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Marketing and Comms
From Economic Brand Value to Holonomic Brand Value

You may be wondering about the word holonomics. Although the word was first used in 1896 to describe a branch of mathematics, we coined a new definition for the word, which can be thought of as the combination of the words economics and wholeness.

My wife Maria and I are the co-authors of the book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, and this describes a new way of thinking, which teaches business leaders and managers how to respond, adapt and communicate in new, innovative ways. This new way of thinking, which we call holonomic thinking, can of course be applied to branding.

The advert caused a scandal in Brazil, and many Brazilians expressed their anger on social networks. If brands are to promote sustainable behaviours in consumers, they have to have integrity, their words must match their actions, and I feel that it is not helpful to have one of Brazil’s greatest role models say one thing, but do another.

I am a member of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation. All members of the group have as their mantra: ‘Business inspired by nature.” A quote from VISA founder Dee Hock really captures the essence of this mantra at a very deep level.

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“Life is eternal, perpetual becoming, or it is nothing. Becoming is not a thing to be known or controlled. It is a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced.”

The original organisational structure of VISA was inspired by the complex and dynamic structures found in nature. One of the key reasons why VISA was successful, and created in such a short timeframe, was due to the shared values of all the participants. These values were openness, fairness, trust and confidence.

Hock understood the wholeness of nature, a wholeness that most people are not able to see or understand. The reason is that for many of us, the quality of our thinking is limited.

Although neuroscientists understood that the brain was not divided into a rational side and an emotional side in the early 1980s, people today still believe this to be true. The above advert from Mercedes is just one thousands of examples.

The brain is divided, and the two hemispheres do operate in profoundly different ways, but not as we realise. The left hemisphere provides instrumental attention. This allows us to manipulate objects and use things for our benefit. But this type of attention is narrowly focused, and it means that we experience reality as fragmented, static and ultimately lifeless.

It is the right hemisphere that provides what one might call relational attention, enabling us to see the whole picture, to form social bonds, to inhabit and belong to the world we see, rather than simply being detached from it and using it.

However, I would like to suggest that since the era of industrialisation to our modern age of technology, we have become out of balance, and our thinking has become dominated by the left brain way of seeing, especially in Western economies.

These insights on the divided brain come from psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World. Iain wrote a recent guest article for Transition Consciousness that is well worth a read if you are interested in this topic.

Many people today say that in order to solve the complex problems we face, we need a higher level of consciousness. People can develop this higher level of consciousness by upgrading their mental operating system to one that we call the Holonomic Operating System.


In the modern business world, dominated by technology, ‘thinking’ is valued above all other ways of knowing the world. This is the logical, rational and symbolic way of thinking that separates us from the world.

Note here that ‘feeling’ is opposite ‘thinking.’ ‘Feeling’ here is not emotion. It is through ‘feeling’ that we achieve a sense of connection to other people and to nature.

‘Sensing’ is the way of knowing of artists, photographers, painters and chefs. Whereas sensory knowing is very concrete, intuition provides us with a much deeper sense of the meaning of phenomena. It is responsible for insights, scientific discoveries and new ways of seeing.

Discovering the four ways of knowing can be extremely powerful, especially for business executives who may be really stuck in ‘thinking.’ Here is an exercise that Maria and I ran for business executives responsible for strategy in major Brazilian companies.

We blindfolded them and gave them lumps of clay. We gave them a simple task — to create something with their hands that represents their relationship with nature and the concept of sustainability.

Clay creationsThe stories and insights that the executives came up with were quite remarkable. The person who made the largest model pictured said that it was representative of the fact that our heads were now out of proportion with the rest of our bodies. For some people the exercise with the clay took them back to their childhoods, the last time they remembered such sensory experiences. Another person created children to symbolise the fact that it was only when he had children that he became interested in sustainability.

This exercise was extremely emotional and powerful for those taking part. It can be used to discover new insights about our brands, and new ways to communicate about our brands.

There were many excellent businesses and organisations in attendance when I spoke at the Sustainable Foods Summit in São Paulo in March. I only had time to discuss one example, which was Villa Brasil, a new umbrella brand created by the social enterprise SBrasil, to whom I provide mentoring and advice on branding, marketing and strategy. SBrasil created a new mark, Fair Brasil, and currently sells Villa Brasil Coffee to local businesses in Belo Horizonte.

SBrasil coffeeWhat is interesting about SBrasil’s approach is that it is developing authentic ecosystems, where each partner in the value chain shares the same set of values. When partners sign up to the programme, they do not just sign a contract, but also sign on to a code of ethics, which is a demonstration of their commitment to the project in every respect.

Just like ecosystems in nature, this kind of ecosystem takes time to develop, since there is a lot of work with communities and organisations based around the exploration of the code of ethics, which is not imposed, but emerges from dialogue within the community and organisation.

To summarise, we do not just encounter brands through our rational minds — we connect through feeling, interact through sensing, and comprehend the authenticity of a brand in our intuition. This authenticity can only come through a deep belief in human values. Although this is by no means a definitive list, these are the ones that Maria and I attempt to live our lives by:

  • Love
  • Peace
  • Truth
  • Right action
  • Non-violence

Authentic brands are ones which truly connect with their customers, and which truly connect with nature. The meaning of a brand cannot be imposed on others and is not static. Brands have to be allowed to live.

I would therefore like to conclude with this new concept of a brand, inspired of course by the words of Dee Hock:

“Brands are eternal, perpetual becoming, or they nothing. Brands are not a thing to be known or controlled. They are a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced.”

This post first appeared on the Transition Consciousness blog on March 29, 2014.


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