With my background in user experience design, business development and internet start-ups, in 2011 I was invited to become a guest lecturer at Sustentare Business School, in Joinville, where together we developed a new foundational module for MBA students on complexity. The name ‘Sustentare’ was chosen by the founder, Wilmar Cidral, who wanted to emphasise the importance of teaching both ecology and economics, and therefore to create a business school with this ethos as its foundation. The power and impact of the course came from the combination of Henri Bortoft’s dynamic conception of wholeness, Fritjof Capra’s systems view of life, lessons from the programme Human Values in Education created by educator Sathya Sai Baba, and our many years of corporate experience in customer experience design, innovation, product marketing, strategy and change management. In these classes Maria also facilitated many exercises and dialogue sessions with students, providing her perspective on what these teachings and insights meant in practical terms.
Because there was no single textbook that we could recommend to our students which covered all of what we were teaching, we decided to write our first book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. The word ‘holonomics’ can be thought of as the combination of ‘economics’ and ‘wholeness’. This name naturally led us to coin the term ‘holonomic thinking’. In the last few years ‘design thinking’ has really caught on as a concept in the business world, but ‘holonomic thinking’ is a much deeper way of experiencing wholeness, not only in nature but also in business, where the expansion in thinking can apply to innovation, organisational design, branding, communications, human resources, strategy and other disciplines.
Introducing holonomics into organisations can have a powerful effect, enabling people to become engaged in issues and problems in an entirely different manner from business as usual. The way in which we explore ‘lived experience’ leads to a deeper level of understanding of people’s mental models. By developing a more dynamic way of seeing in senior managers we start to develop more empathic concept of both the customer experience of their products, services and the lived experience of their employees. Through the holonomic process, the way in which they come to understand their organisations as an authentic whole and a dynamic system can therefore be deeply transformative.
Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design has been written as an extension of Holonomics, describing how our holonomics approach can be applied to the area of customer experience design. The research and thinking behind our new book began in late 2014 when we started to record in-depth interviews with CEOs, company presidents and entrepreneurs, many of whom gave us their generous permission to use this material.
While Holonomics articulated the scope and the depth of our philosophy of wholeness in business, we wanted to describe how we were putting it into practice. For this reason we created our tool, The Holonomic Circle, which is our expression of what soul means in a design, business and branding context. Much of the inspiration for this tool has come from the insights of Henri Bortoft, who published his final book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought in 2012. The play on words in his title refers both to the outward appearance of objects and also to the way in which we make sense of and give meaning to the world.
The holonomic circle therefore allows us to explore the nature of our experience in relation to design and customer service. The inspiration for the design of the circle itself came not only from Bortoft but also from Hans-Georg Gadamer, author of the seminal book Truth and Method, which covers the question of truth and art, aesthetic experience, beauty, ‘being’, meaning in art, law and science, and the way in which language mediates our experience of the world. Every one of these issues are of direct relevance to customer experience design, and so in this book we build up the circle chapter by chapter, ending with the transcendentals, those aspects of experience which constitute ‘being’ itself.
The transcendentals come from Plato, whose ancient philosophy is remarkable for the extent to which it is still relevant today. In addition to Bortoft and Gadamer, the third modern philosopher who has contributed to our thinking and articulation of meaning, being and soul is Brice R. Wachterhauser, and particularly his book Beyond Being: Gadamer’s Post-Platonic Hermeneutic Ontology, in which he draws our attention to the idea that our experience of life consists of more than “a series of separate, discrete and wholly unique units, each of which is self-contained in its meaning”. By locating these insights in the holonomic circle, the tool allows us to ask probing questions about the development of products, services and brands; where there are gaps; where clients experience fragmentation; and where there is a lack of coherence between the values that brands claim to represent and that which is actually experienced.