Yuri van Geest wrote the bestseller Exponential Organisations together with Salim Ismail and Mike Malone, in which they expose the power of fast-growing organisations like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix. He will be the keynote speaker on the theme ‘the power to change’ at the Westland Event on 15 October. ‘The Netherlands will have to embrace new technology within the next five years, if we aim to remain on the driver’s seat in the global food producing industry.’
Yuri van Geest is a specialist in ‘singularity’ and a key figure behind Singularity University Nederland, which will be opening in Eindhoven this December with strong ties to Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Delft and Nijmegen.
Can you explain your personal interest in horticulture?
‘Food is one of the topics I’m currently rather engrossed in. I have also entered into some partnerships in the horticulture sector; so of course, I take an avid interest in it.’ Van Geest has joined forces with the consultancy firm Hillenraad Partners to set up a five-day training course for entrepreneurs in the horticulture sector, in which they aim to show the participants the many opportunities offered by exponential organisation.
How do you retain a competitive edge in a world in which everything is open source?
Can you briefly explain what exponential organisation is?
‘Every business can become an exponential organisation, from a start-up to a family business that’s been around for a century and a half. Basically, it comes down to the way in which the building blocks of a business are organised. A different organisation, a different structure, culture, strategy and critical performance indicators. New technology, such as nanotechnology, 3D printing and robotics – and additionally communities and big data – has to become engrained, as it were, into the DNA of an organisation. As if the organisation is being turned inside out. Business enterprises are doing less and less independently and are outsourcing expertise and technology on an increasingly larger scale. One of the core questions of the book is: how do you retain control in a world where you have less personal property such as talent, personal and resources? How do you retain a competitive edge in a world in which everything is open source? A business enterprise that is capable of applying this organisational change successfully will be able to perform ten times better and faster than one that maintains a linear growth curve. Exponentially. We have divided this process into four steps, which we are implementing at a global scale at companies such as Procter & Gamble and Huawei.’
What will you be speaking about at the Westland Event?
‘You may not be aware of it completely, but the world has entered into a slipstream of technological advancement. Within five to ten years everything will be controlled by software. Biology and technology are becoming more and more closely intertwined. Food is also becoming software. This means that the food producing industry, including the horticulture sector, will become a software industry. Currently, there are numerous developments in the food producing industry that are founded on technology. Take 3D printed food, for example. You can already get several ingredients in a 3D print. In the future we will be able to print out entire hors d’oeuvres, more hygienically and perhaps even tastier than they could be made by a good restaurant. Or consider nano refrigerators with advanced water, nutrient and LED lighting systems, in which people can grow their own food from seeds. Haier, in collaboration with Syngenta (among others) is already taking serious steps in this direction. In just a few years it will be completely normal to walk into a gym, have your DNA or neuroprofile read and be given a personalised shake containing all the nutrients you need at that moment.’
An essential first step is to make leadership facilitating, instead of top-down.
What can horticulturists learn from exponential organisations?
‘Curiosity, creativity. To dare to open all the blinds, to listen to young employees in particular, to embrace new technology. An essential first step is to make leadership facilitating, instead of top-down. People are becoming increasingly older while the world population is continuously growing. Food production worldwide will have to be increased twofold, perhaps even threefold. The way things are going right now, that would be impossible. If we aim to achieve this, we will need technology based on software. The Netherlands will have to embrace new technology within the next five years, if we aim to remain on the driver’s seat in the global food production industry. Horticulturists can also learn not to assume that everything is the truth. To understand that what you are currently thinking and consider to be true is an assumption. The formula behind the coffee shop we’re sitting in right now is functioning perfectly. At present, it has a functional value. However, developments are following upon one another at an accelerated pace. How long will this coffee shop be able to function as its functioning today? If you do not constantly doubt your assumptions and convictions, are no longer curious, your concept or business will have become obsolete before you know it.’
What is your vision of the future of the Dutch horticulture sector?
‘I feel rather optimistic about it, but we will have to take action now. The pace of innovation is much higher in China and the Silicon Valley. They are also growing food, which is coming our way. Like I said: food is software. The horticulture sector – and even broader, the food producing industry – will have to inject itself with new technology to retain its relevance. A business cannot pick up all this new technology on its own, but it can if it joins forces with others as a group. Together with government agencies, for example, or market parties. We in the Netherlands excel in agriculture and food production. At Singularity University Nederland, which is to become a think-tank for Western Europe, AgriFood will be one of our priority subjects. We could achieve tremendous steps in AgriFood. After all, the Netherlands already have many start-ups and knowledge centres in that field.’
The pace of innovation is much higher in China and the Silicon Valley. They are also growing food, which is coming our way.
Why would you advise students to keep a close eye on the horticulture sector?
‘Horticulture is exciting, because of the many opportunities for growth. As I mentioned before, a myriad of new technologies such as biotechnology, nano technology, robotics, drones and 3D printing are all converging in the horticulture sector. I would advise students to invest in all the information currently available online, in addition to what they’re learning at school. Almost everything you want to know and learn is already available on the internet via open source software. You could watch TED talks, or read blogs and news items on websites such as Edge.org, SingularityHUB or MIT Technology review. I learn something new every day through all this media. This is one of the reasons I prefer to travel by train. You can’t read while driving a car, after all. My advice: you have to get going if you want to participate in today’s changing world.’
The Westland Event will be held on Thursday, 15 October 2015, from 3 to 8 pm. Watch the event in livestream on HortiValley.nl (Dutch spoken). Marco van Zijverden, CEO of the Dutch Flower Group, will be introducing Yuri van Geest at 6.45 pm. View the full programme of the Westland Event.