MEREDITH Strategy & Design

We design great places and spaces that advance the purposes and performance of work.
Our mission is to help companies and organizations of every scale
more effectively achieve their goals
and capture value from what they and their people do.

Jim at meredithstrategyanddesign dot com

(248) 238-8480

Filtering by Tag: Strategy design

Metrics shmetrics

I am very appreciative of the ongoing shift in the metrics that matter to corporate real estate. I sense that among those responsible for providing work settings there is a growing appreciation of the importance of the variety of settings that people need to fulfill the purpose of the organization.

A good illustration of this value migration is the data presented in this article. Using better terms than the I/we personalization framework of the furniture industry, the data is built around a workplace activities framework of concentration, collaboration, and community.

via Work Design Magazine

via Work Design Magazine

What is "workplace" design?

Among our offerings to clients through our consulting practice is a bundle of services under the heading of “Workplace.” Among our friends and others who look at our portfolio of great workspaces is a general perception that these are “corporate interiors” services – selecting and specifying finishes and furniture for spaces designed by project architects. While this is descriptive of a portion of what we do, it is a substantial understatement of the services we perform and the value we bring to clients. I thought I’d offer, then, a brief primer on “workplace” design by telling a story about a current client.

The client’s strategic context

Our client works in one of the most dynamic and unpredictable businesses of our time. Delivering health care insurance and other services to its customers, the company operates in a context that is at the top of the national agenda. The national political discourse, the state of the economy, demographic trends, lifestyle trends and other factors generate an uncertain, unpredictable, and highly dynamic set of conditions for business performance.

Looking into the mysteries of the future, this company has set a strategic direction to define its future purpose and performance, and shape its evolution from a claims processing business to a health and lifestyle consulting business.

It has now also formulated a set of initiatives intended to attract customers and grow the business. These initiatives have influence on the company’s entire corporate culture and specific impacts on its organizational design, its human resources policies and practices, its information technology systems in both operations and customer-facing domains, and its business processes.

The company has also generated an initiative for the design of new workspaces wherever it works. This program is influenced by the other operational initiatives, and is also recognized as having a significant potential impact o the success and benefits of those other projects.

Strategy Design – Design Strategy

In a recent letter to the company’s employees, the COO clearly signaled the importance of the design of the workplace to the performance of the company by defining the goals for the workspace initiative.

He explained that the design initiative would play a “vital role” in the success of the company and enable everyone who worked there to live its brand attributes every day. He defined these goals for the design –

▪          Shape the corporate culture ▪          Secure the brand’s sustainability for future generations ▪          Stimulate creativity and collaboration ▪          Improve the ability to provide the highest quality of customer service

So that is the beginning framework for a “workplace” project – linking the  business’s strategy design to our design strategy and developing a workspace that enhances the quality and benefits of the company’s work.

Let’s take a quick look at how we’ve embraced this mission and what we’ve been up to so far. This might give you a better understanding of what “workplace” projects are all about.

Brand Repositioning

As we entered the project, the company had just complete a “brand repositioning” initiative. This was a first step in shaping their strategies for success in this dynamic business context. This involved an exploration of the potential needs of their customers and developing a deep understanding of their experiences as they sought resolution of their healthcare objectives.

With the insight that the customer experience is driven by the employee experience, the brand repositioning defined key differentiating behaviors of the company’s employees and the impacts they would have on customer experience.

Employee experience

We’ve long believed that the leading organizations of the future will be the ones who “own” the experience of work. That is, as business success increasingly demands innovation in processes, services and products, there is an increasing competition for the top talent necessary to deliver innovation. Attracting those people increasingly means providing the contexts where top talent can engage with others inside and outside the organization and experience the pleasure of accomplishing great things.

We were therefore pleased to enter the discussion with the company’s leadership around this subject of employee “behaviors.” We began to speculate on the working experiences that could be associated with those behavioral objectives and, in turn, the characteristics of the working environments that would provide those experiences and nurture those behaviors.

Design principles

Workplace design has long been characterized by a very limited “lexicon” of form. Dilbert was the perfect outgrowth of the corporate workplace typology in which two forms – offices and high-walled cubicles – defined the nature of work and the culture of companies. Almost all of our clients come to us knowing nothing other than this lexicon, and expecting only a stylistic variant on that tired theme.

It was therefore very important for us to help our client visualize other possibilities and to have other goals for the design of their next workspaces. We formulated a set of “Design Principles” that made a direct linkage between their brand differentiators and the innovative concepts we might propose. These principles allow us to move into a much more robust engagement with the client and a much richer conversation about design, experience and performance.

Design vocabulary

The Design Principles then had two influences, backwards and forwards in the process – they began to influence our client’s development of “company values” aligned with the brand and strategic initiatives, and they informed our development of a “Design Vocabulary” for the project.

The Design Vocabulary consists of a number of concepts for “work settings” including all physical and infrastructural components of the environment in which people would work. This has helped us bring an largely new approach to workplace design and policies for the company.

We are developing concepts around teams, not individuals; around work activities, not titles; and around a future state for the company, not current conditions.

Prototype templates

Among the challenges given us by the leadership of the company was to develop a design that could be implemented wherever they were and wherever they would go. This, of course, is both about place and also about time – how to design in a way that would be relevant over the next 10-20 years of the company’s development and growth.

The Design Vocabulary was a core component of this approach. The settings are team platforms that can be plugged in or pulled out of any specific project as the scale or organizational mix required.

We then tested this approach through the development of prototypical “templates.” These were illustrations of the application of the work settings to both “greenfield” and specific local contexts. We tested alternative floor configurations, alternative scales of occupancy and alternative mixes of organizational functions as a way of “proving” the relevance of the Design Vocabulary, its authenticity to the Design Principles,  and how it would affect employee experience and deliver on the goals of the initiative.

The developed concepts will then form a set of workspace design guidelines that can be adapted to the specific conditions of location and time. We are now about to start the implementation of the design for a phased development of the company’s 1,000 person headquarters.

Turning point

This is now a significant turning point in the initiative. Up to now, the company’s strategy has been influencing our design strategy. As the company begins to occupy its new workspaces however, it will be our designs that influence the successful accomplishment of the company’s strategies.

Our workspace designs will affect the experiences of the employees, in turn affecting their behaviors and, through their interactions with customers and development of new and innovative solutions, affecting the experiences of customers and the success of the company.

Stay tuned.

I hope this story-in-progress gives you a better understanding of what “workplace” strategy and design is all about.

Remember a couple of core ideas as you look around and talk with your own clients and friends –

Work looks different now – The technologies we use, the ways that we work, the challenges we face all beg for a radically different approach to the design of the spaces and places where we work.

It’s about the experience, stupid – The leading organizations of the future will be the ones who “own” the experience of working – top talent will choose where they go and who they work with based on how the organization provides the innovative resources of place and space to nurture differential purpose and achievement.

How the design of the workplace affects innovation goals

This is a brief article, but with some good data, on the significance of the work environment for leading innovative companies. [Cushman & Wakefield / CoreNet Global Release CRE Innovation Study | Corporate Real Estate.]

According to the survey, firms intent on producing industry-leading innovation need to adopt collaborative physical work environments that encourage appropriate levels of risk-taking and that are supported with adequate levels of technology.  These important factors must be built into the fabric of the workplace in a holistic manner in order to achieve meaningful results.

How the design of the workplace affects the achievement of innovation goals

Will Instagram displace Apple as the great strategic story of the decade?

Will Instagram displace Apple as the great strategic story of the decade?

 

The most important part of the Instagram story may not be the billion dollar purchase prize, but the transformational influence that Kodak's failure in the light of Instagram's success may have on corporate strategy and design.

Corporate cultures are influenced by short horizons. In a recent Forbes assessment of the Kodak bankruptcy, Larry Keeley observed this condition –

At least once a week, top executives tell me that new growth businesses in their firms are intriguing and potentially important, but they simply "don't move the needle." Said in plain American: "The hot new thing simply cannot produce enough revenues this quarter to improve my bonus as a senior executive." So those projects are starved of resources instead of nurtured.

And in the New York Times, Nick Bilton observes that –

Even if Polaroid or Kodak could have developed Instagram, it’s likely that the project would have been killed anyway. What would be the reaction of almost any executive presented with a business plan to save the company with an iPhone app that had no prospect for revenue?

We've become very interested in this concept of "stock and flow" from other influences, but highlighted by the Instagram story.

What are your experiences with this "stock and flow" pattern?

How car dealers uncovered a surprising key to greater customer satisfaction

 

One of the more active and heated debates on the value of design to business is over what are called "factory image programs" for car dealerships.

Most car manufacturers, concerned about the alignment of dealership appearance with their product programs, periodically impose or strongly influence updates to the physical quality and character of dealers' facilities. Most dealers resist the programs because they are unable to link a measurable business benefit like increased sales to the high cost of these programs.

So the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) commissioned an independent study to uncover and identify the value in the programs and recommend a resolution to the ongoing conflict between them and the manufacturers. The study was just released at the annual NADA convention a couple of days ago.

I expect I'll return to comment further on the study in the near future. But I did want to offer an initial and very interesting out-take from the study.

After discussing the diverse and complex array of considerations and influences that made solid conclusions almost impossible to derive, and especially after uncovering that the annual costs of billions of dollars spent on dealership facilities meant very little, if anything, to people buying the cars, the study uncovered an unanticipated yet solidly expressed value in the programs.

…dealers expressed pleasant surprise that, after they completed a store upgrade, it became much easier to attract, retain, and motivate good staff. One multi-point dealer even told us that "I modernize as much to attract good staff as to impress the customers." Another pointed out that with improved employee morale came improved CSI scores, which makes sense. The impact seemed especially powerful in the service area: as one interviewee put it: "A dropped ceiling in the service bays will do wonders in attracting and retaining good technicians, who are pretty used otherwise to being ignored."

Despite the experiential evidence that there was this direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction (CSI = Customer Satisfaction Index), there apparently has been no survey by the manufactures or the dealer association to uncover and verify these anecdotal, and logical, findings.

And I think that's where I'll return in future commentary. I have some significant experience in factory image programs and have consistently been surprised with the fact that they align things (store fixtures) with things (car designs) but not the real experiences with and in these things.

That to me is the most important point of this study, affirming what we know from other places. The real power of workplace design lies not in the "brand image" but in the experiences of work. The quality and character of the workplace directly links to attraction, engagement, morale, motivation and performance of good employees, and that directly links to quality and character of the customer's experience with the organization.

The NADA has, in other words, discovered what we've said in so many other places – the leading organizations of the future will be the ones who "own" the experiences of work.

Getting out of groupthink and into pursuing opportunities

There has been a lot of conversation in recent days about the form of the office and how to design it for those who work in it. This is enormously interesting to me because this conversation, like many others in culture, politics and business, is an exciting signal of the search for real innovation and of a desire for a revolution in the way we provide the places and spaces where we do the things we do.

Argument and revolution

The “conversation” that I reference is the point and counterpoint in recent debates about which way is best – the old comfortable way or a recent newly proposed and tested way. A round of confirming and contradicting commentary was recently evoked by Susan Cain's article in the New York Times. While trying to make a case for consideration of the closeting needs of introverts, she broadly bashed the new, open workplace as a product of "groupthink" in its pejorative connotation. Using the same term in almost the same week, Jonah Lehrer referenced the incredible volume of creative product emerging from the famous Building 20 at MIT, "one of the most creative environments of all time," generally credited to the informal interactions happening between people of different backgrounds and interests. And Alison Arlieff weighed in with the groupthink that collaborative spaces aren't all they're cracked up to be. Closed office vs. open office.

The “revolution” that I reference is my belief that a third form with a new language will emerge. This third form will have immediate credibility in the forehead-slapping “of course” mode and will make both of the currently debated forms artifacts in a rapidly receding history.

Getting out of groupthink – New forms will be generated from a new lexicon

I propose that the current arguments are nostalgic and a bit arrogant. They are arguments of an estate that recognizes it has lost its case but does not yet know where to turn. And they are arguments of a self-appointed enlightened who believe that the right way is the way they proposed to counter the old way but is now being uncovered as having had insufficient rigor, and that now has piles of data bias making a great case against it.

I think that the core issue we are now confronting arises from the loss of meaning of familiar terms like “office” and “workplace” and, even, “work.” “Office” is a term left over in the slow evolution from industrialization and carried the implications of production and supervision in its form. Attendance, for example, was a key characteristic of its managerial mode. “Workplace” implied a single setting, the place where work was done, the place that was separate from the other stuff we did, the place that was defined by time, location and character. “Work” was something separate from “life” and disregarded the reality that, even in the old mold, one defined the quality of the other.

In almost every meaningful, productive, and rewarding context now, these terms are antique.

“Work” certainly has changed dramatically from the dreary and dreaded stuff we did for “the man.” Most of what we call work, the valuable stuff, is creative in some form. Most of what we do is self-defined or collaboratively determined with a team oriented to a goal that is more frequently something defined by them and not by a manager.

There is no single “workplace” any more because we do what we do in multiple physical settings and multiple virtual settings, as well. Time, also, is no longer a limiter in what we do. We carry huge amounts of information on tiny devices everywhere we go, and we connect with our networks anywhere we are. In an odd inversion, we may find solitude and focus sitting with our headphones on in a public cafe and, when we are ready for socializing our ideas and learning from others, we go to the office.

The office best serves as a place for connecting with a network of knowledge and resources to get purposeful stuff done. The productive social buzz and innovative activity that now takes place there is called “distraction” and blamed on an “open” office by those who claim a value of “focus” to name whatever it is that they do behind their six-foot tall cubicle walls. They are missing the reality that entitled square footage for playing computerized solitaire never had, and now certainly no longer has, value. They miss that the work that is valuable is not the consumption of time but the generation of new ideas and approaches with a team of other highly motivated people. Those people, when they need focus, find a place for focus. Otherwise, the buzz of collaborative activity is the visible manifestation of the generation of value for the world.

Pursuing opportunities

Arguing about which of the existing ways of designing a workplace is wasteful. It is a form of the groupthink that the debaters debate. Work is no longer done in one place, and the office is no longer one thing.

Reflecting on what we do, and how we really do it, and then generating, testing and developing new environments for the activities and behaviors of work is productive and valuable.

As Kevin Kelly says, "Don't solve problems; pursue opportunities."

The office as an App, redux

David Galbraith offers an interesting vision for the transformation of thinking about and designing houses. My interest is less in the specifics of his design, but more in the consideration of this approach to almost any space where we live or work.

We continuously accept a lexicon of form – “living room,” “dining room,” “office” – that no longer appropriately serves the way that we live. We accept these forms and functions because they may be the only choices the market makes available to us, or because of social norms that we feel we cannot challenge or do not know how to challenge, or because they are imposed upon us by another authority.

Considering how what we do would be expressed in a web app offers a context for insights into how work and life could flow better and satisfy more.

The web apps we select to download or use are those that are well designed both in visual and functional character. We appreciate mostly those that are agile in character, that reduce complexity, that are light in system demands, that have a simple logic at points of decision, that flow well. We appreciate those that provide, when we want or need it, a link to augmenting or amplifying information or features. We choose the ones we like because of the quality of the experiences we have with them, which are mostly engaging and efficient.

I don’t recall that we’ve had a client who has approached us with an initial and core request to provide a better experience. Most typically, the language that accompanies the commission is an oblique goal metric like reduced square feet per person that occludes the real goal of the organization to become more engaging for the people who do its work and more effective in achieving its purpose.

Many of the tools and techniques our profession has attempted to use to move our client’s language into experiential considerations work only where experience is the business – in retail and hospitality contexts, for example. Clients in corporate, scientific, or institutional domains typically squirm at the imprecision of an experiential parameter.

Why do  people who carefully choose and use web apps use an entirely different language and criteria when commissioning the places and spaces where they live and work? Why is more thinking and emotion invested in an app that costs next to nothing, but nothing of similar critical thinking applied to the experiences in the spaces that cost millions? Could the use of the Web App metaphor be a more effective tool in transforming thinking, perceptions and investments?

(See also The Office as an App, part one)

Ghost innovation

Ghost innovation

This is part of a map plotting various planned but unbuilt subway lines in New York City. Reading it unveils an understanding of past strategies, plans, and objectives that became abandoned due to budget constraints, maintenance priorities and other demands that diverted and then buried the vision. Reading it inspires an imagination of the world that could have been, of a society that might have developed differently, of connections that might have had value but were lost through an inability to efficiently and effectively connect.

Stranded innovation

It reminded me of a recent client, a major consumer products manufacturer and marketer who held what they called a "stranded innovation fair." It was their belief that, regardless of the circumstances for the loss of attention to or development of these innovations with our application, they might have real value in other contexts, times, combinations or applications. The more that people in the company were aware of these ghost innovations and technologies, the greater would be the potential of their eventual application and productivity.

Hidden talent

In a similar context, some companies are experimenting with rich profiles of the people in their organizations and utilizing certain social media applications to promote those profiles to others in the enterprise. There are people in most organizations with valuable skills and capabilities that are overlooked in the usual day-to-day of operations, or who may have some special skill buried deeper in a resume and unexploited in their current job description or project assignments. By circulating those profiles or using other means to communicate them, these organizations are better able to match the right people with the right projects, achieve goals more efficiently, and gain competitive advantage through otherwise overlooked internal skills and talents.

How can the design of the workspace contribute?

Imagine the potential that lies inside of an organization that is for many reasons consistently overlooked. More interestingly, imagine the power of an organization that has the insight to look back, or look deeper, or promote ghost innovations differently.

Technology may be the more powerful tool for uncovering and developing ghost innovation, but imagine the potential of a more social workplace, as well. How much of knowledge and potential, of skills and innovations, are lost each day due to the inability of people to connect efficiently, to observe others, to understand weak signals, to join a conversation with others.

In their book on the organization and architecture of innovation, Allen and Henn point to the power of work spaces designed in way to support our awareness of others and to increase the potential for our connections with each other.

We think this is the defining challenge for our time.

How can the design of the workspace contribute?

Think big – Grand visions are connected visions. They illustrate for others a path to future development and value, and tend to garner greater support. Even if the final accomplishment falls short, the grand vision leaves "remnants of foresight" that provide others a way to interpret and extend intentions and uncover latent value at the appropriate times.

Redesign the organization before redesigning the workspace – The traditional lexicon of the corporation – organizational charts and individual job descriptions – do not describe the way that work is really done today. If you believe that teamwork and collaboration are the key to higher organizational performance (and they are) then design the organization around those attributes. That redesign will generate a new lexicon of organizational form that the planners and designers of the workspace can leverage for high performance through great work experiences.

Make visible the artifacts and activities of network connections and collaboration – As with the organization, the workspace has to speak to teamwork if collaborative cultures are to flourish. The traditional lexicon of the workspace, like that of org charts and job descriptions, perpetuates forms that are about individuals and managerial controls. The creative workspace is an open and networked space, where team activity and process flows are visible, and adaptable and agile to the dynamics of projects.

If there is any single rule that guides our work for organizations seeking enhanced performance and higher levels of innovation, it is this – Make it visible.

Makers of virtual meeting spaces make them in face-to-face space

Perhaps relevant to our last post is this delightful interview by Adam Richardson that I found in a guest blog at the Harvard Business Review. Citrix, the makers of GoToMeeting, have a new collaboration space where the leading work in their innovation process is done. It is fascinating how the makers of virtual work spaces develop their process in carefully considered face-to-face space.

It is not a "crappy" space, and this is how they describe its benefits:

Opening the design collaboration space was a big milestone on our design thinking journey. It's already played a key role in fostering a more collaborative culture that involves less over-the-wall processes, fewer silos, more and earlier collaboration, and better integration of design into the product development process.

We needed to create a shift in behaviors, and realized this would be best achieved by having people live the change, not just being told about it. The space facilitates this.

Perhaps most significantly, it seems to lie at that upper quadrant of my not-yet-finished diagram in our last post. That upper quadrant is where I speculate that "signature" form but "occupy the workplace" space can generate high performance and engagement.

The interior design is quite minimal. The "beauty" of the space comes from the work that happens inside it: sketches, flow charts, Post-Its full of blue-sky ideas, new product concepts from raw idea to real formation. The space was intentionally left not-too-perfect, so people are encouraged to manipulate it, not be precious about it. It's intended to serve as a canvas for creative thinking. It's also very flexible and can quickly change from working studio to lecture room.

It seems also to fit some speculation we were developing about "auto-updating" space.

Like all good design, iteration is part of the process. We have discovered that we do need a better system for engaging remote participants and better ways for capturing brainstorming and meeting notes in real time, so that others can see them later. This is something we are investigating for our next "release" in 2012.

Richardson's interview is packed with information. I found at least 10 principles for a workplace designed for innovation –

  1. Align the design with your mission – with the "why" and not just the "what" of your business
  2. Relevance to all disciplines supports multidisciplinary work better
  3. Recognize that space shapes the behaviors you want
  4. Your space is an indicator of the authenticity of your purpose
  5. Agile and adaptable space is more valuable than CRE-regulated space
  6. Anytime space supports creativity better than assigned and scheduled space
  7. Casual space supports sharing and trust better
  8. Authentic space recruits
  9. Learn from others and engage users on your design team
  10. Good design strategy reinforces good strategy design

Let me know your thoughts on the article, and your own experience.

10 ideas for better design competitions that inform better projects, too

Competitions, never sufficiently resourced, demand an energy and focus that is distinct from normal project processes. We produce creative and innovative ideas and use critical and spare methods to present them in a very compressed time. Why we do not use such effective processes in the normal course of our work.

Read More

The Meredith Workplace Attraction Curve

I propose that a significant increase in the performance of people and value in corporate real estate could be captured and delivered through a more customizable workplace. There are many models around to illustrate how personal activation, amplification or augmentation of provided platforms yields high levels of satisfaction and performance enhancements. Simple examples include the phone in your pocket. Over time, you have explored and tested various “apps” to get your device to be just right for you and what you want to achieve. The device not only looks the way you want it to, but has functionality and features that you selected and the data that use use more frequently. The apps you chose also enhance the way you interact with other people, other systems, and the physical world. Your device, through its customization, is more useful, attractive and valuable to you.

The place where you work probably has very little of these benefits. The workplace is a place of constraint, not of augmentation. Standards and benchmarks for the planning of the workplace define generalized patterns related to positions rather than roles, and to organizations rather than activities. My workstation is a compromise of size, configuration, technology, location, comfort, etc. I have a sense that if I were provided less, but then able to pull up certain physical and technological “apps,” I’d be more satisfied and effective.

Hence, this graph, the Meredith Workplace Attraction Curve, as a representation of a theory and opportunity for exploration and development. I propose that the workplace defined by others has rapidly diminishing return. A workplace that is designed by its users can deliver accelerating returns to people and place.

Push platforms and diminishing returns

“Push platforms” are the kinds of workplaces as designed and delivered conventionally, typically by Corporate Real Estate. One of the defining characteristics of this type of workplace is its diminishing acceptance as more and more people participate in it.

“Distraction” is the almost universal claim representing an underlying fault in the design and delivery of this kind of workplace. The demand for freedom from distraction comes from the inadequacy of the physical workplace to support effectiveness, and is a claim that begs separation – walls, doors, mobility.

At a certain point, the internal separation reduces the meaning and purpose of being in a workplace. Where alternatives are available, people will choose them as preferable to their purposes, and bail out of the provided workplace. This selection is the manifestation and fulfillment of policy that values space reduction over worker potential.

Pull platforms and increasing returns

Pull platforms” are new types of workplaces we’ve referenced before and have these characteristics –

  • A “plug-and-play” nature designed for the convenience of its users, rather than its providers
  • Modularity, that is, with components that are both self sustaining and compatible for connection with others
  • Flexibility, able to respond to otherwise unanticipated needs of its users and participants
  • Agility and adaptability, with features that allow it to support and capture increasing returns
  • Evolutionary with the potential for its value to be enhanced by the improvisation, experimentation and improvements generated by its users
  • Environmental richness, providing intrinsic rewards to those who are committed to its use and contribute to its value

This type of workplace, inherently attractive to those who seek higher levels of contribution and performance, has an increasing value curve. The more that customization to purpose satisfies personal and organizational effectiveness, the more people are attracted to it. The more people who are attracted to it, the greater the points of connection of the social network of work and the higher probability of growth in personal and organizational potential as a result.

The tipping points

Distraction in the push platforms is a function of scale and proportion – too many people in a space reduces its effectiveness and causes “evaporative cooling.”

However, "distraction" in pull platforms occurs when there are too few people engaged. The intentional collaboration and synergies cannot take place until a critical mass catalyzes an energy and a corresponding acceleration in value as more people connect to the network and in the working space.

8 growth principles companies can learn from mavericks

Currently living MIT graduates may have spawned more than 25,000 companies and contributed almost $2 trillion to the global economy. I was surprised and inspired by this statistic as reported in this recent article by Ed Pilkington in the Guardian about maverick genius that characterizes MIT.

As many American companies now sit in a trough of performance, constraining operations, resisting hiring and approaching stagnation, it made me wonder what there is to learn from this culture that has had such a successful performance track. Are there clues here to how companies or communities can can develop a track to greater success and contribution? In Pilkington's article I found at least 8 key principles to nurturing a culture of innovation, influence and growth.

Purpose The challenge ahead for America is well-framed in the article by MIT's President, Susan Hockfield. She expresses great concern about the "deficit of ambition" in the United States and a fear that the future may belong to others. Observing the level of activity taking place in Asia, she says that "you feel the pulse of people racing to a future they are going to invent. You feel that rarely any more in the US." This concern and anxiety about leadership helps shape the institution's mission and purpose to be "a beacon of inspiration...to create a brighter future for the world." Consider what you do as part of the fabric of society.

Shaping a mission around advancing our world and engaging people through a profound commitment to that mission can generate that kind of energy that is transforming the globe so rapidly.

Practice – and research and practice "Students are not so much taught as engaged and inspired." Consider how MIT's characteristic blend of hands-on experimentation and craftsmanship with research and intellect can engage and inspire the people in your organization.

How much of what you do is defined by policy or procedure without having drawn those who deliver for you into the experience of developing solutions?

Personality Pilkington discovers a culture of mavericks, hackers and eccentrics at MIT, the kinds of characters you'd expect in places of creative exploration. But he also finds the paradox of the presence of a prominent antiwar activist in an institution that is known for the development of military technology. Tolerate a diversity of individual styles and behaviors.

When you hire, challenge your template for cultural fit when what you really seek are cultural misfits.

Power – and influence Pilkington quotes an MIT professor saying, "If you come up with a brilliant idea, that's OK. If you win a Nobel prize for your research, that's fine. But if you take that idea and apply it and make something transformative happen, then in MIT that's deeply admired."

Consider the opportunity for transforming how things are done in your domain in each project you undertake.

Prototyping The presence of a classical cello in a lab with sensors and other electronic gear is a catalyst to a diversity of creative developments. By intention, it is an artifact of a project to build a new kind of instrument for the classical musician, Yo Yo Ma. By accident it evolved also into an entirely different application for the pop star, Prince. An through that diversion, it became the inspiration for the development of the popular video game that turns everybody into rock stars, Rock Guitar.

Places that are rich with apparently random resources and cast-offs from other projects seem to have great potential to generate new ideas and applications through play, observations, testing and accident.Consider the importance of the presence of artifacts in your workplace.

Place There is much in Pilkington's article about the character of the places and spaces housing the creative geniuses of MIT. Place is both anonymous – "there is precious little about the place that is obvious" – as well as iconic and evocative – "formed from undulating polished steel and tumbling blocks of brushed aluminium that reminds Berners-Lee, he tells me, of the higgledy-piggledy Italian village one of his relatives grew up in." The architecture, in other words, is not so much an intentional statement of institutional identity as it is an expressive abstraction of the nature of its community and therefore a tool to support, reflect and inspire the individuals who work and develop innovations there.

Design for the unique and differential experiences of work.

Pull MIT achieves what it does because it first developed a culture of creativity and innovation, and then let that culture act as a magnet for others. People who want to achieve great things are drawn to MIT because other people who have developed great things developed them there.

Consider the power of the stories of the creative people of your organization. These tend to be stories also about environments open to experimentation and exploration, attractive attributes to people committed to purpose and a drive to bring new things into the world.

Philosophy Do it boldly.

The Big Shift – Why Class A Office Space is Now Irrelevant

I believe that the anxiety over the past two years and the urgency to deliver the evidence of recovery seems to be overriding and suppressing the opportunity to think about work in different ways. I believe we have an opportunity to extend the Big Shift, and consider a move from conventional metrics of performance to new attributes (I hesitate to say, metrics) of potential. I think this is a matter both of significantly reduced and realigned demand, and also of new perceptions and definitions of quality.

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Walking cities and work swarms

The concept of "work swarms" and other forms of time-based or project-based collaboration evoked a recall recently of the concepts of the 1960's architectural collaborative known as Archigram.

More appropriately said, the concept for the Walking City devised by Ron Herron, offered a view of the potentials for technology that are only now, 50 years later, being realized.

Herron's concept imagined large ships of collectives of people and technology walking the landscape and applying knowledge, experience, expertise wherever it was needed and then moving off to other problems in other places. Peter Blake, writing in Architectural Forum in 1968, said,

Walking City imagines a future in which borders and boundaries are abandoned in favour of a nomadic lifestyle among groups of people worldwide. ...Walking City anticipated the fast-paced urban lifestyle of a technologically advanced society in which one need not be tied down to a permanent location. The structures are conceived to plug into utilities and information networks at different locations to support the needs and desires of people who work and play, travel and stay put, simultaneously. By means of this nomadic existence, different cultures and information is shared, creating a global information market ... (From the Archigram Archive)

Others have commented on certain similarities of the commercial structures of our more recent times, and the instant cities that enable the globalization of war. In seeking formal or operational similarities to the sketches and descriptions of Archigram, however, many are missing what seems to be the key, yet unrealized vision of the group. The concept of spaces that engage a full spectrum of experience for people who, freed from the bonds of place, are then able to contribute and share knowledge across the world is a concept that is still restrained by the behaviors and practices of management, by the "best practices" of the real estate industry, by the zoning of most cities, by the rise of the culture of security, and by a failure of imagination in the design profession.

I think the vision is not "architectural" in conventional terms, but that it is very much about the experiences that architecture supports and can provide. Archigram's Walking Cities are not battleships for the countryside, but are representations of a full and free set of sustaining experiences that enable people, dedicated to doing good things, to move to a place together that is not their home and and do work together untethered and unfettered by traditional or conventional policies and practices in the provision of place, space and technology. We know how to do this now without the heavy weight of Herron's land cruisers, but even they are much lighter than the physical infrastructure we now have to work with and in.

I am, in other words, still looking for a developer.

The Power of Place, part 2 – How a design strategy powered a global strategy design

Jim Meredith enjoys a chat in the "Creative Lobby" of Team Detroit headquarters As you all know, we put ideas into operation with the hope that they will have lasting impact. Despite our purpose and intentions, most architecture and design projects have a finite conclusion – the doors open, the client moves in, and they and we are off to our other business. What we've done exists on the landscape for its and our lifetimes, yet it seems relatively rare that we get insight into how what we've done affects the lives of those who experience the places we've designed.

I was pleased, then, to find this story in the New York Times this week. Ostensibly about the promotion of a key creative person at an ad agency, key pieces of the article told a story about the resonating beneficial influence on the business performance of a company for whom I, in a former position, led a team to design a regional headquarters. The article is a great testimonial to the power of what we do in advancing strategies that help design resonate with business benefit well beyond the project itself.

Uncovering what "job" the client actually wants to do

I've probably talked too much about the Detroit WPP project, but I like it as a clear example of a great way to practice. I was Principal-in-Charge of the Detroit project which was conceived by WPP as a relatively simple collocation project. WPP had grown through acquisitions and, as a result, in major markets, came to hold a number of different agencies who had leases in different buildings in different locations with different terms. Bringing different agencies from different locations together into their own suites in one building would simplify lease terms and CRE complexity.

But I was interested in a different approach. Our mission is to link workplace design strategy to our client's business strategy design. At the time of the project, about 2005, the advertising and media businesses were experiencing a revolutionary fragmentation of the Mad Men model of business and were challenged by internal competition among advertising, media, planning and other disciplines seeking relevance, influence and dominance of the marketing agenda. So I was deeply interested in working with WPP executives to take advantage of this "collocation" project in Detroit to actually generate and test a new business model, and one that could be facilitated by a radical new approach to workplace design.

A window into the process

Almost every day during the site search and design phases of the project, I would join an executive of one of the agencies in his office, or he in mine, and we'd scribble diagrams on a whiteboard. We began by discussing the concept that bringing the agencies under one roof was an opportunity to "tear down the walls" between the businesses and develop a "new lexicon" for both the business and the places and spaces where it would operate. The objective was to find ways to enhance the creative output of the companies and deliver higher value at lower cost to its clients.

Each of the agencies was, in a sense, complete. Each had a full palette of administrative, creative and production functions. There was, however, a great range in the size of the agencies, from 65 to 650 people (the companies under consideration for collocation collectively employed more than 1300 people), so the strengths of these functions in each of the agencies varied as well.

Collocation could, it seemed, easily allow an integrated concept of back office functions like HR, finance and IT to enable greater strength and improved efficiency for all. But we also quickly began looking at integrating other functions like research, media and others, and eventually creative as well to test the potential of an integrated approach to deliver higher creative value. As this developed, we began to also challenge approaches taken in earlier projects in other cities where collocation simply meant each agency having its own suite but together in a single building with a single lease.

Linking strategy design with design strategy

Eventually, we had an emerging new business concept in mind, as well as the realization that the extraordinarily dynamic business conditions meant that the shape of organizations that moved in to the building would not be the same as the ones with whom we began the project. The design, then, had to accommodate ongoing organizational redesign and continuing rapid evolution defined by market and business conditions.

We began to work with a radically open concept that would adhere to certain guiding metrics of the WPP CRE program as well as the lingering cultural and identity concerns of the agencies. I developed, nonetheless, a "two seats for every employee" design program. Visualizing that the emerging design of the business – my client began to call it "integrated creative communications" – would find success only through a (then non-existent) collaboration between agency teams, I reasoned that only through an agile physical place that enabled the socialization that would nurture a sense of shared values and the development of a shared culture would this success be achieved. So in addition to a home base for 1350 people, there were also 1350 seats in a variety of different kinds of settings for the combined staff to get to know, and trust, each other and start to combine disciplines and expertise and begin to work together.

Allowing time to activate

Although initially resisted by the executives of the agencies for logical arguments about brand identity, interagency competition and proprietary information, they nonetheless agreed to let the design concept develop to reflect the emerging business concept, even as it was developing.

“I think I was pretty skeptical” of the Team Detroit concept at first, Mr. Barlow said. “You’d walk in a room and say, ‘He’s with Y&R; he’s with Ogilvy,’ and you’re all sitting together. It was weird.”

As results were achieved, Mr. Barlow said, it became clear that “the whole would be equal to more than the sum of the parts.”

Within 3 months of moving into the building, the agencies dropped all resistance to the business concept and rebranded themselves as an integrated operation named "Team Detroit." The business concept (and the spatial concept) is now the model for WPP's work globally, as the article discusses.

The project has won design awards and has been published in various places before. But this article from the New York Times today is a better testimony to the power of what we do when we help organizations develop and articulate strategy designs better, and then develop design strategies that deliver measurable business results.

[Quote from "Selling Ford Around the World, From Detroit" by Stuart Elliott in the New York Times, November 12, 2010]

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The power of place – how shared physical place trumps virtual networks

http://twitter.com/#!/archizoo/status/3056586054438913 We've always been interested in how physical place contributes to the development of organizations. We have a portfolio full of examples from our own work, and it is always delightful to find affirmations in other places.

This article in today's New York Times is a great primer in the power of place. Twitter's choice of a location for its operations has generated a feeding frenzy among other tech companies who what to be in the suite – or on the elevator – next to them to capture real measurable benefits in the proximity. Among those benefits are these –

  • Contact learning – "by hanging around with executives at one of the hottest tech companies today, some of the magic could rub off"
  • Network expansion – "There, he has been stalking executives on — where else? — Twitter, to see who is to visit Twitter’s offices. When he finds out, he pounces and “hijacks the meeting,” he said, by asking them to swing by his company"
  • Influence sharing – "Through elevator and lobby run-ins, he has also forged a close enough relationship with Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, that Mr. Costolo is helping Klout raise venture capital."
  • Serendipitous resonance – "they are hoping that proximity to Twitter will lead to chance encounters in the elevator, partnerships or an acquisition — or simply that some of Twitter’s fairy dust will land on them."
  • Opportunity amplification – "physical proximity — as close as working in the same building — leads to increased knowledge, productivity, income and employment."
  • Technical support – "he frequently hops in the elevator to visit Twitter to ask technical questions about the company’s changes to its tools for software developers"
  • The power of pull – “It’s certainly something that adds to the credibility of the address when you have people coming to see you, and you can say it’s the Twitter building.”
  • Motivation and energy – “It’s a very energetic spot. It makes you feel charged up when you walk in.”
  • Property value – "the vacancy rate for big buildings in the area has decreased to 21 percent from 26 percent, and average rent has increased to $32 from $29 a square foot"

There is, of course, a delightful poetry in all of this. As the article reflects, "Mr. Fernandez and other Twitter admirers see the irony in their desire for personal interactions with Twitter executives when their business is focused on building virtual relationships. 'Even though it’s all about tech and the Internet, the real magic of Silicon Valley comes from people being in the same space,' said Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify."

“For certain early-stage insights and design matters in a very fast-moving, hot industry, the proximity, even at the room level and the elevator level, is important,” he said.

There is also another great lesson in the story –

  • Link design strategy to business strategy design – “We spent more money than we probably should have as a start-up to make everything feel as cool and pretty as we could, so people wake up in the morning and want to come to work,” Mr. Stone said. “I’m not surprised other companies want to take advantage of all the mojo we put into the place. I would do the same thing.”

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