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“From Pyramids to Pancakes”
The era of elitism, top-down management and deterministic ideals is over. We are now living in an age of social innovation and sustainability that opens up the future to the many, not just the few. Mass consumerism has given way to mass creativity, which is transforming how we think about and how we engage with the world around us. It is a transformation that Philips Design’s Josephine Green calls the ‘Pyramids to Pancakes’ model, in which the hierarchical 20th century has given way to the flattened, more co-creative 21st.
Senior Director Trends and Strategy at Philips Design
This new paradigm is essential for all levels of society – including businesses, institutions and innovators – to grasp if they are to succeed in the future, says Josephine, who is Senior Director or Trends and Strategy at Philips Design. In her recent paper, ‘Democratizing the future: Towards a new era of creativity and growth’, she shows how former passive consumers of the 20th century are now contributing to and taking power over innovation. “Think of social networking sites, which are moving people from the back end to the front,” she explains. “Easy travel and the internet have also enabled people to discover more about other societies, both influencing and being influenced by them, to the point where they co-create each others lives.”
The key to future success in any industry therefore is not in the hands of those who make more ‘stuff’, but those who enable meaningful social interaction. In the Pyramid world, those at the top attempted to dominate and shape the future to their needs. Their vision of progress was linear. “We were convinced that if we carried on as we were and kept everything ticking like a well-oiled clock then we would remain kings of the universe,” says Josephine. It was a model that worked in the 20th century, but no longer fits our society. “Now six billion people are out there doing all kinds of things. There’s nothing predictable about it, so trying to dominate it is impossible. We need a new approach.”
That approach is to engage with the Pancake, not try and pin it down. “The key for businesses is to experiment and constantly learn from stakeholders to discover what touch points make sense at any given time,” Josephine explains. “If the Pyramid era was about accountability, management, planning and controlling, then the Pancake is about responsibility, questioning, learning and creating.”
To find the new growth model, we need to start asking questions, she urges. But the ultimate transformation will involve making structural and cultural changes. It may also require freeing up our institutions to empower grassroots and frontline innovation, warns Josephine. To do that, the design community can take a key role. “We all have to move from the ‘industrial’ notion of design towards a more holistic approach. To do so, we need to involve stakeholders from every level and work together to make change happen.” The transition may be rough, she says, but the reward would be a more dynamic, inclusive and ultimately healthier global market, a more stable economy and stronger local and national societies.