How to embrace complexity?

Talks: Jan Van Biesen - Peter Decuypere

More and more business leaders are confronted with evolutions that impact their businesses and create a lot of chaos. This ever-increasing complexity raises a lot of challenges. How can we embrace the chaos and complexity in order to reorient our business strategy? During our first ‘Talks’ session,  Callebaut Collective interrogates high-level specialists before a selected audience of marketers and other business leaders.

In its first edition, both Jan Van Biesen (station manager Studio Brussel) and Guy Wollaert (former Senior Vice President and Chief Technical and Innovation Officer at Coca-Cola Company) were interviewed about how to stay on top of marketing your products and services.

Extract simplicity

Guy Wollaert, interviewed by Karel Demeester (Callebaut Collective) pointed to the different and growing influences that an entrepreneur experiences, e.g. digitalization, geopolitical shifts, climate change or societal, socio-economic and political trends. Given this multitude, he stressed the importance to extract simplicity out of the complexity. “People tend to do the opposite: making things more complex by being too emotional about their business. Instead, we have to make it as simple as possible, just like architects have to design a simple but powerful idea out of manifold expectations”, said Wollaert.

Mental space

In order to do that, Demeester and Wollaert came to the conclusion that marketers have to maximize their innate curiosity to map en monitor the context from different perspectives. Love for the product is not enough. The trust of the consumer is no longer in the product. Marketers have to fall in love with the consumers and open up mental space to detect new business opportunities. As an example, Demeester pointed to the strategy of usage brands that differentiate themselves from established brands by focusing on experience and customer advocacy. Although they address the same needs, they position themselves completely different.

Finally, Wollaert made the point that also contemporary marketers should not only consider the impact of their products and services on the profits of their companies but also on the communities and the planet. More about this triple bottom line thinking in the video below.



No lasting success recipe

Then, how exactly do you stay relevant in this age of complexity? That was the starting point of the second talk, in which Peter Decuypere (Callebaut Collective) interrogated the station manager of Studio Brussel, Jan Van Biesen. The success of the annual benefit campaign ‘Music for Life’ keeps growing, and not because they reuse the same success recipe. By remaining critical for themselves and by focussing consistently on the mindset in Flanders, the action has been able to reinvent itself several times.

Van Biesen admits that’s hard work and that innovative ideas might invoke discussion with stakeholders. “But never say it’s too hard to market something. On the contrary, scarcity and difficulty stimulate creativity. Always keep on thinking, using contextual research and intuition”, said Van Biesen.

So in the end, what is branding for Van Biesen? For him, it is building relationships. The key is trust between the consumer and the brand. “And I always want to add something to that: surprise. Like when you’re in a relationship that might get in a rut, you have to come with something original and show that you love them”.


The next Talk takes place in October 2018, tackling the challenge of mobility as a service and the implications for branding. The event is invitation-only. Curious? Get in touch if you want to know more.