Phenomenons Starts Helping Jack Bean To Innovate Business And Seize And Scale Its Beautiful Promise.

Phenomenons - December 07,  2020

A fast-food chain that’s vegan, healthy, affordable, locally supplied, and delicious. What’s not to like about Jack Bean? So we’re very happy that they have asked us to help them reimagine and innovate their business foundation, and design a strategic and creative path forward.  Making sure that Jack Bean moves out of the pandemic stronger than ever, ready to scale and impact the world. 

More info follows early 2021. 


Amsterdam     |      June 10th 2020

“Making fake chicken look more like the real thing is not a long-term strategy to stop humans craving chicken.”

Do we need to take a step back? Delve more in to psychology and human behavior, learn from culture. Question if the substitute-strategy is a lasting, sustainable solution. Let’s envision an alternative route. Moving towards a future of immense possibility and invention.

LISTEN TO THIS STORY    -      16:42


You would think that the cold, hard facts about meat would be enough. They’re not.

If we understood its impacts on the environment – in terms of air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, deforestation, ecosystem disruption, natural disasters – this should stop us eating meat.  But it doesn’t.

What about our awareness of the extreme cruelty that we humans show towards our fellow species? Surely the truth is so gut-wrenching that once people understood, they would never want to touch industrialized, processed meat and dairy again Apparently it isn’t.

What about the effects on our own health? It’s clear that cutting down on meat significantly reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer. Eating meat also contributes to weight issues and obesity, already killing 2.8 million people around the world every year. 

And the threat the meat industry poses to the single most important medicine of the last century? Livestock production is associated with developing antibiotic resistance in bacteria, and with the emergence of antimicrobial-resistant microbes: the superbugs.

Of course, the meat-replacement industry is buzzing. The scientific advances are impressive. We’ve seen the first billion- dollar unicorn — perhaps the first of many — and the pace is dialing up, from the world’s largest corporations to start-up ecosystems and incubators, heralding an array of alternatives, plant-based substitutes and biotechnological breakthroughs.

With all this innovation, surely the world should be saved by now. But the numbers tell a different story. Demand for meat replacements may be rising — but so is demand for meat. World meat consumption is growing as the global population rises, but also per capita as greater prosperity drives demand.


Current approaches won’t get us across the chasm from meat to meatless.

The growth the meat-replacement industry has achieved so far is inspiring – but is it sustainable? By focusing on products that mimic meat, are we creating a viable market for the future? We believe that there are some fundamental problems with this approach.

Knowing more creates stronger cognitive dissonance. As humans, we search for meaning — and cognitive dissonance is the unfortunate by-product. When our behavior is out of step with what we know to be good, the resulting tension makes us feel stressed, irritated and unhappy. Our brain wants to relieve this tension, but rather than resolving the discrepancy by changing our beliefs, values or behavior, we often blame these feelings on something else instead, without realizing that we're doing it.

As people start to understand the extremely uncomfortable reality of meat consumption, the degree of dissonance is growing. Psychologists have found that meat eaters have developed as many as 15 different mental strategies to 
justify their behavior. To put this into comparison: rates of 
meat related dissonance are 13 times higher than for the guilt- laden topic of alcohol consumption, and four times higher than for migration.

Offering “meat replacements” might only increase our desire for meat. Neuropsychology shows us that when we use the same words for new inventions, we reinforce the mental construct that we're trying to escape. Think about how a Mac was not a PC — a great example of Apple’s strategic understanding of the importance of mental constructs, semantics and how to shape culture. Now think about lab- grown burgers, fake chicken, the quest for the authentic taste of bacon. What does that say?

Right now, the industry is collectively focused in a single direction: the replacement of the most iconic types of meat. But echoing the semantics of the meat industry only reinforces deep-rooted mental and cultural constructs. We’re advocating for the very product we're trying to replace. This approach doesn’t encourage us to rethink our food habits, it just asks the customer to swap for a fake alternative once in a while.  And that might be the crux of the problem. Making fake chicken look more like the real thing is not a long-term strategy to stop humans craving chicken.

This has serious implications and it will backfire — probably in the near future. We are not replacing meat, just categories. Simply offering an alternative leaves the door open for the meat industry to call the bet, and up the ante. Given the mental gymnastics that many meat eaters are already engaged in, it may take little more than one meat-industry- financed-study to lure them back to “animal-friendly slaughterhouses” or “carbon compensating” farms.

Replacement has never been a very resilient approach. Especially not when the replacement you are offering is way more expensive than the original. Think about the urban millennials; by far the largest group of converts. We’re about to enter a new economic crisis and “their” gig-economy will be hit very hard. When finance is down, will they buy two meatless burgers for 5 euros — or, for the time being, go back to the real burgers for 80 cents? Back to cognitive dissonance. Back to square one.

It doesn’t address the underlying culture of eating meat. And that is a big problem. Take a look at food from a cultural perspective, and you will see how profoundly embedded these  habits are. Food is at the heart of our culture: its preparation, its storage and the myriad ways that we cook it, eat it, share it and talk about it. From pica to umami, from cheese to caviar, from pizza to foie gras. Food is deeply woven into our values and rituals, creating powerful symbols and global heroes. And while you’re at it, have you ever tried to change the recipe of a pasta dish in Italy? Good luck.

Just because we can replace a few easy targets, that doesn’t mean the rest will follow. 



Our focus on short-term numbers might endanger lasting, seismic change, and the possibility to leverage this powerful cultural moment to move towards a next phase.

There is only one thing more powerful than food: culture itself. As the growing global consciousness movement shows, groups of people have already shifted their behavior in a more sustainable direction. Food exerts a strong symbolic power in this fast-growing subculture, mainly consisting of — the previously mentioned — creative, educated, progressive urban millennials. It’s important to understand that the desire for alternative meat isn't growing, a counterculture is growing, one that has adopted meat substitutes as one of its symbols.

This counterculture will remain a niche — perhaps a very profitable niche, but still a niche. One that most likely only empowers the cognitive dissonance strategies of the 
mainstream — as all elusive countercultures do.

To cross the chasm, and bring this new category to the mass market, we need a cultural solution to societal disruption. We need to understand the underlying desire for a new approach to life and create a greater equilibrium to society’s collective mind.

In his book Cultural Strategy, Harvard marketing professor Douglas Holt describes how brands such as Patagonia, Starbucks and Nike delivered first and foremost a solution on a cultural level. Nike, for example, connected the American Dream to sports via the struggle to escape the ghetto in the 1980s. “Just Do It” became a mantra, sport became the perfect metaphor for American combative solo willpower and Nike became an international sensation. And because it’s connected to the very core of society and culture — and just as relevant today — it serves as a clear North Star for the many strategic endeavors they engage in.

So if we want people to really give up meat, we have to replace the dominant cultural narrative around food. The focus on carbon emissions might be one step too far if we want to address eating habits on a large scale. We need to conjure a fresh new narrative that bridges the collective desire for large- scale change and food.

We need to do for plant-based food what Starbucks did for coffee. Back in the day, coffee was instant, diluted and generic. So the introduction of well-roasted, great-tasting specialty coffee should have been enough to make it a hit. 
But Starbucks did something else. It tapped into a desire for societal change, and in turn it was able to shape culture. On a very large scale. Think about Frappuccinos, coffee to go, the role of coffeehouses in global gentrification, the gig economy, our daytime social interactions. Think how it has influenced interior design, driven consumer tastes, reinvigorated the chocolate and bread industry, and you start to understand
the big picture. A new cultural narrative around plant-based change can spark a similar transformation. 

We can shape a new cultural code. Once we’ve found a way in, we need to move quickly beyond the clichés, and sales pitches, that keep reinforcing existing culture. Once we play into the desire for new values, we can start to create new rituals, symbols, and novel forms of cultural expression.

New foods, new markets, a new world. But why stop there? 
If we have a solid foundation, we have a platform for innovating around anything that relates to that new food culture. Think how powerful this could be. New names, new pairings and toppings, new taste descriptors. New types of packaging that espouse new values.

We can build business models that support new belief systems and create better supply chains. We can introduce new rituals in cooking, in sharing food and in the ways we live alongside each other. We can champion new jobs, new family roles, new patterns of consumption. We can turn junk food into healthy food. We can create social interaction around something that’s not meat. And this, in turn, can hyper-accelerate lasting change.



We should think beyond isolated branding strategies and incremental product innovations. We need a new approach to the design of business.

Creating this change is a challenge for leading businesses, innovators and investors. Sure, a cultural strategy is an interesting marketing approach, but only works if we innovate all the other aspects of the business in a creative way too. We need creative business design. McDonald’s serves around 68 million customers a day by squeezing every drop of humanity and sustainability out of their business model. This is what we’re up against. And yes, they might sell vegetarian alternatives now, but it's safe to assume they have absolutely no interest in going all the way — and they will do everything in their power to stop this.

We can only change things if we start to understand what humanity demands today, in six months’ time, and in a decade. Understanding what needs to be done is a tall order, and can get complicated fast. But there are smart ways. One way to deal with this is within the framework of the three horizons model: the first horizon is today, the second is the coming transition, the third is the future; your north star. When we plot potential approaches on a graph of strategic fit against time, we can see that business-as-usual is the best strategic fit in the current moment. It has, after all, developed over decades and it is optimized for today’s conditions. But it’s not going to last long.

Once we enter the transition phase, today’s approach will rapidly decline in relevance. To regain relevance, we can embed pockets of the future in the present, and these will become important as we reach the second horizon. But when the transition is over, only today’s truly visionary narratives will add relevance to the future. Taking these three horizons, connecting them and back-planning into a strategic framework gives us an opportunity to shape that future.

Creative business design recognizes that there is always an interplay: society informs customer, customer informs product, product informs business and business informs society. Achieving change is an ongoing cycle, creating and refining culture, narratives, propositions and innovation that truly matter to people.

Within 10 years, we could bring about a completely new culture. But if we don’t start working towards that culture right now, it won’t exist.

Ruben Smit is founder and CEO of Phenomenons Global. He studied cognitive neuroscience and economic psychology at Tilburg University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His long time fascination lies 
in the interaction between human behavior, complex mental- and social constructs, society and how this drives behavior, sparks creativity 
and shapes culture.

Ruben stopped eating animals half a decade ago and strongly feels it's about time the world follows.

Living Through Our Zeitgeist.

Creative Business Design Has Never Been More Relevant.

Lauren Wright - 29 April 2020

Longer Read - An interview with Ruben Smit, the founder and brains behind Phenomenons, by the consultancies new Business Director, Lauren Wright

“We’re on the lookout for first movers that believe creativity can help purpose-driven business to give shape to a new decade”

We’re living through an unprecedented time right now, any reflections?

There’s so much to say. On the one hand we are witnessing monumental human progress. On the other, we’re in a period of extreme inequality, toxic politics and a systemic ecological climate emergency. Add to that the recent global COVID-19 pandemic and the picture becomes even more complex.  I think we can agree that there cannot be, and should not be, any more business as usual. We see a great opportunity in the necessity to accelerate positive change. Change is being adopted lightning fast - distributed working, humane tech, educational reform, circular economies. People are looking for deeper meaning to regain a sense of purpose to deal with the deeply complex problems we’re facing today. People demand and embrace business with a progressive agenda. The desire to participate in the movement towards a new status quo is getting stronger every-day: from sustainability to activism to culture.

Going back a bit - what’s your background Ruben, your personal story?

A friend once called me a punk philosopher. It kind of sums me up. Going against the grain, stubborn, philosophical and fascinated by human behaviour. The world is full of peculiarities and people are complex beings. It’s just extremely fascinating and energizing to push yourself to get of this. I studied cognitive neuroscience and economic psychology at Tilburg University and The University of Hong Kong. My big obsession is the interaction between human behaviour and society and how this sparks creativity and shapes culture. This passion launched my career in advertising, but I became frustrated with the lack of substance and rigor. Ad agencies are so strongly connected to paid media and the creation of pointless content. But the economical landscape became so much more complex, that there is no way it will ever play a role in the shaping of anything bigger that short-term commodity sales numbers. Which takes me back to my punk alter ego. I decided to reject that model and start my own creative business. We want to help create new models that move the world forward.

You tend to partner entrepreneurs and help them to achieve their North star vision. Why are they choosing Phenomenons?

It’s a good question. In general, the world is getting so complex. You need thinkers who can mine through the complexity of all the available data to identify the right human insights to drive big transformative ideas. Looking beyond the superficial to find the real human motivation. Then again, the problems and opportunities have in some ways gotten so complex, that you need serious creative thinking to solve them. Our clients recognise the power of this paradox: solving complexity through rigorous creative business design. We want to bring our intelligence to the level of the large consultancies, working with big data and AI, but morph the data in to something fresh and new, and much more actionable and solution-driven. Executing it into a culturally resonating business. That’s something the big 5 don’t know how to. We do.

Also, our clients like the fact that we take a stance and have the confidence to genuinely spar with them. We can be a pain in the butt sometimes. We have a blind drive and ambition to achieve the very best outcomes. It takes a healthy dose of bravery and tons of resilience. It’s all about co-creation, iterations and longevity. Asking and testing of ideas: “Is there a different way? Can we take this idea even further? Can we make a more enduring impact?”.

Is Phenomenons living through its own zeitgeist?

Yes, perhaps it is! We cannot solve deep-rooted problems with the thinking that first originated them. We work with smart entrepreneurially minded people to lead the change and build better alternatives. We build transformative businesses with positive-purpose woven in to their fabric. We tend to think big and think future. We’re experienced in building new mental constructs that break boundaries and lead the kind of change that society embraces. Our mission is to contribute to the bottom line of business, people and the world.

The consultancy was born out of very personal deep-rooted principles. They inform all the choices we make throughout the strategic and creative process. They also connect us to like-minded collaborators. It’s a combination of taking a stance for what you believe in, fostering diversity of thought, championing emotional intelligence and taking responsibility for the positive long-term outcomes of our work.

Phenomenons talks of the power of cultural strategy sitting at the heart of creative business design. Demystify this for us Ruben. 

Cultural strategy is a big topic. As big as culture itself. Which is alive and organic and constantly in motion – acting and reacting and shifting.  Besides that, purpose is something that needs to be played out at the level of culture.  

At Phenomenons we apply cultural strategy in two ways. Firstly, it is about creating something that resonates within the existing culture. We build Creative Business Narratives that do this and we validate them through cultural testing. Secondly, and very interesting for progressive start-ups, cultural strategy can build on and innovate the existing culture. Creating something new from ripples of social disruption. This is real cultural innovation. Offering a new set of values and solutions that move culture forwards. This is more of an ideological opportunity. It’s harder to get there, but also much more rewarding, especially when combined with a strong purpose, you’re halfway towards a movement. Patagonia did a great job at innovating culture in this way. Nike is a super obvious example as they really executed the cultural strategy phenomenally well. They apply a level of craft to their execution that we as a consultancy seek to emulate. Oatley did a really good job more recently, entering the consciousness at a zeitgeist moment and offering a new normal.

“Talking about brands is like talking about an outdated mental construct - It assumes simplified positioning grids, facades and fake identities. This doesn’t rhyme with purpose-driven business.” 

Is it as relevant for established business as start-ups?

Yes, for sure established businesses could pause and take a breath, and figure out their renewed cultural relevance and cultural opportunity. Phenomenons can partner established businesses that recognise the potential and want an external consultation partner. So many brands should dare to do this, to take this leap. Recognising that we are living through an era of accelerated change and that they can – or must – reinvent or innovate for the future.
Phenomenons also works with R&D/Innovation teams, to look outside of the business as usual and innovate. Experimental projects with task teams that are given some time and commitment with the brief to “surprise” and come at the business opportunities from a completely different angle.

Any closing thoughts on trust and leaps of faith in times of accelerated change?

Something on our minds, particularly right now with so much disruption, change and uncertainty, is the simple yet vital theme of trust. It can be hard to build trust around new ideas and innovative constructs as you have no historical precedent or benchmark. This is as true for Phenomenons building trust with new clients, as it is for our clients building trust with new audiences. However, taking a step back, unprecedented times call for leaps of faith. The world is changing at lightening speed and it’s actually a lot scarier to think of the consequences when we’re trying to ignore the possibilities and keep practicing business as usual. Short term: end of business. Long term: end of well… everything. If you’re reading this and it’s resonating, let’s talk. Right now, the world desperately needs some visionary Future Phenomenons.

Lauren Wright, new addition to the Phenomenons team as Business Director, has years of experience in strategic brand thinking, driving business results through creativity. Plus a recent study at Cambridge in Sustainable Business Leadership under her belt.

"Phenomenons lives in that powerful interplay of creativity and rigour. We're passionate about helping to build purpose-driven businesses that matter."

Purpose-Culture Fit Is The New Product-Market Fit

Ruben Smit - April 26,  2020

A Recent study showed that 42% of all start-up failures are related to lack of product-market fit. Many entrepreneurs are so caught up in their own business, that they are either unwilling, or unable to understand demand in the real world. It’s ironic that they developed a belief-system that wants the business to succeed at all costs, while it simultaniously creates a highly destructive myopic for the business itself. 

This accounts even more for a new generation of businesses and its entrepreneurs: the ones with a strong purpose and a drive to make a lasting impact. As we entered a new, transformative decade, people are demanding increasingly more from businesses to begin with.

So forget product-market fit. It’s not the market, but culture that creates a way in.

This is great, but also a large threat for breakthrough growth. Culture cares about something much deeper than merely a product. It cannot be A/B tested, there is no prototype of culture, and it doesn’t rely on MVP’s, journey’s and technology. Nor can it be bought through series of successful investments rounds. 

Culture cares about motivation, values, credibility and the narrative that drives this all forward. Only then follows the rest. 

But once you’ve established purpose-culture fit, you’ve unlocked a powerful platform for prototyping, community feedback and the building of a lasting relationship with cultural influencers. Setting up for a highly effective, collaborative process of product and proposition development. 

Enabling a great means to cross the chasm from niche to the likes of a mass audience.

We bet the failure number looks totally different once more entrepreneurs mastered this path. 

How Excessive Consumption Drives A Neurological State Of Emptiness.

Ruben Smit - March 16, 2020

A neurological perspective on the enlightenment we're so desperately looking for.

In the most basic explanation, there are two (we leave oxytocin out of the equation) neurotransmitters that regulate mood and emotional well-being: dopamine and serotonin.

Dopamine comes from the brain and plays a central role in the reward system, controlling desire, motivation and cravings. Serotonin is situates in the gut and -next to being very important for digestion-, regulates mood and emotions, cognitions and concentration. Slichtly simplistic said: Dopamine is short term, Serotonin is long term. Dopamine is reward, serotonin is happiness.

Overly stimulating dopamine, causes levels of serotonin to go down, and this is where it all goes wrong. It leaves an empty feeling "in the gut" and a craving for more. And obviously, going for more only  inhibits serotonin even further. Creating a state of anxiety that inhibits both.

Our modern-day society revolves around excessive consumption.

This includes, but is not limited to, alcohol abuse, gambling, trading, fast food, social media, sugar, unboxing, on-demand purchases, consumer identities, fast fashion, likes and shares, traveling, selfies, gaming, unlimited timelines, insta stories, eating. These are powerfully amplified by simple advertising techniques,  and behavioral mechanisms, playing into the innate desire for identity building and the rapidly addopted lifestyles of immediate gratification. Creating a race to the bottom few people realize they're in.

So even though most of us don't know that much of our state of emptiness has been fuelled by this simple cognitive downward spiral, we do started "feeling something in the gut". Exsessive consumption leaves us indifferent and empty, and we’re actively starting to look for a way out.

Looking for a better neurological balance. Searching for a more enlightened reality. 

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