A more lateral future –
stepping out of our comfort zone.
FROM STEAM TO ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
“The comfort zone is a behavioural state in which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk”, said Judith Bardwick in 1991 (Page, 2020). To this day, we think we can all agree that this statement is true. Especially for an industry like ours, we generally look at it through a scope of business efficiency. Therefore, we love our fixed deadlines, and like to follow a clear plan. Although this has worked well for us for many years, it is and will become more important to leave our safe heaven and explore new waters. There is an ongoing process of change in the world. 250 years ago, we (or rather our ancestors) were excited about the possibility of mechanical production, through water and steam. But by the early 1900s, thanks to electricity and automation, we suddenly had the capability of mass production and the provision of immense quantities of goods, which changed the world in a way that we have never experienced before (Jin and Shin, 2021).
Moving on, in the mid-twentieth century, the third industrial revolution took on technologies such as telecommunications, computers, IT systems, and automation which were all enabled by polarising nuclear energy to a whole new level. Although production was already high at that time, this industry was focused on maximising it even more. In turn, this led consumption to skyrocket and led the industry to focus on efficiency and cost reduction wherever possible. Fast, flexible, and precise production resulted in new business models, which were able to establish themselves and grow rapidly within our society (Ward, 2019). We guess we are all familiar with the big fast fashion companies like H&M and Inditex that were founded during that time. (Jin and Shin, 2021).
The fashion industry is always moving fast. Especially companies on the forward side, like the two examples mentioned above. They pushed the fast-changing trends even further to always being one step ahead of the rest. For instance, Zara is developing 20 collections per year (Nguyen, 2020), which obviously makes it hard to keep up with the rising production levels. It’s no secret that the fashion industry is polluting and responsible for more than 10% of humanity's carbon emissions. Do you know how much 10% is? That is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined (Dottle and Gu, 2022). It is very clear that something needs to change, and fortunately for us, there is the potential to change while utilising the fourth industrial revolution that’s to come.
This new revolution continues where the third one has stopped, centralising hyper personalization, productivity, and environmental sustainability (Jin and Shin, 2021). Environmental sustainability results from the immense negative impact of the previous industrial revolutions through mass production, unmatched demand and oversupply. In addition, consumer awareness of environmental harm is increasing and the majority of consumers are willing to change their consumption behaviour to a more sustainable one. Hyper-perzonalisation aims to satisfy the specific needs of an individual customer. Whether these are tangible things, such as personalised products, or intangible things, such as personalised advertisements, all made possible by the new technologies and big data. And last but not least productivity. With improved productivity, a more efficient and effective transformation of inputs into outputs should be achieved. This time, the focus should not be on producing more goods at lower costs, but on the accuracy, convenience and speed in the decision-making process behind it. In this way, the industry can, for example, make hyper-personalised products possible for the wide range of people in the first place (Jin and Shin, 2021).
The fourth Industrial Revolution and the main three pillars are mainly defined by new technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality. These are all terms that have become a big part of fashion today, and we have probably encountered them many times before but never really looked that much into them. Revolutions have always been driven by social needs, not by society catching up with new technological innovations. For instance, if we look into environmental sustainability, society noticed that something urgently needed to change due to the mass production and huge oversupply in the third industrial revolution (Jin and Shin, 2021). The fashion industry reacted to this by implementing more sustainable materials such as organic cotton, hemp, and other alternatives and then the industry started with implementing new technologies.
As an industry, we need to find a way to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution. A revolution we expect to challenge our comfort zone! Well, the only way to do this is by allowing it to happen and being ready to step out of it. Boarding this change which is happening in the industrial world around us, requires us to rethink the way we think first. We need to let go of our linear thinking patterns and try out a more lateral way of thinking. These two terms were new to us (and we feel like they are new to the industry as well), but after understanding them, we realised that they are part of our everyday lives. Understanding linear and lateral thinking methods could pretty much be the key that will unlock the door for this new revolution.
THINKING IN TWO DIFFERENT WAYS
“The state of mind in which a person feels totally at ease and away from possible danger or mistakes is their comfort zone” (Heyward, 2021).
Linear and lateral thinking are different ways in which we perceive and process information. Linear thinking is linked to our left brain, while lateral thinking is related to the right side of our brain (Wood, 2022). As Tuarez mentions in an article by NeuroTray; “In the world we live in today, linear thinking is what we have been taught and we assume, what people consider to be their comfort zone” (Tuarez, 2021). The reason this is, is because linear thinking taps into concepts such as convergent, logical, or vertical thinking, a thinking process based on rationality, logic, and rules which is in line with being sensible, efficient, and organised (Wood, 2022). All these concepts sound like the traditional route that we’ve been taking in the past years when it comes to problem solving or working methods. In order to reach any sort of conclusion within our working methods, we tend to think in a cause-and-effect sort of way, so processes are only valid if there is evidence to support the different areas or conclusions used to solve the problem, just the way we usually like it (Tuarez, 2021). Lateral thinking, on the other hand, is divergent and creative, not following a step-by-step approach towards a solution, the thinking process occurs spontaneously and in a non-linear manner which in turn, generates and explores many different ideas (Wood, 2022). This concept is an introduction to the mental process of creativity, ingenuity, and insight in the elaboration of our thoughts, to be able to observe how reality looks from different angles and be able to restructure and change the ideas already learned. In other words, lateral thinking allows change in attitude and approach to concepts, while restructuring the outdated and already established linear-inspired-models into innovative ones (Tuarez, 2021).
Perhaps this sounds abstract, and might as well be confusing, however, many companies are also struggling with this new concept as the majority currently operate in a linear way. And frankly, due to working in a linear system, the abstractness in this industry is holding us from changing, even so, this is more about developing a new approach and understanding how to cope with this shift without being fearful and stepping out of our comfort zone. Furthermore, both humans and companies aren't so different as we are all experiencing the same shift. After all, the process of lateral thinking is different when compared to linear thinking, but both are complementary and necessary.
WHY ONLY USE ONE WHEN YOU CAN USE BOTH
“When it comes to linear and lateral thinking, neither one is better or worse. They are simply different ways we think and approach problems in everyday life and, as such, are complementary and necessary” (Wood, 2022).
Linear and lateral thinking are part of the creative cycle since they allow us to register and process information, solve problems, make connections, analyse, and create (Wood, 2022). Since linear thinking seeks to reach a solution through a single direction already defined previously, pros and cons to this method can identify where the change has to take place. Pros of linear thinking are its direct approach, strong intellectual content, good structural sense, it concentrates and eliminates irrelevant approaches, and it does not disregard correctness. This method is in line with the ladder or hierarchy shape which is the way that the majority of organisations are still operating in. These organisations operating in this method might have already experienced that it can become overly structured, predictable, boring, overly cautious, and that it needs correction at every step (Kocak, 2019). We are all trapped in a loop where we keep repeating collections every season, producing what was successful in previous collections with minor adjustments, and destroying the creativity in this process due to the linear working methods that we are used to.
On the contrary, lateral thinking does not seek to follow a direction to reach a solution. It’s unfocused, unstructured, overly subjective nature, explores the probability of an optimal solution without guaranteeing one, and lacks capacity for criticism (Kocak, 2019). But in spite of that, when confronted with ambiguous situations, trying to rationalise things and follow the patterns usually doesn’t lead to a solution. Lateral thinking gives original ideas at every stage of plotting, examines different approaches to find the most promising, provides personal/original voice, searches for postmodern approaches, and is open to all ideas. This concept is more in line with a lattice company structure, which is more focused on individual workers self managing and directing their own work. This structure will be further explored in the next chapter.
“Both linear and lateral thinking concepts have their fair share of pros and cons, however, they typically complement one another as we most often use a combination of both types of thinking when processing information, problem-solving, and creating” (Wood, 2022). The only way for us to successfully make the shift into the 4th industrial revolution is by implementing lateral thinking (which is something a lot of us lack), on top of the linear methods we have now. Developing the ability to think laterally within an organisation's working methods is the way to start thinking outside of the box and discover innovative and creative solutions to any problems that may take place.
HOW CAN OUR WORKING METHODS BENEFIT FROM THAT?
“The corporate ladder is vanishing, and it's getting more and more difficult to deny the changing world of work.” (Forbes Media, 2011)
As mentioned before, a common linear route through which companies are built up is called the ladder or hierarchy shape, in which decision-makers at the top of the ladder decide the framework. A well-known, linear example of this is a 9-to-5 work schedule which defines when, where, and how work is accomplished. A system in which employees are given very little responsibility, their potential is not fully utilised and are expected to be creative for 8 hours a day (CHRON., n.d.).
That’s old fashion. And changing as the minority, but a growing number of companies are adopting a lattice structure. It is a move towards greater creativity and allowing individuals more freedom. Lattice is more in line with the lateral approach we are trying to take as the work is largely self-directed and managed by the individual worker. This method can be structured in three different ways. The first method is to organise the work according to the needs of the individual worker. The second method is to create a flexible work schedule to make it easier for employees to balance work and home life. Last but not least is the participation of the entire staff, which means they can provide ideas and suggestions across every division of the company (CHRON., n.d.). The advantage of lattice organisations is clearly the flexibility that an employee has during his or her employment. Additionally, it is possible to adapt very quickly to changing market conditions largely because the employer is able to take full advantage of the talents of its employees (CHRON., n.d.).
An example of a lattice-structured company is W. L. Gore & Associates. It is known for diverse innovations, such as its "waterproof and breathable" textile material Gore-Tex (Grønning, 2016). W. L. Gore & Associates is a team-based company, which encourages the personal growth and initiative of its employees, also known as associates. There is no hierarchy and all employees communicate with each other on a peer-to-peer basis. Keeping both customer satisfaction and "associate" satisfaction at the top of the company's agenda is of the utmost importance for W. L. Gore & Associates. In addition to offering minimal barriers to creativity, its quality decision-making capabilities have proven to be very helpful. As a result of its lattice structure, it is consistently rated as one of the best employers in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France (Gore-Tex Brand, 2022).
It is evident that shifting from a traditional company structure to a lattice structure can be of great benefit. Although there are many different companies and people in the world, each of which uses a different process to solve problems, it is easy to integrate all of the benefits of lateral thinking in a creative setting such as the fashion industry. Moreover, lattice structures not only provide numerous opportunities for the individual but also encourage creativity in all aspects. Get inspired by taking a look at our statement collection, "IT'S ABOUT TIME". Discover a collection built up laterally following a lattice structured work ethic within our studio.
HOW THIS IS CONTRIBUTING TO A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
“We don’t have a climate change problem, we have a thinking problem”, says Zoe Lester in the UX Collective (UX Collective, 2021). Could this be the case? Is human thinking the source of all evil? A part of the process of rethinking the human made patterns is to break out of the old-fashioned pattern, especially when it pertains to our environment. As a means to overcome these patterns, creativity plays an essential role in driving more rapid change forward.
Third Industrial Revolution, the most important goal was to increase productivity. This was accomplished through mechanisation (1st Industrial Revolution), mass production (2nd Industrial Revolution), digitalization, and automatic production (3rd Industrial Revolution) (Jin, 2021).
With its technical implementations, such as robotics and intelligent manufacturing, 3D printing and 3D knitting, virtual and augmented reality, the fourth Industrial Revolution is just in time to contribute to a more sustainable planet. A primary purpose of these tools is to ensure that business models can be quickly adapted to changes in social and environmental conditions in order to ensure a more sustainable world.
Using these technologies, new business models can be created such as offering hyper-personalised products and services with virtual and augmented reality on a large scale (Jin, 2021). The environment will be greatly impacted by our ability to control production through the creation of personalised garments, resulting in less unsold garments and less garments ending up in landfills that pollute our environment.
It is therefore necessary to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and explore the possibilities presented by lateral thinking in order to develop a more sustainable future.
With the fourth Industrial Revolution and its approach to lateral thinking, there is more than one path forward. In every way, the variety of possibilities offered by it and the variety of paths presented could be chosen to provide a multiverse of opportunities. A multi-optional approach is the new way of thinking. The goal is not to produce a final product. Rather, the process is the goal. Furthermore, technology does not serve as an end goal, but rather as a support. In order to create a more sustainable and forward-looking society, innovative business models utilising technology will be required (Jin, 2021).
TECHNICAL INNOVATION AT ITS PEAK
“Technological innovation is on the verge of fueling momentous change as digitalization has significantly impacted organisations across all sectors and industries” (Bawany, 2018).
Although the fashion industry is always fashionably late (pun intended), not this time, fashion companies are pushing 3D development and this is mainly shown through the implementation of 2D and 3D digital design software’s (Taitler, 2022). The industry has openly supported the 4th industrial revolution as it has been very receptive to the new fabrics and new manufacturing techniques that are powered by a wave of new innovations questioning the relevance of physical and biological worlds. Although previous revolutions have always been driven by social needs, this time it's more focused on catching up with new technological innovations.
For the textile manufacturing industry, productivity in the supply chain is very critical. Adapting smart manufacturing will allow brands to gain access to real-time data which will in turn lead to greater operational flexibility and supply chain transparency, such as forecasting, planning and production control (Taitler, 2022). It’s time to hop on the bandwagon and join the many retail brands that have already made the realisation that technological manufacturing poses a great opportunity for growth and profitability. We live in a world where the physical and digital merge and frankly, with 3D programs, the fashion industry is able to rapidly shorten design and sourcing processes (Jin and Shin, 2021). 3D is seen as a tool to improve supply chain practices and although we have identified the potential of this, it is still not to the full extent. Furthermore, the price of 3D printing is rapidly decreasing, and this enables companies to quickly create complex products without specialist machinery. On top of that, producing in small quantities will become more cost effective for brands (Schreiber, 2022). Adapting a smart factory enables retailers to modify manufacturing processes in real time, and even alter designs and patterns, to keep pace with the latest trends to satisfy demanding consumers (Taitler, 2022).
There's two sides to every story, in this case it's not always rainbows and butterflies as there will be tremendous managerial leadership challenges because these new innovations will disrupt the regular control that leaders have now within the ladder or hierarchy shape, but compromise is what moves us along and it is the role of the leaders to guide their teams throughout this shift into a lattice company structure. The flexibility in working methods and new technological advancements require agility and thinking of things differently while having the ability to facilitate that, especially as a leader but also as a collective since the whole team needs to perform up to this standard. The way they can do this is through cognitive readiness which is in line with lateral thinking methods. This is the part where we need to move away from the traditional linear patterns that we’re used to and try out a more lateral approach. However, this system is so linear that it can't be changed in a day, thus technology specifically helps to bring about this change and make it feasible and bearable. If we can take on this new approach, we can develop the mental preparation needed to face this technological shift and the unpredictable challenges that might arise (Bawany, 2018). Technology really has affected the whole chain of how we wear our clothes, how they’re created, and what we do with them after we’re done with them (Schreiber, 2022).
iNDiViDUALS AS A FORWARD THINKING COLLECTIVE
iNDiViDUALS STUDIO was established in 2006 and is a reality school AMFI-program that functions as a consultancy studio consulting the industry by learning, questioning, and exploring industry standards. As a studio, it is vital to stay on top of new and upcoming trends in the industry. This year iNDiViDUALS decided to rethink design principles and design for time instead of against it because as a studio we see the untapped beauty in the natural ageing process of garments. We do not look at garments as obsolete and easily-disposable products, instead we choose to celebrate every wrinkle, stain, and hole a garment gets. It is that way we believe the product remains relevant throughout its wearing cycle, thus becoming more valuable to the brand, as the consumer's story is what makes garments more valuable to them.
Our designs accommodate the ageing process by taking into account durability, adjustability, evolvability, and pushing it further with a strong insight of the potential that 3D holds. The limitless opportunities posed by 3D have been explored by iNDiViDUALS, and this is the main way we communicate the ageing process of our designs. The durability is enhanced through the use of long lasting dead-stock materials which are known to age well and promote the longevity of garments. Because the product stays long, we don’t need constant new ones. The adjustability is implemented in the technical side of the design, where there is no specific body type. Each garment is genderless and can be worn in many different ways which emphasizes that it is never a fixed product and doesn’t go out of style. The evolvability is also an aspect that we focus on to really show the ageing of the garments and how they are living and developing with us, this is mainly shown through the material choice of each outfit, the natural dyeing techniques used for each garment and how each one changes with time. Moving on, through these three aspects we are trying to stop treating garments as disposable products and instead highlight how valuable they can be.
It’s always been garment production equals process and bought garment equals end result. However, we identify the different ways through lateral thinking by seeing the garment production as the beginning of the process, the bought garment as a continuation of the process, and the time spent with this garment as an added value.
It’s not always about the final product but rather the way we get there, the wearing and sharing is in our opinion more important than merely owning and interacting with a garment once. The aim of iNDiViDUALS is to consult both the consumer and the industry, on the further potential of what the future may look like through the digitalization of ageing clothes. We use the untapped beauty with the limitless opportunities 3D brings as it was used as a tool to visually illustrate a variety of aged materials and garments. Many creases and stains were experimented with in 3D to depict the ageing process as naturalistically as possible. A new story is told with every stage of ageing which changes both consumer and industry behaviours when looking critically at the lifespan of clothing. The end goal was to show the process of development and change through each phase which in turn, should instigate that seeing the beauty in ageing gives us hope for a better future. We've been able not only to design for time instead of against it, but capitalised the 3D technology in order to design beyond time and question value consumption and production methods. We encourage the industry to rethink the value of ageing garments and we strive to curb overconsumption habits.
WHY, TELL ME WHY?
Perhaps you have heard about the Paris sneaker in ‘full destroyed look’ from Balenciaga. Apart from the fact that not everyone wants to spend or is able to spend €1,450 on shoes (Adegeest, 2022), it's almost the same result, but a totally different approach. While Balenciaga offers a linear, already ‘destroyed’ end product, iNDiViDUALS lays the focus on everything that happens before. The approach is therefore lateral and the focus lays on the process itself, instead of the final result. The consumer can experience this whole process with the garment. Being part of the ageing and seeing the untapped beauty which comes naturally with every little wrinkle or stain, gives the garment a personal and unique character since they are telling the consumer's journey.
So why should a product like this be produced by the industry when we can have it in a more environmentally friendly, long-term, and even more personal and creative kind of way?
Another company that has a similar approach to iNDiViDUALS is G-Star. ‘Wear your denim till the end' is the jeans brand's new campaign slogan. ‘Raw denim gives you another look at every stage of life. So embrace the wrinkles, the lines, the scars, and the scuffs. Think responsible.’ G-Star also wants to convey to its customers that it is okay if the blue indigo of the jeans changes slightly over time, fades and the shape of the jeans changes slightly due to the wearer (G.-Star, 2022). The customers, however, are creating their own individual product with its own character. Since the fourth industrial revolution heavily relies on new technologies, iNDiViDUALS has a similar approach. However, we took it a step further with implementing the 3D aspect, through which iNDiViDUALS is able to show how the garment is possibly going to age over time.
So why should the industry implement this new way of thinking and working? As Vivienne Westwood already said in 2013: ‘Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.’ (Fashion Telegraph, 2013) If we start using our clothes for a longer time, we can possibly stop the constantly increasing overconsumption.
Nevertheless, people will always be willing to consume and spend money on new garments. After all, we love fashion. But the general way of pretending that garments are disposable products has to change. We can start by treating our clothes as companions which make memories with us and in the end tell our own individual and personal story. The items will turn into unique pieces which will also benefit the environment.
Dear fashion industry, for once, dare to be the first to step out of your comfort zone, allow flexibility, integrate agility, don't always lag one step behind, take the full potential of technology, for example within 3D, not just for the same motives as you’ve been used to throughout the past industrial revolutions, but because this is simply the beginning of a new start and not the end of an era.
It will mark the beginning of new corporate structures, ways of thinking, and an overall attitude toward life. Give your employees more room to develop personally and to explore their creativity. Rather than waiting any longer, why not start changing things now, be a pioneer and an attractive employer, as well as having a progressive mindset toward customers?
Yes, we understand that it is unfamiliar, but it is worth it, be brave. The comfort zone always becomes boring in the long run. It’s about time to enjoy the process.