Lifestyle Design by Jan Van Mol (AddictLab)
In a series of guest blogpost we want to feature some interesting people who we think are a beautiful example of lifestyle designers. The first in line: Jan Van Mol is the owner of Addictlab, a creative laboratory uniting creatives from all over the world and over 30 disciplines. Jan has been called a concept king, a brand guru, a renaissance man, a pioneer in the creative industry by the international press. And on top of that, we think he’s a beautiful example of a lifestyle designer. So we are very very happy to have him as a guest writer on our blog. Hope you’ll enjoy reading his post as much as we did!
I’ll let you in on a little personal secret. Years ago, I wouldn’t want to commit to a marriage, for the inevitable consequence of mating: kids. Not because of dislike, quite on the contrary. But how on earth could I go and procreate, if I wouldn’t have all the answers needed to raise them properly? I knew questions would come, with every diaper, every tooth fairy and every dish of spaghetti squashed upside down on your child’s head.
In that time, and maybe to look for some of the answers, we had a clear program to explore the world out there. Celebrating my birthday in October would be in Guatemala, on the top of the Kilimanjaro, swimming with dolphins in Belize or paraglyding on île de Réunion. Asking my wife Petra to marry me, I’ve found it necessary to do so on an altar in the hidden city of Petra in Jordan. With all respect, but I thank god I didn’t have a girlfriend called Oostrozebeke.
And kids came. With them the building up of insane parental reflexes. People tell me I have a creative mind. You have no idea what burden that can be in view of imagining all that can go wrong for, with, and by your children.
The question, since then, remains the same: how do you do this? How do you raise your children with values you think are important, with skills you think they need? Because let’s face it. Not a posh educational book of some self-proclaimed guru, not even your own parents advice will do the trick. To cope with today’s changing society every advice is outdated the moment it’s uttered. You’re pretty much on your own.
Professionally, I had my advertising agency back then, and yes, it didn’t do too bad. With some pretty big clients, that’s a bit of an understatement. But in my naive thinking – sometimes creative minds should be protected against themselves, I know – I started the Addictlab concept. A vision to be able to attract creative talent from all over the world, to learn from them, to help them, accelerate them and create an added value in view of out of the box ideas, innovation and social change. So that from a consultancy point of view, you can deliver your clients a much more holistic approach on marketing and innovation. I believe creative thinkers have a moral duty .
So I needed to dive into other disciplines. In the fashion, art, design scene. I believed the step from a creative agency to a creative lab would make me richer. In both senses of the word. And yes, Addictlab has allowed me to meet ingenious people from all over the world. To travel and talk about my vision and work on projects from Shanghai, Helsinki to Melbourne. The money part, well, that’s another story. I probably made all mistakes one can make in setting this up. Although 9 /11 for Ad!dict inc in New York wasn’t really my fault, and a scam in Malaga or a prince of Kuwait that came along to invest in Addictlab (sic) came via friends working in venture capital who should have known better. We learn.
Moving to South -Africa was a possibility that came along via Petra’s work. And, well, it made an impression on me. It allowed me to test the concept of Addictlab in a virgin market. This opposed to Belgium, where people still think Addictlab is this magazine with a nude nipple on the cover. The book is only a tool in a process, and in South Africa, with the help of local labresearchers I’ve set up exhibitions and open labs, even did a TV show presumably watched by 13 million people, whilst doing consultancy for companies such as Danone.
Moving on, because of Petra’s next work assignment, we have now settled this last year in France, just outside of Switzerland, near Geneva. Addictlab ‘s main engine is our online activity, so wherever there is wifi, there is a future, be it in South Africa, in Geneva or, please, in Melbourne.
Yet it is a pity, too, since I had been building up a network in Joburg, testing the Addictlab concept in a very vibrant society. Today, with www.sowetolab.com I try to continue, but this seems difficult to do remote. Talks with local big shots are on the way to start thinking of a more sustainable growing process for Addictlab SA, rather than being a startup for the last 13 years. I believe an intelligent mix of online and physical presence of Addictlab in local creative hubs is key to future success.
Personally, I admit I miss Africa. And the children do too. The adventure, the discovery, the learnings, while traveling on a boat on the Okavango delta in Botswana, camping in the Drakensbergen or cruising through Namibia. Here in Geneva, we’re not (yet?) feeling that urge to go and discover the country and the region as we had in South-Africa. Time and budgets are obvious constraints. Comparing food prices between SA and Geneva, I don’t even want to go there, it’s just hilarious. But it might also be due to the fact that the culture is very familiar, thus reducing the urge to discover.
As for the children, after this one year, Emma and Lucas, already fluently in English, are now able to speak and understand French. They have adapted well to the new school, integrated rather well with our French neighbours – what am I saying, there’s a nest of 6 till 9 year olds taking over our house every weekend – and enjoyed almost weekly ski trips last winter.
The question probably is: what’s next? The answer is: we don’t really know. Is life a string of coincidences? Or is it make-able? And can you steer it in certain directions?