23 Beautiful Business Ideas for 2023
23 is the magic number
The ninth prime number (as well as a cousin prime and a sexy prime), 23 is a holy number for Kabbalist and Hurufist mystics, refers to the Shepherd Psalm (#23) in Biblical numerology, and was the number of years needed for the Qur'an to be revealed to Muhammed. In the I-Ching, 23 means “breaking apart,” and it’s also the number of degrees the earth’s axis is tilted at, and the number of moons belonging to Uranus, a planet known for its eccentricity and unpredictability.
Biologically speaking, human sex cells typically have 23 chromosomes, the average human physical biorhythm is 23 days, and blood circulates around the human body, on average, every 23 seconds. The number is also central to the birthday paradox—the phenomenon whereby in a group of any 23 people, the chances of two of them sharing the same date of birth exceed 50 percent. Composer Alban Berg used the number 23 to structure several works; the main characters in The Big Lebowski exclusively use lane 23 at the bowling alley; and 23 is the number of times Julius Caesar was stabbed in the theater of Pompey.
All of which is to say that, numerologically speaking, we’re in for a wild ride throughout 2023.
At the House, we’re hoping this year will bring a continuation of the shift away from classic rationalist corporatism and work-centered lifestyles to a more open-minded outlook that embraces mysticism, nature, and wellbeing. In 2023, we predict the beginning of a transformation from the knowledge economy to what we call the “metaphysical economy.”
What does that mean?
Knowledge as power, that key axiom of the Enlightenment, has for decades served as one of the main pillars of modern capitalism. The more you know about the world (ideally through data), the more you can control it and extract from it, mitigating risk and forcing external factors under your planning. But two potent countertrends are challenging this long-held belief: first, knowledge is being decolonized as a purely rational quality; it is now viewed as something whole-hearted and full-bodied, or “sensuous,” to borrow the term from Minna Salami’s eponymous book. Secondly, the advent of the metaverse and the accelerated virtualization of our lives, combined with growing global and planetary uncertainty, is prompting metaphysical questions: What is real, what is a simulation, and how do we know the difference? How can we better understand reality in order to improve the world?
In 2023 we will see the continued emergence of businesses, business models, and organizational designs that are defined by consciousness, reality-making, and the pursuit of a higher purpose. Accompanying this emergence is a shift from the human-centered to the life-centered economy: one that values all life and living systems on earth, and, furthermore, understands business as a life-affirming and life-like force, with “vitality” being a new performance indicator.
These are the two big parallel shifts we’re observing and promoting, and they will also be the guiding themes for our festival this June 2-5, The___Dream, in Sintra.
Below are 23 more related ideas and trends providing us with hope and inspiration for 2023.
1. Small Tech
Step aside Big Tech, Small Tech is moving in. As awareness has grown of how damaging many of the tech giants are to our societies and to us as individuals, a new “fediverse” has been emerging, mostly in the shape of noncommercial, open-source, noncorporate social media. From video-sharing platform PeerTube and file-sharing resource Nextcloud, to the cooperatively governed social media phenomenon Mastodon and encrypted “anti-Google” mail service Proton, the emphasis is on decentralized and federated structures that are more environmentally friendly, inclusive, and easier to moderate. And let’s not forget that even though it is funded by several Big Tech giants, Open AI, the parent of ChatGPT, is open-source, too. Finally, the Mozilla Foundation, as its nonprofit model continues, is launching an investment fund worth $35 million specifically to help generate responsible tech firms.
2. The way of the DAO
The word is truly out about DAOs—blockchain-native, decentralized organizations that are collectively owned and managed by their members via smart contracts. Their benefits include the potential to make companies more efficient, more transparent, and more innovative. Oh, plus fairer salaries, and no more recruitment process. Adecco’s 2022 Global Workforce of the Future study found that the number of DAOs, and the number of participants in them, have skyrocketed from just 13,000 in 2021 to approximately 1.7 million people around the world. DAOs mark a significant step in the power of individuals to work when, where, and for whom they want. They also raise questions about accountability and how the emerging Web3 space should be governed; while nobody has the answers about the coming impact of DAOs (and other decentralized structures), this is an area that leaders must keep up with and educate themselves on.
3. Generative AI
The recent release of ChatGPT has finally brought some practical aspects of AI to the masses. Sure, it’s far from perfect, but ChatGPT is already being used to compose or rewrite emails, prepare powerpoint slides, and even explain—in the style of a Bible verse—how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR. Its ramifications for future use have raised equal amounts of concern and excitement, but positive trends could include using AI to improve data quality, the democratization of AI through governmental initiatives, and the use of AI to develop new business models.
4. The metaverse as a tool for improving mental health
Up until now, the main advantage of the metaverse seems to have been for marketers seeking brand activation: major collaborations with gaming companies like Fortnite and Roblox and the advent of the luxury digital sneaker, for instance. But as more businesses utilize it for virtual conferences and meetings, alternative use cases are starting to emerge, too: its potential as a virtual space for mental wellbeing and VR therapy (especially VRET), for example, which can help treat anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as virtual education and training.
5. Steward ownership (and other post-shareholder models)
Out with profit-driven designs; in with socially-minded growth. Steward ownership replaces the conventional shareholder model with a more considered and progressive system that hands over power to those connected and committed to a company’s purpose. Patagonia’s perpetual purpose trust decision is a good example of steward ownership, but there are other models, too: see b-corps, co-ops, employee-owned companies such as ustwo, or Open Collective, a venture-capital tech start-up that is owned by founders, investors, and employees.
Nope, not refinance: regenerative finance, the movement to transform the economy by transferring control of capital to communities most affected by racial, economic, and environmental injustices. Regenerative economics, more broadly, has been growing into a promising movement, emerging in Web3 at the intersection of blockchain technology and climate action. One example project close to the House is Project Ark, which, together with the government of Suriname, created a digital twin of the country, GreenVerse, to fund ecotourism and conservation activities.
7. The next trip: psychedelic models for business
With microdosing becoming more mainstream of late, it’s little wonder the trend has been finding its way into the workplace. Ketamine and psilocybin, both thought to be useful in treating depression and other mental illnesses, are the current drugs of choice. 15Five and Dr. Bronner’s are taking the lead in terms of offering such benefits to employees. And that’s without the obvious possibilities for business—for example in newly legalized marijuana markets. Psychedelics shamans even made an appearance on the sidelines at Davos last year (and they may enter the main stage this year). Bay Area-based advocacy group North Star Project goes a step further and suggests that the mass marketing of psychedelics can enable a more conscious brand of business.
8. Long-term thinking
The Long Time Project, co-founded by Ella Saltmarshe and Beatrice Pembroke, echoes our own project at the House, with its multidisciplinary way of “cultivating cultures of stewardship at scale,” and bringing together policymakers, cultural institutions, scientists, humanities, the creative industries, media, and business. Check out the Long Time Academy, a collaboration with Headspace, produced by Scenery Studios, which features contributions from Roman Krznaric, Brian Eno, adrienne maree brown, and more.
9. The agony of toxic masculinity
It’s been a good time of late for the fall of toxic men from our cultural, corporate, and political landscapes. Along with the removal of so-called “strongman” leaders such as Trump, Duterte, and Bolsonaro (last seen eating alone at KFC in Florida), we’ve also witnessed the public self-destruction of Elon Musk and Kanye West, legal repercussions against misinformation pundits like Alex Jones, and the recent arrest of misogynist kickboxer Andrew Tate, whose lame attempt to taunt Greta Thunberg online led to his spectacular humiliation and an arrest for human trafficking. Good riddance to them all.
10. Leaders as healers
Research has shown that we are happier, perform better, and are more fulfilled at work when we show up with our full bodies. This has spawned some interesting scenarios, from airlines incorporating yoga into their pilot training to ballet dancers and choreographers teaching CEOs what it means to step into the unknown and make creative choices. Related work is also being done on how somatics can be applied to climate, racial, and social justice movements, while House Resident Dr. Angel Acosta draws on embodied awareness practices—yoga and meditation, making and engaging with art, listening to music—to tap into the healing powers of creativity, and explore the overlap between leadership and healing-centered education. Similarly, Nicholas Janni’s book, Leader as Healer, pinpoints embracing emotions, a higher purpose, and a deep, regenerative connection to nature (including their own) as the main qualities of tomorrow’s leaders.
11. Natural capital and bio-leadership
Nature has finally made it into the boardroom! Half the planet’s GDP is dependent on natural capital, and businesses are beginning to understand how much their business will suffer if nature is destroyed. A growing number of companies are rethinking their KPIs, changing their decision-making, and engaging with the topic of biodiversity, especially in the wake of nations recently agreeing to protect a third of the planet for nature by 2030. Enter also the Bio-Leadership Project, an institution that works ”with the rules of life: cycles, connection, regeneration, reciprocity and love” as well as with organizations such as Patagonia and the International Platform for Climate Finance to cultivate “new forms of purpose and progress connected to nature.”
12. Like SDG? Love IDG!
Being. Thinking. Relating. Collaborating. Acting. These are the five dimensions of the Inner Development Goals (IDG), an acceleration concept to help reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and create a prosperous future for all of humanity. The framework was developed by a team of international researchers after an extensive outreach consultation involving more than a thousand people. Note: The IDG team will run a session at The___Dream, our festival in June.
The stats have never been clearer: companies with diverse teams are 70 percent more likely to enter new markets than their less diverse counterparts, and those with diverse management teams enjoy more innovation and 19 percent higher revenue. Diverse today means a broad span of ages, religious and political beliefs, socioeconomic backgrounds, and sexual orientation, but also disabilities and neurodivergence—15-20 percent of the world’s population exhibits neurodivergence in some form or another, and aside from the importance of accommodating such differences within the workplace, companies are starting to do more to proactively leverage them, tapping into what are increasingly seen as unique strengths, problem-solving skills, and out-of-the-box solutions.
14. More diversity and inclusion at the VC level
Depressingly, women received just 2.4 percent of all VC funds last year, a number that dwindles even more when race is taken into account: Black founders received around 1.3 percent of all VC funds, with Latin founders raising around two percent. Thankfully, Erika Brodnock and Johannes Lenhard, authors of Better Venture: Improving Diversity, Innovation, and Profitability in Venture Capital and Startups, have come up with ways to tackle this structural issue. Read more here.
15. __washing, washed up
Corporate greenwashing sucks. Whether connected with climate practices or political culture, it’s increasingly obvious and always looks terrible. Consumers know when a company is bullshitting, and it plays into their shopping choices; in H&M’s case it involved an actual lawsuit. That said, it remains hugely inspiring to see a company genuinely supporting good causes and taking a stance (or a knee). The last few years have seen some beautiful “big brand” examples, from Patagonia’s anti-billionaire stance, to Disney’s anti-“Don’t Say Gay” campaign, and Nike’s work with Colin Kaepernick. And lots of smaller companies have been active too, a fine example being Cukui, a streetwear clothing brand located in San Jose, California committed to combating anti-Asian hate crime.
16. Less planes, more rail!
2022 was an exciting time for rail travel in Europe, with new routes, networks, and linkages announced, and a general thrust towards improved infrastructure, pricing, and train quality—all in a bid to get more consumers choosing trains over planes. According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), “passenger and freight activity will more than double by 2050” as more countries—including North America, UAE, Brasil, Costa Rica, China, and Australia—invest in their networks and switch from diesel to electricity, batteries, or hydrogen to help create a cleaner world.
17. Positive climate action news
It’s not just railway investment that’s helping fight climate. Despite the general letdown of the COP conferences, and a continued lack of serious coordination on a global level, there has nonetheless been some major climate momentum in 2022 that will prove inspirational for the year ahead—and beyond. This includes the USA’s Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion for climate action, the largest investment in the issue in US history; Brazilian President Lula’s re-commitment to saving the Amazon from the ravages of his predecessor, Bolsonaro; Australia’s new prime minister Anthony Albanese submitting new targets to the UN that promise to reduce emissions by a whopping 43 percent by 2030, and China’s massive investment into renewable energies. Much work still needs to be done, but there is hope on the horizon.
18. Synchronized holidays
It won’t work for every type of company, but for some, “synchronized time off” has been a hit, helping to avoid burn-out and improve mental health, as well as the grim phenomenon of receiving work-related messages and calls from colleagues while on holiday. Last year, LinkedIn gave its entire staff a week off during April; dating app Bumble did the same in June; and pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb gave its employees “two days of rest,” during which the entire worldwide team was off.
19. Quiet hiring
Many will remember the 2022 trend of “quiet quitting” with a shudder—the notion of employees only doing the minimum required in their jobs as part of a refusal to go “above and beyond” for their employers. 2023 will see a counter-movement emerging: “quiet hiring,” the trend to focus on utilizing existing employees—especially those who already do “go above and beyond”—for new positions, as well as equipping staff with new skills and capabilities to allow them to obtain higher or alternative positions internally, and leveraging alumni networks and gig workers for added flexibility.
20. Corporate volunteering
Corporate volunteering can be a powerful tool for building and retaining trust and belonging within companies. In 2020, PwC had interns across 14 offices develop solutions for five different nonprofit organizations, while BNP Paribas created an initiative to create their own platform for volunteering, which resulted in 40 percent active employee participation—overall, 260 employees put in 850 hours supporting local nonprofits.
21. The four feel-good hormones
The good people over at Seasons at Work have put together a neat list of how we can nurture the four neurotransmitters that help us feel good, balanced, and regulated: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, or “DOSE” for short. Tips include completing a task and learning a new skill to getting a “reward hit” of dopamine, cuddling a pet or joining a community event for some of the “love hormone” (oxytocin), regulating our mood by going for a walk or eating healthy food, and boosting our endorphins (and relieving our stress) by laughing, high-intensity exercise, or leaving our comfort zone.
Every manager, every leader, every professional should read James Nestor’s Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. Published in 2020, the book is a personal, breathtaking (pun intended), and thoroughly researched look at the life-changing art of “aware” or “conscious” breathing. Our breath is the only part of the autonomic nervous system that we can control, and along with Conscious Breathing by Nestor’s friend and breathing colleague Anders Olsson, Nestor’s writings have brought us back to one of the real essences of our incredible biological systems, helping us to combat stress and anxiety, and leading to breathing techniques being incorporated into everything from pilot training to leadership practices.
23. Big festivals are BACK!
Many of us are still somewhat traumatized—or at least shell-shocked—after the long pandemic lockdowns. As social animals, we are not at all built for isolation, and the last year has been a huge relief to be able to reconnect properly with family and friends. Just as important has been the return of festivals and other major cultural (and sporting) events, which connect us in important ways with people outside our usual circles, and fulfill our need for collective celebrations and shared euphoria. Our own festival took a hiatus in 2022. This year, we will be back to gather for The___Dream. Join us in Sintra!