An alternative world that can exist

Where business, technology, and humanity form a new reality

Insights from the House of Beautiful Business 2018, Lisbon

photo: João Nogueira

If you have ever been to Burning Man, or one of its regional spin offs, you will most likely know how it feels like to immerse yourself fully into something like a parallel universe.

A space, that invites you to both make it your own, and sharing it at the same time, a sense of trust within the community that, at some time during the week, emerges and evolves, all by it self.

What invigorates these experiences with such intensity and gravitas is the fact that they’re finite, they must come to an end. As it is only then, that we fully realize to have come back to our own reality, the daily life, without burning artworks and the suspension of the laws of time and space.

It’s one week after I returned from the House in Lisbon, and this post-experience mood reminds me a little bit of when I returned from my first AfrikaBurn in South Africa’s Tawnka Town earlier this year. This notion of having seen, heard, felt (and in case of the House’s dinners, maybe even tasted) an alternative world that can actually exist. Despite, or precisely because the current state of crisis and polarization, outspoken and unspoken forms of hatred, and the seemingly loss of sanity and common sense.

The House of Beautiful Business is as much the space and the soul, a meaningful gathering, a co-creative space to explore the (un)known and the possibilities of a positive vision for technology and humanity, or, as Priya Parker, author of ‘The Art of Gathering’ put it so eloquently at the opening evening:The House is exploring a potential alternative world.

The question now is, how do we bring these ideas and insights into the realities we live in today? What is needed to rethink, reimagine, re-create business?

To start the conversation, I’d like to highlight only a few of many insightful moments happened in the six days at the House of Beautiful Business.

To be human, is to learn

“If software is eating the world, we might as well have a glass of wine with it.” it says on the House’s website. To add on top of this, we might as well take this opportunity and trace back to the core of what have made us come this far — our human intelligence, meaning our ability to learn how to learn. This common thread ran throughout the week at the House, and nails the very essence of what makes us humans now, and what will distinguish us in the future from robots and machines. Instead of marrying humans and tech in the transhumanist vision striving for an infinite life, it is more simple, and more beautiful.

To say it in the words of brilliant Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at INSEAD:

“We are trying to last — in a body of flesh, and in a body of work. Humans are a living contradiction held together by love.”

Curtain up for new superpowers

“While ability is evenly distributed, opportunity often isn’t”, said Jacob Hsu, CEO of edtech startup Catalyte. To create equal footing for talents, to overcome social bias, and outdated recruiting processes, they’ve developed an AI-powered talent loop that’s purely based on how people solve problems. By explicitly excluding resume or any other demographic data, they’ve already shown impressive results of better performing individuals and teams, who come from the most unconventional backgrounds. In face of the war for talent, this approach is one great example of how technology can be used purposefully, to help find the right talents, and liberate an unprecedented amount of knowledge and talent.

photo: João Nogueira

In addition, it’s not only necessary to rethink which skills matter, but also how we break with traditional conceptions of knowledge experts and leaders. Aiming at reframing the narrative of being either a ‘specialist’ or a ‘generalist’, co-founder of FutureShifts, Kenneth Mikkelsen, introduced the Neo-Generalist whose characteristics fit seamlessly into the world of ambiguity and constant change. Generous, daring, caring, sharing, building bridges are some of the key features, implying how Neo-Generalists feel home in different worlds to be able to solve — as Kenneth called them — wicked problems.

Alternative economics for beautiful business

As we’re discussing how to enhance superpowers of the individual, let’s take a look at the bigger picture of organizations and systems, such as the economic system, that equally need to evolve and learn.

By shifting our understanding of organizations from an ‘operational machine’ to a ‘living organism’, Simon Berkler, co-founder of TheDive calls for new organizational operating systems, balanced business models, and a conscious mindset and culture as the key pillars for 21st century business.

A similar, liberating movement of today’s economy, and the need for redefining principles for the ‘Knowledge Era’ was raised by Albert Wenger , Union Square Ventures partner and author of ‘World After Capital’. Echoing his words, we need bold actions to achieve three major acts of freeing:

  1. Economic freedom: by letting everyone meet their basic needs without being forced into the ‘job loop’ again, and by that, embrace automation and have everyone participate in the ‘digital knowledge loop’.
  2. Informational freedom: by opening and sharing new knowledge for everyone
  3. Psychological freedom: by freeing ourselves from associated fears that impede our participation in the Knowledge Era.

Ultimately, alternatives, whether in business models, such as steward ownership or public benefit corporations, as well as in finance, such as cryptocurrencies and the idea of decentralization are built to put the human back in the center.

Or to say it in the words of Brett Scott, journalist, campaigner and author of The Heretic’s Guide To Global Finance:

“The history of alternative finance has always started with a network, not an object, such as a token, which is why cryptocurrencies have not been embedded in any real economy yet.”

In that sense, we also need to reimagine money as something that’s not only a ‘thing’ but allowing a more creative mindset towards alternative future(s).

Mark Lehmann, CTO Global Citizen (photo: João Nogueira)

Finally, it comes down to how we really understand beautiful business, humanness, and which reality we find to be our truth. I’d like to close by citing Mark Lehmann, CTO of Global Citizen who left us with thought-provoking questions we need, and should, care about:

“If the core understanding of what constitutes beauty is being redefined or cannot have a real definition, then what is beautiful business? What business are people going to be in in the future? If our perception and understanding of beauty can be manipulated might we experience our ruin to be a beautiful thing in the same way that harmful addictions are often viewed as beautiful?

The words human and humanness were used often during the week and the concept of humanizing machines was also discussed. But is not the very definition of “human” changing? As today’s civilization declines, is not humanity also declining? Is not technology and marketing accelerating this decline? Thus, if the concept of “human” is been redefined then surely the “humanization” of machines becomes a recursive loop accelerating our own demise.

Instead of humanizing machines, humans are being mechanized. We should care deeply about this. If the state of humanness is becoming less human, then we need to transcend our humanness. Instead of following the crowd we need to look inside ourselves and question our core humanness.”

photo: João Nogueira

What remains to say is the following: Even if we only tap into an alternative world once a year at the House, we now know that it can exist — and partly does already. And that, is already a start of something.


To everyone who contributed and participated in Lisbon this year, thank you and stay tuned for next year! Please share your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to recommend this article via Twitter (@MonikaJiang).

Find out more about the House and sign up for the monthly letter of #beautifulbusiness.