MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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

Filtering by Category: innovation

B2B2B2C – How should we design for the emerging business models in the health insurance industry?

The design of the insurers workplace will become one of the most effective devices in the strategic toolbox of breakout industry leaders.

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Did Marissa Mayer start a trend of moving CRE from the CFO to the CEO?

So, with people in the office and either unmotivated or having to jump the hurdles of inappropriate design, or "connected" at home but unconnected to purpose and meaningful interaction, many organizations began to lag or fail.

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The disaster of Yahoo's return-to-the-office mandate...

Yahoo should find a space and time in the near future and do the kind of internal reflection and research into the power of the design of the workplace that could yield something more valuable for them, and more valuable and liberating for the rest of us.

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Is this the way we want work to be done?

Rather than defining the character of the workplace through the metrics of an earlier century, and rather than redesigning the workplace based simply on the enabling characteristics of technology, our initial reframing question should be, "Is this the way we want work to be done?"

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Twenty years of schoolin' and they put you on the day shift

In between other things, I took the EAT Test (Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test). Here's my score.

What does this mean? I think it implies that I might do better with a day job.

According to the test designers –

Heart Dominant Heart dominant individuals are the artists of the business world. You're probably destined to be (or already are) some amalgam of founder, iconoclast, and visionary. You may be stubborn when it comes to your idea, but it is because you already have the three-act narrative bursting inside your head. And it's an authentic narrative with nuance, feeling, and reasons for all of its particularities. You care deeply about what you are doing and can extemporaneously express your vision to anyone who will listen. The driving hunger is to translate that passion into reality and to make a change bigger than just your product. The journey towards achieving your goal is a rewarding experience in and of itself, and you tend to value the intrinsic (e.g. the sense of a meaningful role) as much as the extrinsic (e.g. money). Whether you are starting or you are doing, you are inspired by a deep purpose that drives your decision-making ahead of everything else.

Smarts Dominant You have always been bright and intellectually driven, and people describe you as a highly talented individual. While your Smarts may come in the form of book smarts, street smarts, people or creative smarts, the distinguishing factor is that you navigate decisions rationally and analytically, not just from the Heart or Gut. Ultimately you have a better than average capacity and ability to recognize patterns. You tend to consider these patterns of facts, some from past experience, along with others' opinions, before making critical decisions. This is because while you may have deep Heart and passion for an idea, you have enough pragmatism to not get ahead of the external realities around you, like market conditions or technological challenges.

Here's a link to the test if you'd like to try it yourself –

A design "program" is a distracting, useless, and potentially destructive tool

I'd propose that we seriously consider and promote the development and application of lessons-learned from "user experience" professionals (the new industrial designers) who are transforming the world and infiltrating our practice domain. Projects might be made richer and more satisfying for everyone if the "program" were augmented by, for example, "experience maps" that shift the focus and attention of the entire team to the daily lives of the occupants and visitors to the facilities. Maybe then we could move from being measured by "errors and omissions" to measuring the rewards of "engagement." Maybe then, we can shift from seeking the diminishing returns of cheaper design to at least avoiding the erosion from cheapened experience.

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Isn't it time for corporate real estate to follow people into the future?

I keep going back to a quote from Marshall McLuhan that resonates in so much of what we encounter these days in our work. “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” It vibrated back into my consciousness tonight through a direct quote in an article from the excellent Robbonfarm that I'd bookmarked but just now got around to reading...and trying to comprehend. Anyway, in the Robbonfarm article, Venkat Rao reflects on the fact that "we don't seem to notice when the future actually arrives."

Our practice is dedicated to helping organizations conceive of the design of the workspace in new ways in order to leverage the benefits of the momentum of technology and its resultant behavioral change that we experience relatively smoothly without noticing almost everywhere else. In almost all of our projects, however, we are caught in a barely progressing conversation, now decades old, about transitions in the form of "the office."

Rao reflects on the metaphors for form we've used to generate a transition to the future without anxiety or chaos. "Smart phone" is, he notes, a more effective term than "talking to people on my calculator" to motivate adaptive behaviors and the adopt extraordinary technological change in a tool "that works better than Captain Kirk’s communicator."

We have not, apparently, yet found an apt and motivational metaphor for an appropriate and essential evolution of the place where we work. Everything about the way we work has changed, yet nothing in the spatial lexicon of the workspace has.

We continue to use a language of place there that is nostalgic. In using that language, we retard our full potential and mis-shape our future. Using that language, we continue to shape a set of rules about work, about where it is done, about how it should be done, about who provides and defines the workplace, and about how we think work should be supported.

Using that language, we are shaping a workplace that is increasingly irrelevant and value destroying.

Throughout much of the past century, we continued to think of the workplace in industrial terms. We used a heavy industry approach to manage an infrastructure moving from iron to electronics. We did corporately managed work in corporate workplaces provided by corporate real estate. All of this sustained a predictable pattern for management.

Out of the shadows, however, came breakthroughs on multiple different paths in multiple different settings– disruptors shaping whole new industries and economies. Electronic became digital, and new behaviors and experiences and opportunities burst forward.

The patterns are now very different. There are no longer limits on where work is done and by whom. Management and its tools of space standards and place-based supervision are increasingly seen as value consumers rather than value creators.

Anxieties about a future that has already arrived but is not fully sensed generate a nostalgic management – a cautious and incremental shaping of a change in the name caring about the readiness and reactions of people who work in the provided spaces. But look at the leaps that those people have made.

The reality is that people are adopters. People look for opportunities. People connect. Already BYOD (bring your own device) is an embedded concept in the workplace, expressing the rapid adoption of technologies, communications and behaviors that IT has otherwise resisted.

Organizations are more interested in protecting current value than in creating new value. Business is incremental, but people are spiky. And this is where those who provide the workplace are failing.

We need a new metaphor for the workspace to help us follow people into the future.

Can an unexpected ending make for a stronger beginning?

I think that the moves this client was making, perceived by them to be big moves up until now and that took a certain bravery in the risk of the previously unknown, may have become familiar and comfortable to them along the way. Taking a breath to resolve other clutter may have them return to the project with a sense that one step in their evolution may already have been taken, virtually, and they may now be ready for a bolder move.

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Time to decide

I've had little time to post recently but the confluence of a couple of external influences has me dashing off this quick one.

I begin most days with a rapid review of headlines from about 100 diverse sources. I capture what seem like interesting articles and store them on Evernote, waiting for a moment to read them in detail. I now have about 1,000 articles sitting in my Evernote notebooks and found a few moments today to try to cull the list, and also to read a few.

In the randomness of that approach, and because of my keynote updates as I quickly scan them, the articles end up getting the current date attached to them even if they are months old and, as a result, articles from different times get clustered together.  None of that has relevance except as a set up to this mini-cluster.

Just before the Wimbledon matches began this year, there was this very interesting article – Waiting Game – in the Financial Times. It notes that some of the best tennis players in the world have a faculty for delaying a response to a 100 mile an hour serve and, as a result of a millisecond delay, are much better players than any of the rest of us. That idea is the theme of the piece – that retarding a response in many circumstances allows us to make a much better return, a higher quality decision.

In the cluster of randomly assembled articles was this one from Fast Company – "4 Lessons in Creativity from John Cleese." The article reported on John Cleese's observations about the best conditions for creativity. He referenced the work of Brian Bates, a psychology researcher interested in the differences between architects recognized for their creativity, and all the rest. Delaying decisions was one of the two differentiating characteristics of the creative class of architects.

“The first thing he discovered is that the creative architects knew how to play. They could get immersed in a problem. It was almost childlike, like when a child gets utterly absorbed in a problem. The second thing was that they deferred making decisions as long as they could."

Also in this cluster, a bit more remote in relevance here, was this great interview with William Kentridge and Peter Galison  – Death, Time, Soup: A Conversation with William Kentridge and Peter Galison – about their artistic collaboration and their interest in the subject of time, and specifically in a piece titled The Refusal of Time. I offer the link here mostly for the delight of the article but also for this extension: In developing the piece, they had several components that just didn't work out and these got tossed onto what they called the "Room of Failures." A signal, of sorts, of not delaying a production decision until the idea was fully worked out?

I'll stop here after making this overextended connection. Each of these stories about slowing time, about delaying decisions, is also about collecting more information before making a move. How we design to maximize exposure to information may be key to improving the quality of performance of the organizations for whom we design workspaces.

Within two weeks people won't go back to cellular space

In countless iterations over the past decade, I've spoken to colleagues and clients about what I've labeled "the death of the desk." My meaning is that we've become so mobile, in general, and our work is so collaborative or communicative and requiring working in multiple settings, specifically, that the traditional assigned workstation and conventional furniture "lexicon" has become irrelevant, if not an impediment, to the way we are working now.

I have been met with many friendly, and not, objections. Some have been very philosophical, about working postures and the need for an intervening, impersonal, device between people communicating in the workplace. Others have been practical, arguing about surfaces to support reference materials and equipment, although these have quickly diminished as iPads and "retina" displays surpass the effectiveness of desktops (what?), monitors, and IT departments for many work tasks. Yet others argue about one of the least valuable characteristics of work, position, and the fixtures and furniture that supposedly tell people who's the boss.

In the meantime, there are organizations who have made a move in exemplary new directions and whose performance momentum, mostly built on the creativity and innovation bred through interaction, is rapidly outstripping their competitors.

This is just one example, but a delightful one. Consider the words of GlaxoSmithKline's leader of workplace strategy –

“It’s about creating environments so people can do their best work, and we’ve seen a 45% increase in the speed of decision making. But our biggest surprise is that within two weeks most folks say they wouldn’t go back to cellular space.”

How to think, generously, about our client's time

We held a workshop today with about 30 executive leaders of our client's organization with the intention of making connections between their operational culture and the workspace design concepts we will be developing for them.

One of the inevitable themes was about time – the accelerating momentum of change, their ongoing need for operational and organizational agility, the internal and external benefits of their efficiency and, at the core, their desire to have a workspace that could help shape the behaviors of their employees and make them more effective in their mission to bring peace to the time-harried lives of their own customers.

At the end of our day, we returned home to reflect on our work and to get in the stream of information about others' lives that informs the way that we think and do what we do.

I found a link to this speech by Paul Ford that, I expect, I'll return to several times again and thought you might appreciate it as well. The thinking here is so delightfully generous, and the concept of that generosity so applicable to other fields of practice.

Here's the link (10 timeframes) and here's the context –

I recently gave the closing keynote at the 2012 MFA Interaction Design Festival, a full-day event held on Saturday, May 12, 2012, to celebrate the work of the 2012 graduating class of the Interaction Design MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I teach a course in Content Strategy there, and working with the immensely talented students has forced me, as a content-oriented individual, to think hard about a specific task that interaction designers frequently take on—namely that they themselves must make things that allow other people to make things. They define the experiences that permit other people to do their work, or play, or tweet, or post things. They make the forms that the rest of us fill out. And so I walked around New York City and thought: What could I ask of these students, how could I advocate on behalf of the creators who are their users? This is, I hope, a partial answer to that question.

[My thanks for this and, daily, for other spottings of inspirational value to Helen Walters at IDEO and the great stream of information she brings through her Though You Should See This briefing for her colleagues and friends.]

Sketching and testing to develop rich solutions leanly

...the process of sketching and testing alternatives generates insights and builds a shared mental model among the design and delivery team and with the client. This approach typically assures alignment with the organization's values and nurtures the "personal, passion-igniting elements" that are at the core of great projects.

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