We Bring the Future Into the Present – Interview for TOP LEADER

Our founder and CEO, Thomas Fundneider, was recently interviewed by TOP LEADER magazine. We are bringing you an English translation of this interview.

You are an innovation and strategy consultant, a lecturer at several European universities and the founder and CEO of theLivingCore” What does your company’s name mean?

In our work, the question of vitality of organizations and the people who work there is of primary importance. For us as people and for organizations, being alive means being “authentically in the midst of life” and creating meaning in our environment. Orientation, bringing forth new meaning, and sense-making are key in the face of a so-called VUCA world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Living systems master these challenges by finding a good balance between stability and renewal. At theLivingCore, we turn the challenges of a VUCA world and digitalization into a positive to accompany and transform companies from their living core into their future.

As a knowledge and innovation architect, you are concerned with the deep understanding of an organization. What can you develop from this understanding, what is it for? 

The word “architect” is derived from the Greek “arkhitéktōn”, which is composed of the words “arché”, origin, beginning and “téchne”, craftsman. Thus, it refers to a person who approaches his or her craft from its origin and in a holistic manner, aligning a wide variety of disciplines toward a common goal. Our approaches and services follow this fundamental and holistic approach and apply it to organizations of various industries and sizes.

Organizations are often designed, measured and managed according to quantitative standards. In our approach, we go beyond this and, in accordance with our understanding of an architect, try to understand and make fruitful the deeper meaning and purpose of a company, i.e. what lies at an organization’s core. This enables us to deeply access the people and the whole organization as a necessary basis for positioning, transformation and innovation processes. The results of our projects show that only such a deep and holistic understanding allows for changes that are sustainable and future-proof, and thus able to meet the challenges of our time.

To create something completely new, we need to understand much better future potentials. 

Your exciting approach is “learning from the future” – how is that to be understood?

When companies want to change or innovate, they are often guided by the past. In other words, they extrapolate from the past into the future. Although changes do take place and new products or services come onto the market, they are often more of the same. While this can be desirable, if we want to create something completely new, we need to understand much better future potentials. 

The great challenge that we at theLivingCore face with our customers is to identify precisely these hidden future potentials and to realize them as new products, services or business models. With our leap innovation technology, we turn classic innovation and creativity approaches on their head, as we bring the future into today, so to speak.

Keyword “Future Identity Transformation”: To what extent are digital technologies changing “classic” forms of organization?

Digital technologies are creating a completely new order in the economy and society, meaning radical change. Why? Because time and space hardly play a role in the digital any more. Thus, the digital enables a whole range of new qualities that we have not yet been able to realize in this form: for example, automation of complex cognitive processes through artificial intelligence, platform economies with highly networked, efficient and dynamic infrastructures.

Companies in all industries need to find a response to these changes in order to remain fit for the future. This does not mean that they all have to become the Googles and Amazons of this world. We are convinced that we need not simply react to change by digitizing processes, but should give an organization new meaning for the changed context. Our approach in Future Identity Transformation is based on the assumption that this does not only include technological aspects and changes, but above all focuses on organisational issues, people and their future needs.

Your approach is based on the latest scientific findings. Can these be applied to all companies or in all industries?

It is in the nature of organizations to engage with the future and to positively shape the future through their products or services. In this sense, the scientific insights we have developed regarding the future and innovation, the cognitive and neural processes involved, and the proactive shaping of the future are generic and universal; they can therefore be applied in almost all companies or industries. This is also reflected in the wide variety of industries and sectors in which theLivingCore has successfully carried out its projects.

In which area do you see the greatest need for improvement in domestic organisations? Where do you think there is an urgent need for readjustment?

In our projects, we see two areas in particular where there is an increased need for action: on the one hand, a lack of understanding of the urgency of consistently addressing the future of the company and thus innovation and change are indispensable in a world that is undergoing such radical transformation as we are experiencing today. On the other hand, we observe that many companies are relatively unprepared for these changes, although many of them would have the best prerequisites to “play along” in this changing world. The reasons for this are often a lack of readiness for (critical) reflection, adherence to existing routines, and a lack of openness at the organizational level.

However, this need for improvement cannot be blamed on companies alone. Our education systems have not yet responded sufficiently to these radical changes in our world. For this reason, we founded theLivingCore Academy a year ago and place great emphasis on the aspect of education in our projects. 

Did you also develop leadership programs?

Yes, we have. Our leadership program is called “frame” and focuses on managers and how they can implement complex transformation projects. Our approach is based on a well-known experience: Anyone who has ever been confronted with change processes knows that they cannot be rigidly planned or statically implemented and controlled. Especially in a highly uncertain and complex world, companies need to approach change differently, namely in a future-oriented and co-creative way.

“frame” aims to develop leaders on a personal level by shaping their mindset in a future-oriented, opening way as a first step. Since our mindset determines our actions, we build practices and processes together with the executives and on the basis of this future-oriented mindset that enable them to proactively co-design and successfully implement change projects and transformation.

Why is the topic of leadership becoming increasingly important in times of digitalization?

In our view, digital transformation is not primarily about technology, but much more about people and changing meaning. Technologies are only a means to help companies fulfill their purpose better or differently. In this context, leadership plays, in many respects, an important role: Leaders are no longer managers. Rather, they must offer their employees orientation and a degree of security in uncertain times, as well as involve them in the shared journey through the organization’s change processes. They must be able to look into the future with confidence and courageously seize the potentials to explore them together with their employees and develop them into new business models, products, and services.

This requires not only knowledge of new digital technologies, but above all, a good understanding of their possible applications in the social context and their impact on the company. Leaders in times of digitalization become enablers who work together with their employees on the future of their company by providing them with a working environment that enables joint development of both individual employees and the company as a whole. This is even more important in times of digitalization, as the pace of change has accelerated. The central theme of leadership is, therefore, on the one hand, to create stability and security and, on the other hand, to lead the employees through these changes with confidence and by involving them.

Which topic would you particularly like to recommend to our readers?

The importance of spaces. Well-conceived and designed spaces have an enormous effect and leverage on people and results. We see this time and again in our Enabling Spaces projects, such as the Merck Innovation Center.

How or where can you relax best?

In nature, cycling and swimming.

Which personality inspires you?

I am inspired by the courage of people who commit themselves to a cause that affects the general public. These people risk their lives to change autocratic forms of government, for example. I admire that very much.

Is there a motto in life that you follow?

Never lose interest in the other person. Be it in partnership, towards people in general, in our relationship with nature, but also towards new and different things.

What is the craziest thing you have ever done in your life?  

Driving across Zimbabwe in a Toyota Corolla 1300 with no extra fuel can and no drinking water reserves. After midnight and with the last drop of petrol we had reached a town. On the backseat sat a sweaty malaria patient, whom we picked up on the way. 

You can solve ONE world problem – what would it be? 

Lack of education. That’s the beginning. All other problems should be solved by this.

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