Reon Brand & Co-Emerging Futures

Madlen Popignatova 17
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
Reon Brand & Co-Emerging Futures

It is a chilly, cloudy day – a typical Dutch summer day – and Femke Bartels, the Managing Director of THNK, and I are on our way to interview Reon Brand, the Senior Director of Foresight and Socio-cultural Trends at Philips Design. We wait for him at a café next to the Philips building in Amsterdam. When he arrives, he is still riding a wave of excitement from a presentation he had just given to the design team about his research.


At Philips, Reon is responsible for researching and understanding emerging future directions. As an entrepreneur with a background in science, Reon discovered the importance of paradigms when he was working at Vodacom in South Africa. He became determined to help organizations capitalize on paradigms in order to understand complexity and to embrace a forward-looking view to create meaning and value. It was his thinking that partially contributed to Philips' shift from an industrial company to a knowledge organization.


In June 2019, Reon published his latest research called Co-Emerging Futures, a model that looks at emerging developments in times of profound global challenges. He outlines two parallel tracks, the "Transformation" and "Trans-mutation" paradigm, which revolve around the philosophical question: Is humanity a part of nature or above nature?

Foresight is not science fiction

Somewhat ironically, predicting the future has become a trend in and of itself. But Reon emphasizes that he doesn’t predict, or forecast, the future: “What I do is provide foresight. While forecasting involves linear projects that are based on how things are currently going, foresight is about providing a systemic picture of broad future development trajectories, taking into account the complexities of each possible future.”

“In my mission to create foresight, it’s important to look at the past, at the things that are deeply seated into our psyche. Where do our ideas come from? How have memes shaped our current mindset(s)?”

In short, “foresight is not science fiction. It’s not about predicting or projecting. Instead, it’s about seeing complex patterns of future streams of change gaining momentum through a complex interaction between different forces. Such forces include changing socio-cultural values, mindsets, and philosophies, possibilities of emerging technologies, and changing environmental, political, and economic realities,” Reon says.

Reon Brand
Reon Brand's latest research asks: Is humanity a part of nature or above nature? #nature #reonbrand #philips #design #environment #futures #humanity Click To Tweet

From rethinking value paradigms to co-emerging futures

Reon’s 2010 report, Rethinking value in a changing landscape, centers on emerging value paradigms, exploring how value is changing for people and society. Innovation is based on a deep understanding of how value is changing for people and how socio-cultural paradigms are developing. In the industrial and experience economies, for example, value was created by companies who had the power to invent, mass-produce, and deliver. The knowledge economy changed these rules and transformed the principle of value chains into value networks. Ordinary people can now create value that competes with traditional businesses.

Reon’s 2019 report, Co-Emerging Futures, describes two parallel tracks unfolding in the world today. These trajectories are not individual scenarios, but rather co-emerging, diverging futures directions driven by different mindsets, beliefs, and interests:


In the “Trans-mutation” trajectory, humans aspire to shape their own evolution and augment themselves and their manmade environment according to their own needs. It is based on a fundamental right that humans have to exploit nature for their own benefit and progress. The Trans-mutation track divides into two directions: Immortalia and Etherea.


Immortalia captures humankind’s obsession with achieving longevity and eventually immortality. Trans-humanism is based on a strongly anthropocentric and material worldview that puts human ingenuity and progress above all. Through technologies such as sensors, implants, gene therapy, and gene editing, those who can afford it will be able to vastly transcend the capabilities of ordinary (non-augmented) human beings.


Etherea aims to achieve the technological transcendence of humans by abandoning our biological existence. Post-humanists believe that the time has come to abandon the fight for the environment and replace it with the pursuit of a nobler technology-based intelligence. Post-biologists value humans far more than any other species because they believe that human consciousness and sentience make us unique. In essence, post-humanists seek to pursue a future where the human mind is uploaded into an intelligence machine. They believe the shift towards a technological medium of existence will offer us an escape from mortality, but also from suffering and the ecological plight of the planet.


The “Transformation” trajectory requires a transformation of how we live, consume, and produce to prevent further decline of our environment and the ecosystem at large. Given the critical state of our natural ecosystems and the growing threat of global climate change, the transformative mindset will look for ways to harmonize humanity’s relationship with the environment to ensure a healthy planet. The Transformation track splits again into two streams: Habitania and Gaia.


Habitania aims to pursue sustainability to create a steady state between humans and the planet. Ultimately, Habitania is rooted in the belief that we can implement solutions to manage scarce natural resources in a sustainable way for the benefit of all humanity through a combination of legislation that recognizes planetary limits and harnesses scientific progress. It is still a utilitarian mindset, but one that recognizes planetary limits and assumes that humans can “manage” the planet and its ecosystems in a sustainable way. It sees humans as acting custodians of nature, cooperating to find a balance between the needs of the planet and human aspirations. The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement are examples of this sustainability narrative.


Gaia sees all life and the planet as a single eco-entangled system and pursues a future of regenerating vibrant and healthy ecosystems. Gaia is rooted in “Gaia Theory,” developed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the 1970s. It describes how a complex systemic interaction between living ecosystems and the geology of the planet makes the planet suitable for life to flourish. The Gaia metaphor compels us to look at our place in the ecosystem not as humans versus the environment, but as active agents that are part of a larger ecosystem. Gaia emphasizes the natural dynamic balance and interconnected interplay between all living things and the geological ecosystem.

Reon Brand
Systemic change starts with individual transformation. Only once we understand our own mindsets and belief systems can we start enabling a healthy, positive relationship between humans and nature. #systemschange #nature #transformation Click To Tweet

Finding your eco-identity

“The chasm between Habitania and Gaia is deeper than it appears at first glance. Embracing the Gaia ideal requires far greater systemic change than simply setting deterministic goals for recycling and curbing consumption levels,” Reon tells us. “Organizations often have myopic perspectives in which shareholder value dominates decision-making. This prevents us from understanding or considering the larger impact of our economic activities on the health of our planetary ecosystems. Only when we see ourselves as an integral part of a larger and increasingly fragile ecosystem can we start to appreciate how we need to transform our behavior, change our aspirations, and discover new meaning.”

Systemic change starts with individual transformation. Only once we understand our own mindsets and belief systems can we start enabling a healthy, positive relationship between humans and nature. In an age where we feel like there’s never enough time, where we are governed by screens and fast-moving tech, we have lost “the power of reflection,” Reon says. “We have become narrowly focused on goals and processes.”

The solution, Reon believes, is to find happiness and fulfillment in non-material things. We need to find the space and time to re-develop our senses, to spend time in nature, to let go. Reon tells us that, for the first time, doctors are starting to prescribe activities like bird watching and beach walks to help treat chronic and debilitating illnesses. In 2018, GPs in Scotland were authorized by the nation’s health board to issue “nature prescriptions” to patients to help treat mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, stress, and other conditions.

The age of customer-centric design is over. In order to develop an inclusive, “eco-identity,” we need to adopt a systems-centric mindset. We need to become positive participants in the ecosystem we find ourselves in.

To learn to lead co-emerging futures, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.