I have always been irritated by people for whom business is first and foremost about “monetisation”. Extrinsically motivated busyness people are incapable of understanding any non-trivial innovation. The worship of monetisation often goes hand-in-hand with the introduction of so-called “organisational values” as hollow slogans, with no thoughts spared for how these values are going to be enacted, and how they might create something that people within and beyond the organisation actually recognise and appreciate as valuable.
Existing approaches like the highly popular business model canvas or the OMG’s business motivation model miss the bigger picture of cultural evolution in the context of zero marginal cost communication and assume a very traditional business mindset.
We live in a context of rapid and multidimensional cultural evolution. A few years ago the need for agreeing of what constitutes a useful direction and the need for assessing progress prompted me to design a simple modelling language for purpose and value systems.
The semantic lens is a simple tool for agreeing what is considered valuable, and it assists in identifying suitable metrics for keeping track of output or progress. As a nice side effect the metrics encouraged by the semantic lens prevent results from being dumbed down prematurely to easily corruptible monetary numbers.
The semantic lens is a visual language for describing human motivations. Four of the five core concepts directly relate to the outputs of human creativity, and nature, and the fifth concept, is directly connected to the first four concepts. The element of critical self-reflection invites the questioning of established values and the consideration of alternative candidate values.
A configured semantic lens assists in surfacing the cultural context and assumed value system that underpins the value proposition of a potential innovation. In the absence of an explicit value system it is impossible to reason about innovation in any meaningful way – the discussion is limited to thinking within the established cultural box and very easily deteriorates into a discussion of “ingenious ways of monetising data”.
- Critical self-reflection : regarding all other elements of the semantic lens (in no particular order) towards sustainability, resilience, and happiness
- Symbols : Co-creating organisations and systems which are understandable by future generations of humans and software tools
- Nature : Maximising biodiversity
- Artefacts : Minimising human generated waste
- Society : Creating a more human and neurodiversity friendly environment
- Generating more trust – less surprising misunderstandings, more collaborative risk taking, less exploitation, more mutual aid
- Generating more learning – more open knowledge sharing, less indirect language, less hierarchical control, deeper understanding
- Generating more diversity – more tolerance of difference, less coercion, more curiosity
The S23M semantic lens is supported by 26 principles that form the backbone of our operating model, and which assist us in building out a unique niche in the living world.
Value creating activities
To go beyond motivations and intent, and to describe the value creating activities within an economic system, or the activities of a specific organisation or individual economic agent, requires a dedicated modelling language beyond the semantic lens.
Understanding the human value creation process is not helped by the multitude of completely arbitrary and internally overlapping categorisation schemes that economists and business people use to talk about industries and sectors. The logistic lens has the potential to put an end to the distracting proliferation of jargons via five simple categories. In the logistic lens models can be nested in a fractal structure as needed to reflect the reality of complex systems.
Four of the five core concepts of the logistic lens deal with activities that produce observable results in the physical and natural environment, and all human cultural activities that are one or more levels removed from being measurable in the physical and natural environment are confined to the culture concept.
- Energy and food production provide the fuel for all our human endeavours.
- Design and engineering are the focus of many human creative endeavours, and have resulted in the tools that power our societies.
- Transportation and communication allow human outputs, both in terms of concrete and abstract artefacts, to be shared and made available to others, and allow resources and knowledge to be deployed wherever they are needed.
- Maintenance and quality related activities are those that are needed to keep human societies and human designed technologies operational.
Economic progress and value creation can be understood in terms of the cultural activities of playing and learning, and related design and engineering activities that lead to technological innovation.
Truly disruptive innovations have the characteristic of not only resulting in a new player in the economic landscape, but they also trigger or tap into a shift in value systems. Thus the semantic lens is a useful gauge for identifying and exploring potentially disruptive innovations.
Taken together the semantic and logistic lenses provide a very small and powerful language for reasoning about human behaviour and human creativity – even beyond the confines of established social norms and best business practices.
Innovation and cultural change can only be transformative if it substantially redefines social norms and so-called best practice.