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Introducing Hybrid Thinking

Perhaps you have noticed how in the past few years the frightening dystopian visions of 20th century Science-Fiction novels are re-appearing in our conversations. But this time, they are no longer appearing in novels, but in our news, triggered by research published by think-tanks, governments and academic institutions. Ten, five - even three - years ago the prospect of losing your job to a robot seemed far-fetched, now digital and technological advances have created a whole new ball-game, and the robot who wants to steal your job is knocking on your door. Likewise, doing your part to protect the environment a few years ago meant proudly switching all your light-bulbs to energy saving ones, and buying recycled toilet paper. Now, unprecedented and extreme weather patterns are showing us that climate change is already here, and demanding an overhaul of our systems and habits.

What is going on here, and why are we so unprepared? These are just two examples of an exponentially changing world, and much of the problem is that we didn’t see it coming is because our brains are not wired to think in that way. We can only think, and thus make our predictions, based on linear assumptions, but the world around us is accelerating.

To adapt, therefore, we are going to need to make changes at every level – from the ways individuals think, to how organisations function, to our national and global systems.

This is where Hybrid Thinking comes into play. Why “hybrid”? Hybridisation is already all around us, the boundaries between reality and virtuality, man and machine, technology and biology are becoming increasingly blurred. Likewise, the boundaries between individual, collective, national and international interest are also blurring: we are, after all, one species sharing the same planet with millions of others. And indeed, just as information can be shared across the world in a matter of seconds over the internet, extreme and dangerous weather conditions will also not be halted by national borders.

How we use Hybrid Thinking

Hybrid Thinking is a mindset which can be applied through a set of tools. At phi360, our mission is to use Hybrid Thinking to enable organisations and individuals to anticipate, adapt and thrive in the long-term in increasingly volatile marketplace and global conditions. Our vision is to drive human-centred and sustainable innovation at every level in an interconnected and digital world.

The Hybrid Thinking approach constitutes four different but interconnected aspects, because we recognize that in the face of increasingly complex problems, no one innovation strategy can be enough.

  • The Innovation Source: Learning from Nature through Biomimicry

  • The Intelligent Actor: Tapping the Power of our Brains through Neuroscience

  • The Network Effect: Leveraging Networks through Agile Methods

  • System Integration: Creating viable Solutions through Circular and Platform Design

The Innovation Source: Learning from Nature through Biomimicry

Biomimicry is the process of taking nature as a model; it works by analyzing biological systems and models, abstracting their design principles and functions, and translating those into solutions for diverse types of problems. At this point, most people ask- what can the natural world possibly teach us, the creators of machines and the most advanced species ever to have walked the earth?

Well in fact we, as a species, are pretty young. To give you an idea, the planet is 4.5 billion years old. Imagine if we reduced this into one calendar year: at midnight on the 1st January, this planet came into existence. When did we, Homo Sapiens, appear? Not until the last 30 minutes on the 31st December, the very last day of the year. And the Industrial Revolution which gave us cars, electricity, aeroplanes, the internet and mobile phones? A tiny blip in time- the very last two seconds! Now perhaps we can appreciate the value of this planet’s 3.8 billion years of Research & Development, which is everywhere in the natural world.

Organisations all over the world are starting to use this wealth of knowledge and emulate it- from the level of product design (such as surfaces which resist the growth of harmful bacteria without the use of chemicals) to rethinking our production processes and internal company cultures.

The Intelligent Actor: Tapping the Power of our Brains through Neuroscience

While biomimicry may provide us with the inspiration and technology to solve our problems, its power cannot be leveraged if organisations and individuals do not have the right mindset to implement innovations, and adapt to exponential change.

The way we currently educate our young people stands in direct opposition to the way our brains work best. Dating back to the Industrial Revolution, our education system has failed to adapt to changes in society and the global workplace; a culture of fragmented thinking and an assembly-line mentality has become the norm. Rational and analytic approaches, KPIs, and measures alone form the basis of justified decisions, and intuition was dismissed.

A great deal of neuroscientific research points out, however, that we have two “brains”: system 1 and system 2. System 1 thinking operates under conditions that are ambiguous, where outcomes and risks are unknown. By probing and simulating in an evolutionary fashion, system 1 is able to manage complexity and change. Its processes originate from the evolutionarily much older part of our brain, the limbic system. It is responsible for unconscious, intuitive actions, for empathy, trust, and decision-making. Emotions, social interactions, and personal dynamics play an important role in system 1. System 2, on the other hand, is active under conditions that are predictable and relatively simple. It is the algorithmic response based on our experiences and mental models. System 2 processes happen in the evolutionarily rather young cortical areas of our brain, which are responsible for knowledge, rational-analytic skills, and language. This system engages in conscious, deductive reasoning, which works best for simple and predictable situations.

In a world where conditions are in constant flux, a balanced combination of analytics with creativity, and of rationality with intuitive thinking, is central to survival. Understanding how the human brain works best enables us to empower individuals and drive change that is people-centred.

The Network Effect: Leveraging Networks through Agile Methods

The future workplace will no longer be focussed on the individual, but rather on the team. Already, we are witnessing the rapid emergence of a collaborative working culture, as well as an increasing demand for diversity in terms of expertise and skill. This tendency is linked to the emergence of network and cloud intelligence, open-source projects and diverse groups working remotely together on projects (distributed creativity).

Self-organizing structures, feedback practises, empathy, testing and iteration are fundamental principles of this trend, as well as the broader movement from the mentality of IQ to WeQ. The goal of networked systems is to bring individuals together in order to strengthen their performances, abilities, and knowledge, and to prevent the formation of functional silos. As such, organisations can break down their rigid internal structures and processes in order to become organic, adaptable “organisms”, capable of mastering complex and volatile conditions.

In line with this trend, innovation methods that leverage the power of collaboration, interdisciplinary teams, a holistic approach to work, and a focus on qualitative user research in order to find creative solutions to complex problems are becoming extremely popular. The phi360 team are experts in the Design Thinking, Agile and SCRUM methodologies.

System Integration: Creating viable Solutions through Circular and Platform Design

It is no longer enough to think of everything - individuals, companies, governments, countries and the natural environment - as separate. We, like all species, exist within and are part of many ecosystems. Although they may not be immediately obvious, they take different forms: they are your family, organisations and cities, as well as the things you consume and the services you provide. Everything is interconnected and each decision made in one place triggers ripples throughout its surrounding ecosystems.

For this reason, Hybrid Thinking also incorporates the principles of circular design and circular economy. Pioneered by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation among others, it is one of the few approaches capable of dealing with a huge trend emerging in business design: while value chains have been the major economic phenotype of businesses in the 20th century, value networks are driving innovation and survival in today’s business ecosystem. Sectors, actors, and resources are increasingly interconnected and interdependent in an emerging circular economy, where the linear “take, make, waste” model is designed out of the manufacturing process. Levying the expertise of nature’s closed, circular production processes through biomimicry, circular systems can create new opportunities for value-creation, and more importantly, enable companies to be resilient and relevant well into the future.

The Revolution starts now

We are on the brink of a new era: the chance is ours, to view challenges as a hindrance, or an opportunity. Hybrid Thinking not only transforms challenges into opportunities, but provides actionable methods and crucial expertise for organizations seeking long-term relevance and resilience. At phi360, we are committed to the principle that bringing humans and the natural environment back into the equation is the only way that we can successfully adapt to exponential change in a digitalizing world.


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