Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

The art of interaction, the design of digital work and the science of social complexity

Category: Art

Collaborative and Competitive Creativity

Pablo Picasso visited Henri Matisse often during the spring of 1946. Matisse was pleased to see him. Matisse was 76 and had endured arduous colon surgery. Much of his work was now done either in bed or from a wheelchair. Simon Schama tells the story that after one of these visits Henri Matisse wrote to his son Pierre: “Picasso came to see me with a very pretty young woman. He could not have been more friendly and said he would come back and have a lot of things to tell me. But he saw what he wanted to see, my works in cut paper, my new paintings. That’s all he wanted. He will put it all to good use in time.”

Art historians claim that the relationship between Picasso and Matisse was by turns collaborative and competitive. It was a kind of an on going sparring match between two great masters.

The new technological environment of business has something in common with the world of Picasso and Matisse. It is marked by conflicting constraints, variables that shift very rapidly and value-creating relationships that change constantly. It is a complex environment.

In complex environments, the way to proficiency is to recombine successful elements to create new versions, some of which may thrive.

As a result, not just the user interfaces, but the operating system of work is starting to change in a radical way. The traditional industrial approach to work was to require each worker to assume a predetermined responsibility for a specific role. The new approach represents a different logic of organizing based on neither the traditional market nor a process. Whereas processes involve relations based on dependence and markets involve relations based on independence, the new networks involve relations of dynamic interdependence. A bit like the relationship between Matisse and Picasso. Minimal hierarchy, organizational diversity and responsiveness characterize these architectures. They are a necessary response to the increasing fuzziness of strategic horizons and short half-life of designs. Because of greater complexity, coordination cannot be planned in advance. Authority needs to be distributed; it is no longer delegated vertically but emerges horizontally. Under distributed authority work teams and knowledge workers need to be accountable to other work teams and other knowledge workers. Achievement depends on learning by mutual accountability and responsiveness.

Management and strategy used to be about rational choice between a set of known options and variables. The variables of creative work and complex environments have increased beyond systems thinking and process design. Under circumstances of rapid technological change, the management challenge is to create openness to possibilities and plausible options.

Success is based on continuous redefinition of the organization itself. It is about recombining options and contributions in a competitive and cooperative environment. Creativity is the default state of all human work. Even the most creative people are more remixers of other peoples’ ideas than lone inventors. Technology and development in general are not isolated acts by independent thinkers, but a complex storyline.

The democratization of technology that is taking place at the moment does not determine social and organizational change, but does create new opportunity spaces for new social practices. The opportunity we have is in new relational forms that don’t mimic the governance models of industrial firms. Network theory suggests that what the system becomes emerges from the complex, responsive relationships of its members, continuously developing in communication.

Like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.


Thank you Simon Schama

Designing a life

Apple design was not about Steven Jobs alone, but about Steven Jobs and the lead designer Jonathan Ive. The way I see it, their collaboration in Apple followed a bit the story of another design icon, Braun. The key people then were the industrialist Erwin Braun, his brother and the designer Dieter Rams.

Jonathan Ive has described his first encounter with a Dieter Rams design: “No part appeared to be either hidden or celebrated, just perfectly considered and appropriate in the hierarchy of the product’s details. You knew exactly what it was and how to use it.”

“Good design is as little design as possible” is one of Dieter Rams’ most famous phrases. The meaning behind it was that a well-designed product should be so good that it is barely noticeable. By leaving the unnecessary out, the essential factors rise to the foreground. The challenge is that the design may be simple but the path taken to create it highly complex.

Dieter Rams was one of the first people who made the distinction between consumers and users when he talked about the people at whom his designs were aimed. The term “consumer” corresponds to someone who uses things up. Consumption is then a process of reducing the value that is built into the product. Rams preferred to use the German term “Gebraucher”, which translates as someone who uses something. The consumer is turned into the modern notion of a value-creating customer. If the design is useful, if the product facilitates value creation, it makes sense that it lasts as long as possible. For Rams, the term “Verbraucher”, the consumer, had a negative meaning, implying waste and short-term thinking.

Another concept that Dieter Rams suggested was “re-design”. What he meant was to turn away from an addiction to novelty towards iterations, to improving what we already have.

“Less, but better” was the ultimate motto of Dieter Rams. The motto follows the idea of “less is more” of Mies van der Rohe and Peter Behrens. The original idea of Behrens was improvement through reduction, reducing quantity, waste, and excess and at the same time increasing quality, value and the effort to create a better world in a human centric way.

Dieter Rams formulated his ideas about good design into a set of principles to explain what makes a good product:

The first principle was: good design is innovative. Technological developments always offer new opportunities. Innovative design develops in collaboration with innovative technology.

The second principle: good design is about usefulness. A product is bought to be used. Design is about emphasizing usefulness whilst disregarding everything that could be a detraction from it.

The third principle: good design is beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to functionality.

The fourth principle: good design makes a product understandable. At best it is self-explanatory.

The fifth principle: a good design is honest and does not try to make a product more innovative or valuable than it is.

The sixth principle: good designs are neither decorative nor independent works of art. Their design should leave room for interaction and the user’s self-expression.

The seventh principle: a good design lasts many years rather than being short-term and fashionable.

The eighth principle: it is about attention to detail. Nothing should be left to chance.

The ninth principle: good design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It minimizes waste and it minimizes visual and physical pollution.

The tenth principle: good design is “as little as possible”: it is about less but paradoxically at the same time about better, more valuable.

The principles of a good design may be the principles of a good life.


Thank you Dieter Rams, Sophie Lovell, Marco Steinberg and his team at Sitra. Thank you also @moia

More: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art New York. Helsinki Design Lab. Guy Kawasaki on Steve Jobs. Jonah Lehrer on Steve Jobs. John Sculley on Steve Jobs. Technology and social change. Fast Company: 50 Most Influential Designers in America.

Learning from Caravaggio

We have a curious habit of thinking that what we are accustomed to is the way things should be. We are inclined to accept conventional forms as facts, and as meaningful reference points, when facing novelty.

Artists are often the people who want to see the world afresh. It is not easy to get rid of preconceived ideas, but the artist who best discards accepted notions and prejudices often produces the most remarkable works of art. However, a painting that represents a traditional subject in an unexpected way is often condemned. Normally there is no good reason, apart from the work of art just not following tradition.

There have been a few times in history that a great artist looked carefully at what was visible to everybody, but in fact saw things very different from the way others saw them.

Very few artists have caused as much shock and outrage as Caravaggio (1571 – 1610). His full name was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio A famous story is told about the commissioning of a painting of Saint Matthew for the altar of a church in Rome. This happened around 1600. The saint was going to be represented writing the gospel that was later going to be named after him. As gospels were the word of God, there was also going to be an angel in the picture, giving guidance to Matthew. Caravaggio read the old texts very carefully and tried to figure out what it must have been like when an old workingman suddenly had to sit down and do something that he had never done, or never dreamed of doing: writing, and writing a book, and being guided by an angel!

Caravaggio painted an elderly man, seemingly from a poor background. A workingman with a bald head and muscular legs, writing awkwardly! Beside him was a strange child with beautiful white wings. A young angel was guiding Matthew’s hand just like a teacher would do to a young pupil doing something for the very first time. Caravaggio’s painting was a fantastic portrait of a human being in a very, very special situation. But it was more than that, it was also a completely new way of expressing a familiar topic. The painting was to be placed on the altar of a church in Rome.  This never happened because Caravaggio’s work created a huge scandal. The painting was not accepted because it was claimed that it showed a lack of respect for the topic! What Caravaggio had done, for the first time in history, was to create a new expression and give a human face to something that was previously highly formalized. Caravaggio may have been the first human-centric painter.

People thought that Caravaggio was out to shock them. They also thought that he had no understanding for beauty and tradition. In fact, Caravaggio may have been the first artist in known history who was labeled both a rebel and a naturalist at the same time. Anyway, he was the first painter of the “ugly” true reality. The curious thing is that seeing Caravaggio’s paintings today; one still encounters the same boldness, energy and power that must have shocked people over four hundred years ago.

Caravaggio’s art is still very much alive today, although the altar painting described here was never accepted for the altar and was eventually destroyed in Germany during the Second World War. It has been missing since.

The question remains whether the human-centric approaches today meet the same kind of opposition as Caravaggio encountered. This time, it is not about challenging the conventions carried forward by the church, or representations of what is considered holy. Human-centric thinking today questions the conventions carried forward by organization-centric thinking and the idealized representations of leadership/management. But the pattern is the same. Not much has changed, when it comes to the importance of Caravaggio! Being human-centric may be today as difficult as it was in 1602.

The challenge is the same: to look carefully at what is visible to everybody, but in fact see things very different from the way others see them.

Thank you @cshirky

Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem

Paul Cézanne once wrote that beauty in art is not created by the objects that are represented but by the relationships of line and colour. Relationships create tensions: tensions between line and colour, artistic perfection and “émerveillement”, meaning being enchanted like only a child can. Rigidity and fluidity. Shiva and Krishna. Kathak dance and classical ballet, and especially Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem. To me, Akram Khan is the most gifted choreographer and dancer of his generation. Sylvie Guillem is perhaps the world’s most celebrated ballerina today.

An evening at the Finnish National Opera provided all this. “Sacred Monsters” was the meeting of two superstars (sacred monsters) and two dance forms, two different vocabularies. It was interesting to compare the speech vocabulary with the dance vocabulary: Khan a bit flippantly worrying about losing his hair, Guillem casually reflecting on learning Italian from children’s cartoons. And then the superb dance vocabulary of Khan’s fluid Kathak beat, combined with Guillem’s beauty and balance. Wonderful moments that perhaps only these two dancers can achieve: Guillem with her feet locked behind Khan’s back, leaning back, with both their arms in a flowing wave. A remarkable combination of strength and poetry.

Akram Khan, speaking about this project, said: “I have spent my life studying and performing Kathak (the ancient North Indian dance tradition). It is the source of my creative process. Working with Sylvie Guillem is an exciting new challenge, giving me the opportunity to explore another classical dance language with one of its greatest practitioners, and as a result, creating a situation that will unearth the things that are most often lost between the old and modern world.” When Khan and Guillem danced side by side, it was interesting to note that I was often drawn to Khan’s dance rather than to Guillem’s, despite her beauty and grace. Is it a reminder that elsewhere too, there is inspiration, energy and richness in the things we forget – the sources of our creative process?