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In my own region of Brabant and the city of Eindhoven (the Netherlands) we have been working together on the concept of `healthy city` for over 5 years now. The first initiative taken came from myself and my own STIR Foundation (City of Tomorrow), using the Sustainocratic work format. Our work became a confrontation with ourselves and the way we manage our cities and communities. And still is. The learning process is however unique, exciting and worth sharing.
This is a long blog again as it describes a process of awareness and a solution of common understanding and need. I describe first the issue, the impossible solution and the workable one from a core human values point of view. The latter works.
A unique dinner
Twice a year the political councillors of the five big cities of this region join for dinner, the so called `diner pensant` (dinner to think), together with the hierarchical representatives of the province. They discuss the practical issues related to their temporary jobs (every 4 years we see new executive faces after the elections). They are accompanied by their top civil cervants who run complex programs in the city. This time the leading topic of the evening was `health`. I was invited to speak.
My speech is not an easy one. Despite the noble purpose of the evening and the practical commitment of the region to work on health we need to face the potential impotence of the venture.
Cities have never been envisaged from a health point of view. Doing it now we face a confrontation with a reality that is engrained into our city management and the democratic structure of our system of governance and societal steering. For 5 years we have been working with a solution developed by my foundation in cocreation with the organizing (of the dinner) city of Eindhoven. This solution is a source of inspiration for other cities but at the same time a challenge without presidence as it questions everything a city has ever stood for.
Perverse old city management
The 5 years of experience in Eindhoven has become a practical voyage and proof of principle. It also became of tremendous academic interest for me to investigate the process through backward analysis. It gives modern insight on the practicality of transforming city management, sustainable leadership and societal awareness. Above all it is a research issue about human awareness development, executive blocks and hierarchies, and the human courage to break loose and co-create a totally new way of developing society. But before that we need to be aware of the current historic and ruling perverse reality of unhealthy city development and executive.
Cities have never developed around health, on the contrary. Cities developed around self declared land ownership, trade routes over sea and land, logistics, industrial processes, market places, public events and protection against the aggression of others. 5000 years of city development show us that everything turns around the hierarchy of power, the speculation with services and goods, consumption and all of this eventually translated into money driven executive management. Money leads in cities because the city hardly produces anything of itself. It interacts with its surroundings to purchase all it needs to continue speculation with the people who are attracted to this perceived abundance of real estate, shops and services.
Nothing in the city sustains health. Every executive decision made to develop the city is related to money driven choices that generally produce more pollution and health problems, not just in physical sense but also in the mentality, culture and behavior of people. Economic growth through inflation prevails while the problems are remediated through costly regulating bureaucracy and expensive care systems. There are at least four big reasons why a city is not at all healthy:
- A city consists of tarmac, cement and glass, eliminating every reference to nature or living species in an ecosystem. When something is not perceived by people than it does not penetrate our sense of reality. People in a city don´t identify with life and develop a mentality of so called `frozen ego´s`, emotionless for the problems of our living surroundings simply because those surroundings do not exist in their daily interaction. There is hardly any empathy, no sensitivity, no awareness. At the same time the materials used to sustain the city and its growth are extremely polluting, producing unhealthy dust and fumes.
- A city is based on the trade and consumption of goods producing a psychology of greed and hoarding rather than an attitude of productivity for wellness.
- The dependence of the city on goods from outside the city makes it a decadent negotiator for volume, purchasing as cheaply as possible whatever it needs to sell it as expensively as possible within the city. The effect is that the city contributes to the decadent way of treating our sea, soil and air producing all the problems that we face in the world that lead to huge catastrophes.
- The entire city is based on economics of trade that structurally rewards the systems that pollute (traffic, logistics, consumption, etc) while those who take responsibility are often do this as volunteers or get blocked by the official system.
The city inhabitants and users hardly identify themselves with issues such as climate change, acidifying seas or the invisible air pollution. The population does however show direct interest in sources to make money (through labor, social security, loans or pension schemes) to pay for all the services that a city provides. 90% of all city´s executive decisions are dealing with sustaining, rewarding and enhancing these patterns. The city’s transactions are being taxed and this sustains the bureaucracy, the investment in economic growth and the financial reserves to repare local damage. This damage repair is seen as a cost, not as lack of original responsibility.
Never ever the city or its population has seen or considered itself beyond its own city confinement, empathised with nature or the city´s own natural surroundings. The city invests in tarmac, cement and glass, more logistics and mobility, causing the pollution to even grow further. When I was introduced to this powerful audience of this unique diner the presenter used this video of air pollution in the Netherlands referring both to the challenge we face, the problems we caused ourselves and the responsibility I try to take through sustainocratic ventures in Eindhoven.
This video was placed on YouTube in 2013, two years ago, and has been watched just around 1000 times. Any teenage or adult video on fashion or music will receive such amount of views in mere seconds. It shows where the public interest goes. Health is not in the minds of city people as they deal with other mental priorities and choices. Health hence can never be a democratic issue, nor part of a political campaign. Health is a core responsibility, a key value of life. But this responsibility has been made subject to the political and economic system that defends other priorities and prefers to remediate damage rather than prevent it. Country level executive work is largely a copy of the city´s management culture.
As the city consumes it parasites on the sea, the land, the air and all life on planet Earth. The exponential growth towards 7 billion human beings, of with 70% have populated the cities, delivers a life threating situation managed by hypocritical, perverse city politics and economics. We can hence conclude that all current humanitarian and ecological problems on Earth can be related directly to the sum of all cities and that cities hardly identify themselves with their responsibility due to intensive self interests and a political and economic system that stands health in the way. The countrywide government floats on top of the consumption in cities and the logistics to supply them. The results are catastophical for all life on Earth, including human awfulness as humankind is too kind.
If this can be explained by pinpointing the executive problem of a polical and economic steering format and hierarchy why then did Brabant and Eindhoven accept my invitation back then, in 2010, to start cocreating the first healthy city of the world, using air quality as guiding principle?
Motivation differs, goals converge
My own motivation was and is still to initiate a society that takes core human values as leading dots on the horizon thus producing a self reflective and correcting society. By doing so one continuously challenges reality to see if progression can be made by engaging with such values (eg. Health, safety, self-sufficiency, self-awareness, basic needs fullfilment) and the continuous threats against it produced by life itself (human or nature). This would produce a continuous stream of innovation while we carry our responsibilities all together as a population. But it requires a different relationship with the executive steering.
Eindhoven had the courage to accept that challenge but the motivation goes step by step.
The motivation of the political partner at the city council was not yet challenging the political system that, in my reality, would disappear and be replaced by a new democratic setting. She was primarily interested in the potential of producing smart innovations as well as the production of insights that help her define her own executive policies around the air quality norms that come from the political hierarchy above the cities. Still now, after 5 years, the political partners introduce me and the cocreation efforts through AiREAS as a `measurement system for air pollution` rather than the beginning of a societal alternative in which we have taken responsibility together. I don´t push the situation as I see it as a gradual process. To accept my proposition immediately would mean political suicide in the perverse context of our present day systems. The story of perverse decadence can only be told by me as independent viewer of our realities but not by the city executive who is elected to uphold the system. We can however work together and need space todo so.
This evening session was the very brave first public setting organized by the executive of Eindhoven, accepting the total turn around of regional governance, with all the consequences of such move. The proof of principle of 5 years cocreation has developed enough arguments for the executive to adopt its challenge and present it to their colleagues as the best option forward. It has become a choice now, a serious executive option and this evening the choice was presented to the entire executive world by Eindhoven. The second part of my presentation was to explain this solution to get to cocreative health responsibility without political or economic suicide or chaos in between.
Socrates once said: “You can spend a lifetime fighting the system or put all your energy in creating a new one”. Sustainocracy is a commitment to create the new using the key values of our existence. For our traditional city executives it is hard to accept Sustainocracy when one is still in between two realities, professionally in one, humanitarian or intellectually in the other. Half denial and half acceptance is hence the safes way forward. Often we still hear the remark that “health has to become a business case” while in reality we realize and show that health is a basic, core responsibility, not a trade or something you can buy. Health is on the other hand so abstract that people generally do not understand, until we face the absence of it. That may also be the explanation why health never became an executive issue before.
Nature provides wisdom
When we look at nature we realize that it is always healthy and health driven. Life itself is by definition healthy. The natural living ecosystem that surrounds us is always healthy. That what is not dies or is eaten. The unhealthy always disappears to make room for new health!
A human being is also a healthy creature of nature. When we produce unhealthy situations in our surroundings we do the equivalent with ourselves. A process of elimination starts until our responsibility reaches our awareness. We have never acknowledged this responsibility because we only became aware when it was too late. The individual dead do not complain. But the collective threat of death does make us react as a group. We have let ourselves be governed by our (equally natural) greed and competitive mentality around power and control. The consequences manifest themselves because the health thriving living reality confronts us with the shortages we created ourselves through exhausting life that does not automatically recover with the development of new life. The lack of natural group empathy with nature has shown that we don´t know what we really are. We are presented with a mirror by nature through the appearance of catastrophes, illnesses, crises and chaos.
Cities are the first structures that develop this awareness because of the vulnerability that now appears and the responsibility that has long been denied. It is not at all strange to see that the large trade centers along the seashore are the first that need to deal with the rising sea levels caused by air pollution and climate change that has been produced by those same trade centers. It is not strange either that cities at cross roads in the country side are feeling tremendous fluctuations in their economies because they eliminated local self sufficiency and productivity and became totally dependent of the economic variables of the rest of the world. When Eindhoven realised this in the 90´s it tried to find a way to become more productive itself and came to the powerful conclusion that it could present itself to the world as key innovating city. Brainport was born as a concept of cocreation. It gave the city a sense of productive ownership of something it could control rather than being victim of economic fluctuations from elsewhere. The acceptance to my invitation can be seen in that context.
As stress builds up the awareness in the cities grows because they are now affected themselves in multiple ways by nature, shortages and the local crises. Responsibilities manifest at executive level and tension arises between this new sense of responsibility and the persistence of the old executive system, sustained also by powerful local lobbyists. Recogizing the problem is the first step towards a solution. That is why this diner and the possibility to speak openly about this tension, became a huge step for humankind, a burst of true healthy executive mentality, guts and sincere desire to solve such critical issues. But the old world is still dominant as the new world shows itself.
To provide room and space to develop itself the old executive is asked to step aside.
It is of course not the executive itself that steps aside. Their act is a demonstration of guts and sense of responsibility. What is set aside is the dominance of the political and economic steering system to provide space for the development of our key values that otherwise would remain trapped by the system. The executive then steps back into society to address the issue together, not as a boss but as a partner. For this we need to create the right conditions.
The transformation starts outside the hierarchy of interests. Players are looking at creating patterns to fullfil the higher purpose that is placed in the open space left behind by the retreat of the steering mechanisms. The open space itself now needs to be managed too to avoid chaos or anarchy. That is where Sustainocracy comes in as concept and way of working. We introduced the figure of the ´sustainocrat`, an independent professional that has the task to create a table based on equality instead of hierarchy, invite the many players in this multidisciplinary arena and assure that the higher purpose (health in this case) remains leading. Together the participants, in which government still plays a key territorial role, share the health driven responsibility with social innovation through its citizens, technological innovation through value driven entrepreneurship and applied knowledge through science and education. As the process develops and cocreation ends up into value driven projects with measureable results every participant is confronted with the need to address change also in their own organizations. But these changes can be addressed effectively because of the powerful arguments developed in the sustainocratic settings.
The example that is most used is AiREAS, the sustainocratic venture to produce health in relation to air quality. In AiREAS the sustainocratic space is now filled with various multidisciplinary teams that are producing an overwhelming amount of practical and scientific insights, social and technological innovations and concrete advice about legal and executives obstacles that stand sustainable progress in the way. AiREAS is providing a continuous stream of proof that can be used to start initiatives around every key issue that demands our attention fast.
Key conclusion is that, when the lid is off the dominance of political and economic steering, an explosion of creativety appears that addresses health and other core human values as a natural phenomenum. By structuring this creativy in the multidisciplinary format of Sustainocracy we can address any complexity because we introduce change not just through product innovations but also, all at the same time, by removing the blockage that the hierarchies created. The new sustainocratic society exists. It resembles an ecosystem in which all participate to shape and maintain a wellness based community in close resonance we our surrounding nature and natural resources. Sustainocracy is still relatively small on the global scale and hence still vulnerable but the ideology and practical outrole has proven itself, has been documented and now simple finds its way to the rest of the world as its seeds are being carried by the enthusiasm of all participants.
Recent blog and internet discussion, and our practical living lab exercises of AiREAS in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, got us again going about the overall complexity of the “psychology of change”.
On the one hand there are the impressive challenges of a global shift, a true transformation of society to save our selves, demanding tremendous changes. On the other there is the powerful resistance and dominance of the world’s institutionalized economics that produces many powerful lobbies to avoid change all together. The latter brings a certain material wealth to the world and to the financial mighty. I already wrote various blog items on it but the complexity of “change” seems an endless and highly repetitive topic. Why? Because it affects us intensely on all levels of society.
The need for change has to do with ethics, sustainable human progress, in-dependencies, our environment and basic human rights, as opposed to nothing of that, expressed through individual and institutional power positions. It also has to do with awareness, responsibility, dominance, different paradigms and massive manipulation as part of the huge human complexities. Both sides of the problem, the desire and the avoidance of change, are firmly established inside the kernel of our individual and collective consciousness, self reflection, evolution and the ethical structuring of our choices. Despite everything there is always a dominant situation of overall avoidance of change.
Manipulation may sound unethical to you but we are being manipulated all the time. Not just through conscious manipulation of powerful institutions but also by the way we perceive our own selves in general. We react primarily to our surroundings using multiple sensory and extra sensory impulses. The way we perceive is the way we react. Within this simple action = reaction there is the “human psychology” involving fear, worry, happiness, wellness, anger, hate, education, jealousy, etc. All this can be manipulated, even by ourselves, consciously and unconsciously. In fact, it takes an intense learning process to to become aware of one’s own behavior, perception and choices, to get more or less liberated from manipulation. We call this a part of our higher evolutionary awareness. Not many people reach that state and those who do often become manipulators themselves with a large array of motives.
While I write this blog and re-read it I realize that I myself am one of them. I have grown over time mostly free from manipulation. Now (before I did not) I can see that I am being manipulated in intention by a dominant money and consumer driven system. This produces some kind of friction between me and the old generalized system. By introducing a new paradigm (sustainocracy) I also manipulate people by showing them a different truth. Despite my desire to be ethical and transparent I do create a new environment with the intention to provide people such a sense of new security that they decide to follow my views and let go of the old paradigm.
All I try to do, which justifies my motivation and passion, is to make people aware of manipulation and help them make up their own mind, without prejudice finally about their choice, not even when they decide to turn their back to me. I see it hence as a challenge to explain myself and Sustainocracy in such a way that people start believing in it, more than the other reigning system. But isn’t that what the system of capitalist consumer economics does too? And has been doing successfully for a long time? So we both compete in the psychology of manipulation presenting two different paradigms to the people. I am of course just a beginner while the other paradigm has thousands of years of experience.
Psychology of manipulation
When it is warm we buy an ice-cream when its cold we wear a pullover. We look around us and decide what we do, need, say, move, ….almost instantly. Our impressions do not just have to do with sensory perception, they are also colored by what we think is right or wrong, just, wishful, desirable, etc. In reality we have been conditioned to instant reaction right from the moment we were born and open our eyes to see the world. Normally we see the face of one of our parents at first, or a doctor or nurse. We see lights, colors, movements …. We smell and taste things….we hear noises, sounds, melodies, voices. All these first impressions reach us without giving it yet a conscious thought, they form however the basis of the big pile of sensory impressions to come that we do reflect consciously about.
After growing up in a certain environment it becomes so familiar, our own unquestionable reality, a specific truth. Every new observation and experience is being compared with circumstances we lived through before in the past. It enhances them, builds them up, or rejects them, until you feel at home right in the middle of those impulses from outside. This helps to react instantaneously on most issues of life during the day and makes you feel familiar with the way others react too. Together we form a culture, a set of values around language, beliefs, behavior, etc, that define us as a community. It gives us a behavioral identity. This gives a sense of belonging that remains united to our local natural and human surroundings. It is important to us because we need speedy adaptation and reaction when our behavioral routine is upset in any way. It is important for our mind to be able to distinguish between the normal and abnormal and react adequately, especially when in danger.
So securities are built up by ourselves and with our cultural environment to make us feel safe within ourselves. We auto-manipulate this feeling out of risk avoidance, fear control and sense of control. This can of course be manipulated also by an organized surroundings that is based on institutionalized principles. This then becomes also a paradigm, a worldview that is conditioned by certain values. Our current ruling paradigm is the one of capitalist economics. The one that I am introducing with arguments is called “sustainocracy”.
That is psychology of manipulation, the sense of providing external security to a community of people by the internal perception of security.
Psychology of change
People are of course reluctant to change when it addresses their sense of security. Nowadays we are confronted with a lot of information on climate changes, pollution, global warming, financial crises, other crises, etc. When we read such issues in the newspapers and watch documentaries on TV we become worried. We still, however live our day to day, everyday life. We are worried about the large picture and yet do what we have always done. “What do you want me to do?” you would say, “who am I to do anything?”, you may suggest. “Let the government solve it” most of us would say. And you are probably right!
Unless your name is on the list of the G7 and G20 encounter, or something like that. Which is what tends to happen. A few hundred powerful people join in global talks but fail to talk about change because they want to keep a capitalist economy going that provides perceived security to many people including the ones in power. And 7 billion people feel too small, too insignificant, too unaware, to do anything while feeling blindly secure in their day to day living experience, expecting that the big G solve it all. Until it is too late.
So if we want to change anything we have to overcome the “psychology of fear for change”. This starts with the aspect of “negation”. This feeling is normal. To accept a responsibility we have to be aware that we actually carry one. Or that we become aware that those who we think are responsible, have good reasons for themselves to avoid change and will therefor not take that kind of responsibility.
As explained above we see our direct environment as a secure cultural nest in which we were born and grew up. If we want to change we attack our inner senses of security and that creates an intense feeling of fear and insecurity. At individual level, despite the awareness that things need to change, we have the tendency of neglecting it just out of fear of the consequences. We tend to place the responsibility elsewhere, outside our own scope. You may say that this the mentality of an ostrich yet it has a strong basis of survival. If everyone would panic upon the wisdom of need for change the chaos would even be more dangerous. Human beings need some kind of leadership to address change.
The need for change grows, the negation too
Meanwhile a growing part of those 7 billion people are being incorporated into the Western example of material wealth. They feel that they have every right, just like European and Americans have enjoyed this wealth for a long time already. They are right of course. Why would they have to step back being the newcomers on the scene while the old guys made the biggest damage? Aren’t all people in the world allowed to have a TV set, a house, a car and a well stocked supermarket around the corner? Sure!
So the biggest challenge of the global shift is to change everything without changing anything. Would it be possible to keep up and expand wellness around the world without damaging it? Many scientists and business people would see a challenge in it, many local small governments also, but national large governments and bankers seem to be more than reluctant. “You can change whatever you want as long as it gives us an economy of growth” they would claim out of self interest. What they really express is their fear for loosing power, control and a financial profit. So when we introduce the need for change we also have to seriously accept the “psychology of change” as a challenge to overcome, including the powerful.
Two ways to change
There is the universal natural way, which is the traditional chaos of destruction through war, depression, recession, poverty, etc which obliges all people to change by external, non human force. When institutions keep up their opposition and negation too long they block the flexibility and adaptiveness of a population around evolutionary change and provoke a natural collapse. The human suffering is huge and so is the institutional because it collapses. It is all expressed by violence, demanding the liability of the old leaders which are prosecuted by the laws of chaos or history books.
Then there is the voluntary way, as proposed ( and demonstrated) by Sustainocracy. When we offer the current authorities the recognition of power, also in the new paradigm, then they feel secure to support change. Fear is overcome by safety, also involving the powerful. So psychology of change has much to do with communication, not just providing means for others to change but also by being the change by providing security in following. Followers show their own leadership by making choices in which we recognize the intense process of letting go of old securities. If the new securities provide a better perspective people are much more willing to open up for change, also when they have a high level position of power.
Yes, I can
Sustainocracy builds a new society directly in a new new paradigm using the same instruments of power and authority of the old paradigm. It is interesting to see that sustainocracy offers more security to the powerful than the crumbling paradigm of consumer economics. Executives that are value (not money) driven are the very first to support the transformation, which is also becoming a transformation of securities, not just of values, economies and ethics. Now executives have a choice and when aware of their own responsibilities they can claim: “I know I can”.
Like every situation when a choice is presented between two paradigms, a new issue arises: “explain why you made your choice”. That will be subject to subject of a new blog.
Today I received the news that my paper on the “universal working model for sustainable progress” was accepted for the “Sustainability and Spirituality” conference in Hungary on Sept 21-23 2012. It is great to gain some international exposure for a method that I worked out in theory and also put into practice in my own living laboratory (The city of Eindhoven and the The Netherlands).
Many of the individual people involved in the related processes do it whole heartily. The institutions that I involve have still a strong dependence in the economic world and often lack sufficient backbone to show a sense of value driven responsibility. Here we encounter the true complexity of the paradigm shift from a money dependent society to a value driven one. The first is packed with institutions that have learned to uphold themselves artificially by the chain of financial dependencies, forgetting often the true original purpose of their existence. The value driven community of my model demands from the entities a commitment based on their true identity and contribution through application of competences and responsibility to the results we seek.
There are two moments when institutions become aware of their mismatch with sustainable progress and their confrontation with their lack of genuine and meaningful identity:
- When they fall over when their financial stakeholders withdraw their support in a crisis,
- When they get involved in value driven, co-creative processes and get blamed of incompetence due to internal bureaucracies, hierarchies and lack of capability to commit to true results.
We see this in most institutions, business, government and public services especially. In the second situation they “may” develop the awareness at senior executive level to transform into something that has a deeper meaning then just financial survival. In fact they start looking for genuine meaning and purpose, which is spiritual process. To take this executive action out of the sphere of abstraction I created the practical and measurable pyramid for multi-dimensional, value driven identity development and positioning of any institution.
When a company or institution remains at the traditional ground level in the base of the bottom triangle, it will develop and maintain an old fashioned a deteriorating strategy of financial dependencies. When it starts rising into the pyramid it will include much more value driven commitments that keep the organization alive and connected to a daily reality. The company become more sustainable if it finds a meaningful link with the surroundings.
To develop a true multidimensional value driven image (i.e. moving up the pyramid) represents a complex transformative process that affects the entire structure of the organization and all people related to it, internally and externally in the surroundings. As the value driven processes reposition the organization in society it will encounter a huge amount of organizations that are trying to do the same. The shake out is intense, driving organization to the kernel of their existence with a challenge to excel in their commitment to values rather than financial growth. Money becomes no issue anymore nor profitability. Profit becomes much more relative to results than just financial benefits.
From a multidisciplinary co-creation perspective only such companies will survive and link with value driven ventures in a sustainable way. It are not the products that make the difference but the set of values the company represents. Since these values represent the multiple inner meaning providing purpose to the commitment there will no customer relationships anymore but partnerships with other competence and responsibility driven institutions compatible with one’s own ideas.
Spirituality involves the profound understanding of a cosmic reality (matter, energy, purpose, finite limitations and abundance, her and now, eternity) and an evolutionary reality (dependence and independence, leadership, adaptability, sustainable progress). Business based on profound spiritual meaning is called multidimensional entrepreneurship. The difference can be summarized as follows: