Exploring a new Philosophy for Business: My Decade of Discovery

Brussels or Rotterdam? That was the choice presented to me by the P&G recruiter 11 years ago. The choice wasn’t difficult. I remember taking the call in sunny São Paolo, where I was enjoying my exchange semester, which had given me a taste of living abroad. I chose Brussels, eager to start my career abroad, working for the corporate giant. It was exactly what I wanted.

Business leaders like Jack Welch and Jamie Dimon served as my role models during this time — they were decisive and action-oriented, qualities I admired and aspired to embody in my own professional journey.

During my teenage years, I had become quite passionate about commerce and entrepreneurship. Whether it was supporting my parents in our family business or working at the local supermarket, I thoroughly enjoyed the teamwork and the pursuit of common goals. There was a certain rush, an engaging flow in it all. I loved it and still do!

There is beauty in creating great products, there is satisfaction in serving customers in the best way possible, and there is meaning in collaborating with a team towards a greater goal. Our work is a form of expression, and as such, it can be an extension of our purpose in this world.

As you can tell, I’m a hopeless business romantic. or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I've grown into one. My path from the corporate to the startup world allowed me to experience businesses in all their different life stages. And over the years I've learned to perceive organizations as living, breathing entities, each with its own unique spirit. There are organizations that only just barely survive, with minimal signs of life, while others are so vibrant that they propel you forward.

My start at P&G, gave me a taste of the power of a strong business culture. I remember the 'Best job in the world' commercial shown during their recruitment days - working at P&G wasn't just about selling shampoo and diapers, it was about improving consumer lives. The commitment of the workforce I have seen during my P&G days, I have never experienced anywhere else.

A few years later, my career journey took me to Copenhagen to join Templafy. It was my introduction to the venture-backed business world. In the 3 years that I was there, we grew the business tenfold! We turned from a cozy Danish startup in a small third-floor office to a global player with offices worldwide. It was a beautiful and crazy ride! But it was also here that I learned how delicate a company culture is, especially when it’s not well-rooted in deeper values.

Ultimately, a company's success depends on its ability to serve a greater potential. For startups, this is crystal clear: create a great product that your customers love, or risk joining the countless others in the startup graveyard. This existential struggle is especially clear with early-stage startups as I soon discovered when working for a couple of them in The Netherlands.

Whereas corporates are about executing well-defined playbooks, startups are about discovering them. With Spotr for instance, I remember how we stumbled upon our insurance product when building a prototype for a large foreign insurance company. There is an element of creative emergence in startups that simply goes beyond our control.

Small sparks of innovation evolve into a (barely) minimally viable product, growing further into solid scale-ups, and eventually maturing into an industrially scaled operation. This evolution from startup to corporate covers the full spectrum; from chaos to order, unpredictability to predictability, and from intuition to rationality.

But across every life stage, maintaining the balance between both polarities is essential: too much chaos leads to confusion and inaction, while too much structure kills creativity and hampers growth. It is the balance between both that gives a company its viability and life force.

This principle explains why so many corporations, stagnating under too much structure and control, aim to reinforce the agility of startups. I experienced this first-hand working at Capgemini Engineering, where we assisted companies like BNP Paribas in their agile transformations. I saw how banks aimed to reinvent themselves to counter the rise of digital-first competitors. Yet, I also saw how these efforts often faltered because the change was simply too big.

These transformations are existential, very similar to the beginning phases of early-stage startups. Organizations are required to go back to their essence to rediscover the unique contribution they can make in the world. It is a recalibration of their relationship with the outside world, finding a new voice.

Over the last decade, I've witnessed not just the transformation of businesses, but a fundamental shift in my own understanding of what business is as well. In the end, the journey that began with a simple choice between Brussels and Rotterdam has evolved into a fascinating exploration of the business landscape. Initially perceiving business as a logical game of optimization and self-interest, I have come to see them as complex living systems instead, driven by much more than profit and efficiency.

This insight invites us to move away from the traditional Newtonian metaphysics of business as a rational machine and encourages us to see it instead as a dynamic, organic entity. Such a perspective asks for a radical reimagination of business itself. It's this reimagining of the business world that I have chosen to explore and write about. A new journey that has, ironically, brought me back to where it all began: the familiar but inspiring surroundings of Rotterdam.

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