FORBES MAGAZINE INTERVIEW - "Let's mix retirement homes, coworking services, artist residences, start-up incubators, gyms, museums, schools and vegetable gardens!"
What do you call the "hybridisation of society"?
Gabrielle Halpern: I define hybrid as that which is multiple, mixed, combined heterogeneous, a bit contradictory. The hybrid is everything that doesn't fit into our boxes. The world has always had characters, situations, things that were unmixable or with mixed identities, but today we’re witnessing an accelerated hybridisation of the world. Objects, companies, places, public institutions, cities, and politics - nothing escapes it! Hybridity is a real opportunity, because it breaks down our categories and forces us to question ourselves. But for some people, hybridity is a threat, and this leads them to a form of radicalisation, to a drive for homogeneity, to a religion of identity; this is where the fractures in our society come from. Everyone claims their identity, without realising that they’re locking themselves in and becoming immobilised. A society cannot be a collection of identities. The hybridisation of society that I am calling for is not the fusion of individuals. It is not a matter of erasing the differences of each individual, but of combining them and projecting them into a scheme, an action, an ideal.
You explain that hybridisation is everywhere, but that it is frowned upon in the Western world...
GH: The Western way of thinking is the fruit of a long history. To sum up, it all began with the Logos in ancient Greece, and then continued with the development of 'reason' in Europe. What is true is what is clear and distinct, said Descartes! Our good old rationality was very useful in explaining the world around us. It's thanks to it that we’ve been able to build the sciences progressively. But it does have a major problem - to understand the world, it puts it into boxes, into categories. Reasoning and logic are very practical for defining, identifying, classifying, abstracting, generalising... But this doesn't work when we're faced with a hybrid situation, object, environment or person. So, either reason cuts the thing into different pieces to better classify it, or it pretends that the hybrid doesn't exist. In both cases, it misses the hybrid, that is to say, it misses a significant portion of reality.
Why is hybridisation an issue for companies?
GH: Hybridity completely reshuffles the deck. Consumer behaviour is changing, yesterday's competitors are becoming allies, today's allies will be competitors... The service society has succeeded the industrial society, as we've known for some time, but today we're entering a society in which the boundary between product and service is becoming blurred to the benefit of the uses that hybridise them. We are now in a society of uses. All those who used to say, "but that's not our job!" will be swept away by the unpredictable (which may take the form of a virus!), which forces us to be able to do all of them. Those who, yesterday, only sold products, will have to imagine associated services, just as those who only marketed services will have to reinvent them so that they apply to new uses.
Haven't companies been hybrid for a very long time, with these conglomerates that mix several activities?
GH: Many companies stack up silos, rather than really mixing activities. Businesses, products or services are too often thought of independently of each other, again under the pretext of 'identity'. Do those who carry them out, those who design them, those who produce them and those who market them really meet? Around the meeting tables, everyone speaks from where they are, in their own time, language, objectives, culture, representations and prejudices, without the option of taking some sideways steps, which are necessary for meeting and therefore hybridising with others.
We also have the impression that the success of start-ups today depends on a niche positioning, hyper-targeted and restricted, far from hybridisation.
GH: You are quite right about start-ups. Many are positioned in niches. This targeted and restricted business model then generates a very solid and homogeneous corporate identity and culture. Faced with the unpredictable - in the form of Covid-19 or whatever - these start-ups will be swept away, because they're unable to think about the world as it's changing, to adapt their business model, to evolve their identity and to transform their corporate culture.
For you, hybridisation is embodied by the mythological figure of the centaur. What do you think a centaur company would be like?
GH: The centaur company is one that has understood how sterile and paralysing identity alone is. This translates into different things. First of all, this company isn't afraid to recruit, without trying to transform, format or break its employees. Secondly, innovation shouldn't be confined to one corner of the company (a 'lab', a service, a department), but should be found everywhere, at all levels of the company. Innovation shouldn't be the monopoly of a few employees, but the way of thinking of all. Finally, the rigid, clear and distinct 'identity' business models, the fruit of 'plan commissioners' but not of real strategists, make us blind and deaf to the needs of customers and, above all, of future customers, and prevent us from imagining a thousand other uses for what we offer them. The centaur company isn't afraid to mix everything up! Let's combine retirement homes, coworking services and start-up incubators! Let's mix shopping centres, gyms, arts and crafts workshops and computer language courses! Let's mix train stations, museums, artist residences, youth hostels and vegetable gardens! It’s only if research laboratories, companies and public institutions hybridize, recombining places, materials and equipment and proposing different uses, will there be a real social mix, true inter-generational solidarity, sustainable economic development and, of course, a more environmentally friendly operation.
FORBES MAGAZINE INTERVIEW (published in the “summer 2020” issue).