MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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

Business and community, microlocal strategies, and the digital urban...Linknotes 100220

I've been a bit consumed with the essentials of production over the past few weeks. That work, however, is generating a lot of good ideas for exploration in this blog. I hope in other words, to get back on a regular, even more frequent, pace soon.

In the meantime, to warm things up, I offer some of the things that we bookmarked this week, and hope they are of interest to you, as well. Let us know in your comments.

An emerging transformation of the values of business?

In the continuing examination of the role that Wall Street played in destroying the economy, there is a growing number of recognized thought leaders who are evaluating the culture of business and arguing for change in values, metrics, and even language.

I've been greatly appreciating some very different but delightful voices on the emerging change in business – Roger Martin, Umair Haque and Gary Hamel. Each addresses the importance of language and communications to shape the relevance and authenticate of a business and orient an engage its employees.

What we all lost when business lost respect…Martin has begun a series of articles exploring the enormous impact of inauthentic business values on the concept of the American community. Martin notes that, "as social creatures, much of our happiness is derived from our relationship with community — however that community is defined. We long to be: a) a valued member of a community; b) that we value; and c) is valued by people outside the community in question."

He offers the example of Boeing, who offered its headquarters to the highest bidder and then abandoned Seattle for Chicago, as an example of the erosion in these community attributes that has been caused by the primacy of "shareholder value" in the expressed purposes of business. He looks at the "communities" of American business executives and concludes that "We simply have to acknowledge that the community created by a combination of shareholder value maximization dogma, executive compensation theories, Wall Street analysts and bankers, and the financial press creates an unhealthy and inauthentic community."

The Wisdom Manifesto…Haque has been writing for some time about what he calls the zombieconomy as the root of the recession. He notes that a key characteristic of the zombieconomy is its lack of consciousness, intelligence and wisdom.

He contrasts wisdom and strategy and offers the examples of JPMorgan and Toyota to develop a metric of the billions lost in the difference. His 9-step plan to bring wisdom beyond strategy starts with the concept of expression, the language used to communicate purpose. "To get wise, articulate your essence: the change you want to see in the world. That means literally crafting a statement of intent about 'the world'."

The hole in the soul of business…Hamel offers considerations on the "paucity of purpose" in the American corporation, and the importance of a key shift in the foundation for strategy – to wave goodbye to the “knowledge economy” and say hello to the “creative economy.

He references the recent Global Workforce Study conducted by Towers Perrin that found that only 20% of employees are truly engaged in the work that they do. Hamel challenges the frequently expressed reasons – quality of manager – for this disengagement, and then speculates on other causes. He suggests that many of these companies have what he calls a "love deficit," or an inability to express and espouse more "noble" values of purpose over "secular" metrics of performance.

Hamel concludes, "I know this—customers, investors, taxpayers and policymakers believe there’s a hole in the soul of business. The only way for managers to change this fact, and regain the moral high ground, is to embrace what Socrates called the good, the just and the beautiful."

It was interesting that as these these voices on the changing language of business referenced values of happiness, purpose and community so also came the Gallup index on urban well being and a cluster of other articles on the places and spaces of health and happiness.

Global and local

While I doubt that these considerations of community and authenticity are at the core of emerging strategic moves just yet, there are signs of alignment with these concept emerging among some go the biggest brands out there.

For example, it seems not so long ago that we were assured that even in its most remote and exotic markets, we could get a bag of fries made of the same potatoes and fallow and tasting the same as back home. McDonald's and other mega-brands now seem to be in the midst of a global shift. Undoubtedly driven by market considerations, there may also be benefits to local producer economies and even improved sustainability metrics. Any chance a McItaly might also have health benefits?

Starbucks' approach seems to be a bit more subversive. The brand is now experimenting with burying its pervasive brand under the name and look of a more "local" and friendly coffee house.

Digital urban

Even as other local places and spaces lose relevance in an increasingly globally accessible world, the digitalization of content may actually be making things micro-local.

In its Room for Debate blog, the New York Times opened a virtual discussion/debate asking the question, Do school libraries need books? A number of authors, librarians and educators take up the topic.

In a similar mode, BLDGBOG took up the subject of the atomized library. Rather than doing away with the library, the concept explores the concept of smaller information spaces scattered throughout a city in various contextually-modified forms. For me, this also provokes a question about the places and spaces of work, and the potential of an alternative provider and concept than the oft-cited Starbucks-as-office model.

There's a very nice exploration of the impacts of the new iPad in this context at City of Sound. Dan Hill celebrates the iPad as a "device for cities" in its use and role supporting work and life in the space in between buildings. I wonder if this device eases Hill's concerns, in an earlier post considering Francis Duffy's book, Work and the City, about the fragility of the relationship between work, the office and the city. In other words, will this be the device that tips the tide in how work is done, and therefore the places it is done? Will the iPad be the greatest tool in killing the office park and restoring vibrant urbanism?

Related, but a bit more challenging, is this exploration of the concept of a "post-text world."

See you soon.