“Is our very notion of the future and of time itself damaging rather than assisting us?”
Please Can We Have A New World View
Interview: Josephine Green, heads the socio-cultural research and trends division at Royal Philips Electronics, leading solution provider in healthcare, lifestyle and technology. Key watchwords for Philips’ brands are ‘Sense and Simplicity’
Key Facts on Philips
* Founded 1891.
* Industry: Healthcare, Lifestyle and Technology.
Q: Why do you think TIME TO THINK is a good theme for the conference?
Josephine Green: There have been a few pivotal moments in history when the world changed leaving very little as it was. Converging forces transform and transfigure what was known, re-aligning the content, the relationships and the main agents in society. This is just such a time. This is why we now need time to think. It is a critical but a golden opportunity to reconsider how we want our future to be. I believe emphasis on productivity, performance, efficiency and speed is no longer helping us move towards a future that makes sense.
Always striving for better and better and more and more, may not be the way forward. Instead of racing ahead along the same beaten track, we need time to think in order to re-frame basic questions about future quality of life, future growth, future sense making. Given the challenges we face in this transition period, we need to feed our minds, our creativity and our imagination. We must move beyond innovation (more of the same but slightly different) to transformation (different things done differently).
Perhaps, in fact, we need more inefficiencies so that we can explore and experiment with new solutions to new problems.
Q: How does Philips work with trends?
Josephine Green: Philips Design, the Design group of Philips Electronics, carries out futures and trends research in order to better understand and explore future and present potentialities. We start from our vision of improving the quality of life of all people through meaningful technology, and our brand of Sense and Simplicity. In order to make sense we put people at the centre of our innovation processes, through our research into Society, Cultures and People.
A diverse team of futurists, psychologists, historians, anthropologists and designers research, both creatively and analytically, the deeper currents shaping tomorrow’s world. They analyse the expressions of these values as they manifest in the culture, needs and behaviours of people in their everyday lives and activities. The translation of this research is then taken into multidisciplinary innovation projects where researchers, designers, technologists and business people work together to generate new concepts
Q: Have Philips always worked with trends this way?
Josephine Green: We have been working in this way for more than 10 years now so we have a rich database. However we are always re-framing our own boundaries and are at present developing new tools and approaches to ensure richer insights from trends and people research.
One is to actually re-think how we think about the future, another is to monitor and research bottom up social innovation. In other words, we scan what people are actually doing to find their own solutions to new needs. Is it co-housing? is it alternative education? and so on.
We are also researching the ‘carriers’ of emerging values – that segment of the population who give the next age its social profile, character and values. All of these approaches enhance our understanding of the changes taking place, enabling us to ask different questions and find different solutions.
Q: How do you personally get new ideas and refresh your thinking?
Josephine Green: Given that this is my life’s work, it almost happens automatically. My mind works by making connections and seeing patterns – so it just happens. I personally find that by being outside, in nature, on a train, in a bar that I get into a flow and ideas come. It’s quite strange.
It is as if I need that distraction to get my creative juices flowing and feed my energy levels. I think in a way it’s about distraction – while you are distracted ideas creep up on you and connections get made.
On a more tangible level I get a lot of input from a wide network of contacts and people, from conferences and through our own research.
Q: What lifestyle changes do you think will be the most important in years to come?
Josephine Green: People are re-defining what is important to them beyond wealth and materialism and there will be a search for a more balanced quality of life and a richer spirituality and citizenship. At the same time, as people become increasingly empowered, so they will determine for themselves how they wish to ‘design’ their lives.
In other words they will increasingly co-design and co-author their own lives and environments, aided and assisted by new technologies and by companies. I believe that a future role for companies will be to facilitate and enable people to reach their own goals.
Q: Today Philips is a technology-lifestyle-healthcare company. Can you explain the vision for this new direction?
Josephine Green: Philips has a richness of knowledge and resources and talent across its different product divisions – ranging from medical to consumer electronics to lighting to domestic appliances to semiconductors.
As we move into a solutions- and experience-oriented market, so all of these resources across the different divisions can best be expressed and capitalized on by joining forces around healthcare, lifestyle and technology.
By finding solutions in these areas across the different divisions, the company’s strengths are increased.
Q: What do you think is the most important challenge for tomorrow’s company?
Josephine Green: In the final analysis a company’s innovation and growth depends on the creativity and commitment of the people working in it. I think that big companies have got to become more creative, more imaginative and freer. This means creating an environment and organisation that encourages openness, personal growth, creativity and risk on the one hand, and on the other fostering vision and values that are meaningful and contribute to being a force for good.
There will be a time, not so distant, when the various stakeholders will ask corporations to do good – not just because there is a business case, but because it is morally right. Our transformation and our challenge is to go from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism. To go beyond short term maximization of profit and shareholder value to a sustainable model of growth and development.
Q: Can I get a speed conclusion?
Josephine Green: We need time to be not time to do. Our industrial society has tended to define ‘doing’ as ‘useful’ and ‘being’ as ‘useless’. Taking time to think challenges this. ‘Being’ is useful because it refreshes our ideas, our creativity, our commitment – and our playfulness. It enables us to grow and to contribute.
Bertrand Russell the British philosopher wrote “In praise of idleness”. I’m all for that.
Interview: Questions by Kjaer Global for the Time to Think Conference, December 2005
1. Philips Vision of the Future video
2. Josephine Green
Anne Lise is a futurist and keynote speaker working across the world