A BRIEF HISTORY OF FREEDOMLAB
FreedomLab was established in 2001 as an independent ‘laboratory’ for research and experimentation into applied creativity.
Our central question has always been: ‘How do you create a space in which beautiful accidents occur?’ Given that the creative process involves the combination of existing information into new patterns, and given that inherent in the process is the necessity to be open to the unforeseen (the ‘beautiful accident’), how to optimise the creative process to improve the spontaneous outcome?
Since then, FreedomLab has been through several cycles of reinvention. Its thematic work became focussed around a refined version of the original question: ‘Can the ‘beautiful accident’ be applied to technology?’ A central insight was that the user gives meaning to technology, rather than vice versa, and so a central question of our work became, ‘What is the influence of the human user on technology’.
As a means of freeing ourselves from the limitations of basing the future on the past, we developed a methodology we called ‘Scenario Based Reasoning’, in which we modelled possible futures for society, and worked backwards to understand the dynamics operating on the present-day landscape. FreedomLab’s work became known first as ‘Future Studies’.
Because we believe in real-world applications, we challenged ourselves to make a scale jump, with a ‘10x’ transformation, moving from our Amsterdam home of 300 m2 to our current campus of 3000m2 in which we have built an ecosystem around the continuing consultancy and outreach work which has been central to our operation – a kind of contemporary agora connected by humans enabled by technology, with FreedomLab ‘the Institute of Redefiniton’.
PROJECT [JINGU], ORGANISATIONAL PROTOTYPING
At the beginning of 2017, FreedomLab itself began a project of internal redefinition, which we called [JINGU]. We have been challenged to imagine a FreedomLab innovation laboratory serving external clients with questions of thriveability, based on ‘Living Lab’ principles. A ‘Living Lab’ is a so-called third space, a separate ‘Skunk’-type environment which engages in open, creative processes with the objective of generating sustainable values for partners.
I = C + A (INNOVATION = CREATIVITY + ADOPTION)
We believe that the greatest challenge facing organisations of any kind is how they create thriveability, the ability to adapt and flourish in an environment of accelerating change. We also believe that innovation is the key to this challenge. In order improve innovation, organisations need to optimise the creative process which gives rise to the solution. This in turn means that workers in an organisation need have a clear, experiential understanding of the basic skills of creative (team)work. As a result we have developed an integrated process which seeks both to orchestrate an optimal creative process to develop innovative solutions, and which simultaneously seeks to give people the time and space to experiment with and refine the related skills, all in an environment of positive realism. However, we also understand that until there is successful adoption of the outcome by the organisation, and successful integration of the people back into the organisation, there will be no innovation and no change. We work with our clients to ensure adoption. Part of the Lab’s core business proposition is, as we express it, products as pivots and people as pivots.
C = Fa (K, I, E) (CREATIVITY IS A FUNCTION OF KNOWLEDGE, IMAGINATION AND EVALUATION IN AN ENVIRONMENT OF POSITIVE REALISM)
We operate from a position of radicalism, not in the sense of an extreme alternative to the status quo, but as a return to first principles, with human skill and understanding at the centre.
The current structures and practices of work and life are based on maintenance and defence of an historical status quo, while the challenges of the future will invalidate these assumptions through accelerating interrelated changes. Current organisational strategies focus on standardisation, scale and automation of the creative process (an efficiency argument): our response is to focus on the optimisation of the creative process, and the optimisation of our creative skills (a quality of outcome argument).
In the [JINGU] project, we are seeking to research, adapt and improve the way we work – both as a project group, in the Living Lab, and as individuals. Since we try to learn by doing, we have developed a ‘morning practice’, which we enter into every morning. We are exploring, learning and improving the functional requirements of ‘work’ separately from work itself. In this way we prepare ourselves for the day, and aspire to get better at these ‘fundamentals’ (as we call them): we also come to appreciate that these skills are required in both work and non-work circumstances.
Our experience teaches us that if you focus on refining work as a system, the outcome is systemic efficiency. However, if you focus on the human relationships required in work, the outcome is increased productivity, and increased quality.