MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

The things you'll miss

In a couple of recent discussions on LinkedIn about the evolution of the workplace, I could sense the signals of an anxiety or fear in justifications for resistance to a more open and agile workplace. Much of the concern seem to come from paradigms around the term "mobile" as implying a necessity to give up the company workplace. Other resistance is more superficial having to do with the old conventions of why someone just has to have an "office." I find in these discussions the fault of a tendency to go to assumptions about the form rather than to comprehend the personal benefits of these emerging workplace concepts.

A day later some rather interesting citations showed up in a couple of posts by Diego Rodriguez of IDEO on his excellent Metacool blog. He wrote about the considerations of both Joichi Ito (CEO of Creative Commons) and John Lilly (CEO of Mozilla) reflecting on the power and opportunity in chance encounters.

Joi Ito referring to some of the things he's learning from Hagel and Brown's book, The Power of Pull, says "…you should set a general trajectory of where you want to go, but then you must embrace serendipity and allow your network to provide the resources necessary to turn any random event into a highly valuable one and developing that network comes from sharing and connecting by helping others solve their problems and build things."

He then is reminded of Edwin Hall's descriptions of monochronic and polychronic characteristics of space and time as organizing frames for activities saying, "In M-time, we delineate time and space into meetings and cubicles allowing organizations and institutions to scale massively. P-time is like a Arab majlis where everyone is invited at the same time and they all mill around in the waiting room of the sheikh while the sheikh has a series of meetings in the open inviting people into the meeting like a long flow of consciousness. P-time lacks scalability and order, but it is rich in context and serendipity. At some level, if you plan everything, you are very unlikely to be able to embrace serendipity or be as 'lucky.'"

And he concludes, "I feel like I am floating in a rich network of highly charged people and serendipitous events, not a single day going by where I don't feel like 'Yay! I just did something really good!'"

He does also reflect on a matter of context. "I find that this P-time method allows me to have a much richer high context thought process involving more people. The problem is, it's hard to then get anything structured done."

John Lilly John first reflects on his youth when, falling asleep in a lecture, he misses perhaps the very first demonstration of the World Wide Web. He is talking about turning points in life and the things that influence them and says, "a bunch of decisions that I thought were really important turned out to be not important at all, and some things I decided to do just for fun changed everything."

He reflects on this, offering that "you never know when a decision you make is going to have a profound effect in your life. At least, I’ve never been able to tell. So my coping strategy — what I do to make everything work for me — is try to put myself into situations where there are tons of great choices, tons of great people, tons of great outcomes possible — so that it makes the odds that I make some really important & good choices that much better."

These are great illustrations (even more illustrations!) of the benefits and achievements that come from more open approaches to the contexts in which work is done. Yes, Ito will need to find a way to shut out some stuff when he wants to concentrate and focus, but I assume that neither he nor Lilly would be proponents of conventional office space.

As Hagel and Brown point out in their book, this time we are in is no longer about stacks of information, but about flows, and to be successful, you have to get into the stream.