms. The agile project approach is that respect a best practice.

The new mental model of IT should be based in the first place on a strategy consisting of a two-speed IT approach and creating emergent strategies. It should apply improvisation to create agility by:

Listening and interacting: both lead and follow; less control from IT will bring more value
to the business.

Technique: apply contextual awareness which means using more than one mental model or methodology.

Experiment: embrace uncertainty; error is not failure!

Small teams: create small self-empowered teams (including Right-brains) with a strong outside-in view.

Groove: work with short cycles to keep momentum.

In other words, let’s learn how to groove to the business rhythm.


[2]: Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World by Antoine Gourévitch, Benjamin Rehberg, and Jean-François Bobier (August 2012).

Bluegrass, click time en innovatie

31 december 2012. Het einde van het jaar in zicht, een nieuw jaar in het voorruitzicht. De periode van lijstjes en overzichten. Snel dan ook nog maar een lijstje opstellen, dat van muzikale ontdekkingen. In dat lijstje staat voor me bluegrass bovenaan, al heeft het eventjes geduurd.

Ik weet niet waarom, maar country en zeker bluegrass hebben nooit een gevoelige snaar geraakt. Of misschien correcter, ik begreep de muziek niet. Daarbij was ik in goed gezelschap als ik Victor Wootens boek The Music Lesson – A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music mag geloven. 😉   Een extract uit Wootens verhaal: “I hate bluegrass music. … All Music … contains beauty and soul. For you not to recognize it is not Music’s fault. It is you we are talking about! It is you who does not recognize! … My taste for bluegrass hasn’t fully developed yet …”

Zo heb ik dit jaar Alison Krauss and Union Station live aan het werk kunnen zien. Professionele muzikanten, mooi samenspel en -zang. Resultaat: een zeer enthousiast en soms ontroerd publiek, van jong tot oud. Maar de vonk sprong niet naar me over. Of bijvoorbeeld een optreden van de Belgische Sundowners op een unieke locatie, jawel in een oude watertoren: bluegrass op hoog niveau en onderhoudend gebracht. Resultaat: een zeer aandachtig en dankbaar publiek (wat volgens de muzikanten van de Sundowners wel al eens anders is).

En dan de film ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’. Ik verwachtte dat de bluegrass muziek die centraal in de film staat als ‘een tang op een varken’ het verhaal zou ondersteunen. Niets bleek minder waar. Uiteraard zijn het verhaal en de beelden sterk, maar de film heeft me als het ware geleerd hoe je bluegrass moet interpreteren. “It is you who does not recognize! … Well, now I do recognize.

Blijkbaar ben ik niet alleen, want via ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ hebben ondertussen velen de weg naar bluegrass gevonden. Ook al bestaat de muziekstijl sinds 1946 (eerste opname van Bill Monroe met zijn Bluegrass Boys), een muziekstijl als bluegrass past nu perfect in de huidige ‘consumer trend’ omschreven als de zoektocht naar warme, authentieke, ‘kleine’ ervaringen en emoties.

Dit brengt me dan vreemd genoeg weer bij innovatie. Ik ben oud genoeg L om meermaals geobserveerd te hebben dat sommige ideeën bij hun ontstaan geen verf pakken om dan enkele jaren (of zelfs decennia) later diezelfde ideeën wel zien opgepikt te worden. Ik vind er geen beter woord voor dan click time:  een goed idee vraagt naast entrepreneurship heeft ook de juiste tijdsgeest.

In 2012 was bluegrass ‘click time ready’ voor mij persoonlijk.

Om terug te keren naar het lijstje met m’n muzikale ontdekkingen, daar kan ik zeker nog aan toevoegen (onvolledig):

  • Chris Minh Doky (nog een late ontdekking)
  • Erik Truffaz (het lijkt wel het jaar van de late ontdekkingen)
  • Jake Bugg
  • Poliça
  • Valerie June
  • De arrangementen van Dirty Loops
  • “Guitar Zero – The New Musician and the Science of Learning” van Gary Marcus (boek)
  •  “Iedereen is muzikaal” van Henkjan Honing (boek)
  • Markbass basversterker (hardware 😉

Op naar de muzikale ontdekkingen van 2013 …

On Creativity and Playing Music

When I tell people that I have a passion for both innovation and playing music with other musicians, most of the time they immediately bring up creativity as the link between the two. And although most forms of music encompass creativity, there is much more to it.

First of all, playing music is an act of creation or re-creation. Different from a painting; a sculpture or a product improvement; music has to be re-created from scratch each time when it is performed.  This requires focusing each time again.

Making music requires mastery; some level of mastering your instrument. You need this to allow you to express you musically. Depending on style and capability; the level of mastering the instrument may vary somehow; but it must be present. The level is often underestimated and undervalued by others.  Mastery implies the drive for continuously learning, improving, overcoming new restrictions and disappointments, knowing your restrictions, working on rhythm and harmony, and so on.

You have to be able to work together with other musicians, to listen, to understand, to interact, and to build on the ideas of others. In other words to collaborate. Besides mastering your instrument (let’s call it incorrectly musical intelligence) musicians need to have emotional intelligence (EQ) too.

Certain aspects of making music such as soloing, improvisation, composing, song writing and style development imply ambiguity and uncertainty and require some degree of risk taking. For soloing and improvisation a proficient mastering of the instrument and a good supporting band makes the risk manageable. But even more, unexpected events or interactions and faults often lead to new interesting sounds, phrases, harmonies, songs, … whatever.

Music requires also a vision. Don’t do too much bench marking; there will always be better, faster, more rhythmic, … musicians. Imitating others is part of the learning process, but define your own musical goals and try realize those.

Mastery, collaboration, risk taking, developing a vision, goal setting. Hey, isn’t that the same for the business environment?

They Are Just BEING an Entrepreneur

A colleague recently asked me “what’s your definition of entrepreneurship?”

Well, my answer could be twelve words short or take a presentation of 50 slides long.  But here’s my answer in blog format.

To start with the twelve word version: entrepreneurship is the process by which new opportunities are identified and implemented.

It refers in the first place to an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes a clear sense of direction, creativity, risk taking and in many cases a lot of perseverance. In many cases (but not necessary always), there is a sense of innovation.  Therefore I deliberately mention the individual and not the organization. To quote myself:  organizations do not innovate; only PEOPLE do!  but organizations can facilitate or destroy innovation.  Innovation and entrepreneurship  being very akin , the same can be said of  entrepreneurship:  organizations are not entrepreneurial; only PEOPLE are!  but organizations can facilitate or destroy entrepreneurship.

The 4 keywords for entrepreneurial organizations are vision, culture, resources and people.

A strong vision is needed to create a clear direction and to identify the playground.

A culture which starts with the sincere belief of management in the need of individual entrepreneurship within the company and with the support management actually gives providing freedom, authority and responsibility. A culture encouraging entrepreneurship should give people the room they need.  Without some freedom, there is no experiment. Without experiment there is no success or failure and no entrepreneurship. People need some time, incentives, job security and room to experiment. And a culture that accepts that mistakes will be made (from which one can learn).

Resources imply that people should get the means and time and that some confined supporting structure is available. A well-known example is Google expecting innovation and entrepreneurship from everybody so many of its employees have a 20% time budget for defining, implementing or contributing to innovation projects. One cannot expect from an employee under high operational pressure working overtime to start new initiatives.

And this brings me to the fourth keyword, people.  A real entrepreneur will not work for long in that kind of environment with no opportunity to start new initiatives.  Entrepreneurs have some specific attributes like being able to seize opportunities, have focus & drive, being able to organize and manage ambiguity, etc.  and mostly they are just BEING an entrepreneur.

The Predicted and the Unforeseen

“Everything that can be invented has been invented”, said Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents in 1899. He hoped he would have an easy job …

“There is no reason why anyone would want to have a computer in their home”, told Ken Olsen as CEO of DEC in 1978. In January 1982 the Commodore 64, an 8-bit home computer introduced by Commodore International was an instant success.

In 1981 Bill Gates claimed as CEO of Microsoft that “640k memory in a PC ought to be enough for anybody”. Today it’s a real challenge to make a Microsoft Word documents or PowerPoint presentation that is smaller than 640kBytes 😉

When I started working in a telecommunication company in 1986 “videophony” was for several years the next thing to come. But not so.

In 1997 I attended the ISS (International Switching Symposium) in Toronto, and one of the presentations I remember was on voice calls over an  IP data network. The speaker used a demo to demonstrate how bad the quality of a voIP call over a good performing data network was, and proclaimed it would never be useful in real life situations.  In August 2003, the first public beta version of Skype was released.  Later on “videophony” was integrated. Yesterday it was announced that Microsoft bought Skype for 8,5 billion dollar.

We all know the unexpected fast and huge success of for instance SMS or Facebook.

Trend watchers, please take into account:  the predicted takes longer, the unforeseen happens faster.

Do you know the innovation killer?

KILL. In my presentations on innovation one of my key messages is that the innovation funnel is a real innovation killer. I.e. disruptive innovations, innovations threatening current cash cows or even very simple innovations with a ROI difficult to demonstrate (or with a too long realization period) will never survive the innovation funnel. And you bet that you will see over time another (most of the time a smaller) company realizing your idea.

HELP. Further elaborating on this opinion with the disruptive innovation model (brilliantly described in the Clayton M. Christensen’s book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”) my vision is for the audience sometimes difficult to accept.

PROBLEM. It became clear there was a missing link in my story.

BINGO. Reading the article “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making” by David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone I found the missing link. The article describes a framework providing a typology of contexts, problems, situations and systems. The framework sorts the issues into five contexts defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder.

EUREKA. If you put the simple and complicated contexts together (both assume an ordered universe, where cause-and-effect relationships are perceptible, and decisions can be determined based on the facts) you get the world is more or less controllable. In other words, the environment in which managers feel comfortable. Let us call this the manager’s playground.  Combining the complex and chaotic contexts (for which there is no immediately apparent relationship between cause and effect) you have an environment which definitely cannot be controlled or managed. Actions trying to control such an environment work contra productive and create unpredictable outcomes.  This world needs another approach: that of guides, catalysts, facilitators, artists and leaders. Welcome to the leader’s playground.

SOLVED. This brings me back to the innovation funnel.  The innovation funnel works well in the manager’s playground.  Continuous improvements and straightforward innovations. But it is contra productive in the leader’s playground. There you need other tactics like Play&Learn gardens, beer felt planning, wave surfing, etc.

Well, here starts the real story …