MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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

Filtering by Tag: creation spaces

The Death of the Desk



I have frequently spoken over the past several years about what I call "the death of the desk." I think I've frightened a lot of people with this concept, yet it seems as if the direction of the development of the ways that we work makes the conventional configuration and assignment of the workstation – the desk – something that becomes more of a barrier to effective work than a facilitator.

This short video seems, initially, to take a countering position. After opening with a challenge to early notions of a "nomadic" workspace, several creative people speak of the importance of the desk to their work processes. It is interesting to see the variety of working spaces, the reflections on the nature of the desk depending on where it is and, in general, how each of these is a surface for working, and none of them the "desk" of the typical office of the last half century of work.

I like its conclusion – In the future, the desk will be a state of mind, and not a physical place.

Here's a link to the video at my Posterous site.

And here's a link to the source of this and other videos at Imaginary Forces.

Dangerous and seductive curves

I may have referred to this before, but recent readings bring the idea back to mind.

In one of those influential lectures very early in college, Hans Hollein, an Austrian architect, offered an insightful illustration of the relationship between technology and society. I can not remember why he was speculating on this in his talk, in that long ago time when computers were kept in special locked rooms and run by punch cards, and chalk was used on chalkboards, and his own reputation at that time was shaped by a couple of small shop designs.

He drew a graph that looked like this –

His point, reinforced over and over since then by developments none of us could have foreseen at that time, was that technological development moves inexorably on, but social development lags. When the gap between the states of society and technology becomes too great, a social revolution takes place. Society adapts to technology.

That broad contextual reference reappeared when reviewing these two graphs in a recent post by David Sherwin in his very nice Change Order blog –

He called his S-curve the "Design Investment Curve," and offered it to designers as a way to set client expectations about an appropriate pace of development of a concept and project. I think the offering is appropriate, yet I think his perspective, and the scale of the curve, may be shifting.

I many cases, the commissions that come to us as architects and designers are already on the acceleration portion of the curve in our clients' minds. A corporate or organizational strategy has been formed internally, budgets have been developed and schedules set, the project has been formulated and moved into the workstream of an implementation team, RFP's have been developed and a selection process executed, and then we get the commission. Client interest, anticipation and anxiety must be high at that point, and so, as Sherwin points out, are expectations. We are by this time, as in Hollein's graph, "society" to our client's "technology."

It may be very appropriate for us to adjust our client's expectations about the probable or possible pace of a project or program. But another graph appeared in my reading recently, and I wonder if it does not set a different tone.

I was watching a video of John Seely Brown presenting to a class at Stanford recently. His new book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion was about to come out making the argument for the need of new approaches and the rise of new institutions to meet emerging needs and be successful in emerging contexts.

His point, like Hollein's, was that the advance of technology was inexorable. Brown's graph illustrated technology with a very steep and very tall acceleration line and also served as a representation of the "flow" of ideas in our time. His argument was that survival/success/prosperity would mean that we get into that state of flow and adjust our strategies and programs to fit, like this –

So what does this mean for architects and designers, and their clients? Maybe this –

  • We are in the state of social revolution that Hollein represented by the vertical breaks in his graph
  • We need to adjust our own expectations, and get into the flow that our clients are in or trying to get themselves into
  • We may want to explore the power of small, smart moves, developed in collaboration with others, to uncover what matters and to sustain position in the flow
  • We need to understand how to quickly develop effective and powerful "creation spaces" for ourselves as well as for our clients

What are your thoughts?

Linknotes April 16, 2010

After a couple of weeks of travel and focused work, I am now catching my breath a bit. Linknotes provides me a way of getting back into the flow when original content is not yet fully developed.

Innovation redefined and relocated A recent lament in the press on the unexpected consequences of globalization made the observation that as the US outsourced what it believed to be lower-content manufacturing tasks, it also was outsourcing the country's industries' basis for innovation.

Process improvements on the shop floor or in the call center naturally took place where the work was being done. Managers at companies who outsourced the work could no longer observe how work was being done and were outside of the stream of information that provided the data and insights that would support positive chain and improvement. Those outsourced jobs are now beginning to provide the base for innovation leadership by companies and industries in other places.

The Economist has a special report in its latest issue on the increasing momentum and character of innovation from sources in other countries. Observing that this is becoming a huge wave, they credit the phenomenon on bigger visions.

Why are countries that were until recently associated with cheap hands now becoming leaders in innovation? The most obvious reason is that the local companies are dreaming bigger dreams. Driven by a mixture of ambition and fear—ambition to bestride the world stage and fear of even cheaper competitors in, say, Vietnam or Cambodia—they are relentlessly climbing up the value chain.

In addition, the Economist notes that these are places where brainpower is plentiful and free from the burdens of legacy systems. As a result, strategic planning by multinationals now actively and intentionally locates major R&D efforts in these other developing countries – a practice called "polycentric innovation." While enjoying the energies of foreign innovators, this may be led more by the need to comprehend, understand and market to the huge emerging markets that these countries hold.

Among the impacts of these developments are the reversal of the traditional global supply chain, the redefinition of innovation as incremental improvements provide accessible goods to the huge base of the market pyramid, and the redesign of management systems themselves.

The Rest saving the West The week provides interesting correlations in items like the Dx1W competition – a competition for designers, artists, scientists, makers and thinkers in developing countries to provide solutions for First World problems.

We have been focus­ing our energy and resources on try­ing to solve our Developing World problems to become more like the First World. But per­haps it is time that we, the so called Third World minds, focused our energy and creativity on solving some of the First World problems. We will have a brighter future to look for­ward to, and per­haps this can help us rethink and approach our cur­rent problems from a different perspective.

Collapse of complexity At an entirely different scale, we've become very interested in the way in which a more mobile workstyle is beginning to affect the way that space and place is planned or provided for work, and more specifically how new innovation may be arising from the casual interaction of free agents working in places that attract them. Laura Forlano, writing in the Urban Omnibus, notes that "coworking is rapidly emerging as a meme for the reorganization of knowledge work."

This example of the increasing development of coworking spaces is one example. Our earlier comments on the concept of "scenius" are similar. And also this week, Hagel and Brown published their new book on the Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, which also further develops their ideas about "creation spaces."

The influences of space and place to creation were also explored in an Innovation Camp in Berlin reported on by Tim Leberecht of frog design.

Reflecting on the role of creative spaces for their innovations, they proposed three types of spaces: the mindset (brain space), the location and work environment (physical space), and the network (virtual space).

After reviewing both common practice and other studies on the types of space that support creation, Tom makes a case also for market space. He makes the observation that, "It often goes unrecognized that the innovator’s biggest creative accomplishment may not be to invent a new product or service but to imagine and create a new market."

Also resonating this week was Clay Shirky's considerations on the collapse of complex systems. While speaking more to the domain of media, Shirky's reference to Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies might also have relevance in this context.

When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.

Whether innovation activity moves more fruitfully to a cafe in Kansas City or a company in Katmandu, there seems to be a trend of its moving from a context of complexity to one of self-organizing simplicity. The influences on organizations seeking creation and innovation may be emerging in these alternative places and spaces.

And then these appearing today –

Adam Greenfield on Rework and the City considering the places of work, or the necessity of people coming together in the same place for work.

Greenfield also on the potentials of serendipity, I think relevant also to the concept of self-selecting places for work and back to "scenius."

He makes reference to Robert Fripp's "mobile intelligence units," a nice concept articulated by his sister, here and further defined here as–

The future unit of organization is the small, mobile, and intelligent unit where intelligence is defined as the capacity to perceive rightness, mobile the capacity to act on that perception and small the necessary condition for that action in a contracting world.