MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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

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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

Things we've noticed

How. And why. Not what.

This is a very nice piece on enjoying the "how" and "why" in the process of answering a challenging question rather than rushing to the "what," the answer.

The process of answering a question should be a voyage of discovery, a journey during which you learn something, and one where you enjoy yourself in the process.

The essay made me think about the invisible processes in business, and also how the places of businesses are not designed around the how and why. If the design and planning of workspaces made clearer the purposes of the enterprise, and if the processes people and teams used to get to the what were more transparent and observable, would an organization learn more, create more valuable knowledge, and achieve more?

What innovators share

Somewhat related to the above is this review in the Ottawa Business Journal of a recent book on the "innovator's DNA." The review reflects on the power of "the five whys" while also noting the five distinguishing characteristics of successful innovators.

associating, observing, questioning, experimenting and networking

We'd found our way this week, in the midst of our own annual strategic planning, to a discussion about the uniqueness of the places and spaces where innovation seems most successful. As I carry the images of those spaces, I'm making a resolution to shape our design mission – our client's "program" or "design brief" for their corporate workspace – into a form that links workspace concepts to these 5 attributes.

That is, since most of our clients are engaged in a search for how to generate and support a more entrepreneurial culture, I intend to test a change of the lexicon of workplace design from conventional descriptors of corporate organization and function ("accounting") and conventional workplace form ("conference room") to new terms reflecting these innovation behavior attributes.

I expect that radical transformations in design processes and concepts will emerge.

Augmented reality

There are many things to enjoy and reflect on in this proposal of trends for 2012 from the Smithsonian here and here.

I expect I'll come back to the list for further exploration and comment, since I stopped almost immediately at the first subject, augmented reality.

In a recent project, we found transformative approaches to design through our slogan of "augment, amplify, activate." A client had a new workspace designed by others, but then found it experientially flat. It satisfied the organizations, functions and facility metrics of the enterprise, but did nothing to change their culture and performance, which was the purpose of the project in the first place. Our slogan was a motivator to the occupiers and the designers to explore conceptual modifications to support behavioral change and development.

This sense of "augmentation" seems like a rich territory for exploration in design. A while back I had speculated on "the autoupdating workspace." And more recently, a colleague raised a question about augmented reality which made me think in entirely different terms about the "productivity" of both the principal artifact of our service, digital "drawings," and the activities that take place in the spaces and places we design. I've become increasingly interested in how to build layers on top of our digital design information and capture digital information from the physical spaces we design.

The Race Against the Machine

Related to the above, I've just finished reading Race Against the Machine, and am now both tremendously excited as well as terribly frightened.

The motivation for me is to begin to imagine the role of the workspace in assuring the race with the machine. Finding a strengthening signal in the requests we are getting from clients, there is an accelerating realization that space supports enterprise sustainability, but this is increasingly tied to the changes in the way we work together because of the extraordinary acceleration of technology.

We are now attracted to, and attractive to, clients whose enterprise is shaped around technologies that, yes, automate creativity. These enterprises are now, or soon will be, seeking spatial solutions well beyond the most advanced corporate real estate solutions.

The Singularity

And, of course, this.

Focus groups

I am not sure about this, but can't stop thinking about it. That is, is Facebook a relevant a valuable data source for workspace design? It seems so logical to "crowdsource" criteria and concepts for a satisfying and uniquely productive work do we best do it?

...and, in case you were wondering

Why humans have chins

Some of what we're working on now

We are slowly getting around to updating some of the parts of this blog/web site that have gotten a bit stale, and hope to get this done by the end of the year. in the meantime, we've updates our "How" page with this information on some of our current activities. We'll periodically post further updates and additional information on many of these subjects. If you have any thoughts, questions, or interest in these subjects, let us know in the comments, or by email. The technical workplace The spaces where lots of people in manufacturing, science, R&D, and other businesses and professions has been allowed to atrophy. We wonder if the aspirations we have for innovation, leadership and growth may be stunted by working spaces and places still guided by patterns and paradigms of process, hierarchy, supervision, status, institutional culture, and authority. If the places of invention became more like the places where invention is used, will we achieve more?

Fast, slow and spiky We once thought that the right way to accommodate different generations in the workplace was by reference to paradigms around preferred officing form. But it’s not about age, it’s about pace. How should we think differently about the best ways to effectively engage different generations through new design principles in the workplace?

The campus in the city This is an old model becoming new, again. The concept of the suburban corporate campus is dying, and universities are seeking to gain and deliver the benefits of community and market engagement. What should we be thinking about as the corporation takes on a new form and as gown returns to town?

Moving the CRE to HR Under the finance function, corporate real estate pushed everybody out of the workplace. Now organizations want them back. Is CRE under HR the way?

How to think about the workplace in 2012 Not trend, but revolution. How this year will set a foundation for a new approach to workspace design.

Social connectivity as a driving value for the workspace We learned something about “hubs,” “gate-keepers” and “pulse-takers,” and then we wrapped workplace designs around the uncovered network maps. Oops. Now it’s time to design workspaces to nurture new and continuously dynamic networks. How?

Gaming the workspace Game designers work differently than you and I, and in a very different kind of workspace. But why? What can we “learn from Las Vegas” and from the world of game developers?

Redefining efficiency When we’ve wrung out the real estate of the workplace, what’s left? How does “efficiency” shift from a bottom line metric to a top line driver? How does design help?

The 80/20 workplace 80% of how we work and communicate was not possible 5 years ago, but only 20% of workplace design has yet responded to this rapidly evolving change. What should we demand now to achieve the potential in the new tools and techniques of work?

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 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 future of design for new ways of working

This is an introductory module to my emerging point of view on the future of the design of the new workplace. This draft module sets a theme for exploration with corporate real estate clients. I'll fill in the blanks in future posts on my recommendations for effective strategies to plan and design for the new ways of working.

[slideshare id=5208107&doc=experiencemodule100915-100915112929-phpapp02]

Linknotes, July 16, 2010

Some of the things that we found of interest this week –

Nice concept – "Take a Closer Listen – 72 pages of sound" – verbal descriptions of favorite sounds in a self-published book, as reviewed at BLDGBLOG

David Brooks on the personalities of business – "princes" and "grinds" – and the importance of supporting "the country’s loners, its contrarians and its narrow, ambitious outsiders" to spark and sustain the economy

Four points of view about which problems to solve that may influence strategies and actions in innovation – strategic problems, design problems, marketing or launch problems, and consistent business processes

Serendipity and discovery – A new theory of "gravity" generated after a theft of a laptop caused a change in plans. “It’s interesting,” Herman said, “how having to change plans can lead to different thoughts.”

Some considerations on skewed values between thinking about design and actually doing stuff

And the continuing debate (and here, and here) on "do-gooder design and imperialism"

Detroit seems to have become a focus for Design Observer. As we noted earlier, two posts there this week explored the issues and opportunities in the city. I especially liked Dan Pitera's slideshow and essay, Detroit: Syncopating an Urban Landscape. Dan's essay made reference to the Steel Winds project in Lakawanna. Somewhat connected, there is also this article in the New York Times this week on the aspiring imitators of the enormously successful High Line development in Manhattan.

Separately, but related, the Harvard Business blogs reflected on the importance of cause marketing and used as an example the  surprising success with the "I'm in" campaign for the Detroit Public Schools

(For some amusement, things are a bit strange further north)

And, some self-reflective links –

A thought about how "master planning" seems so out of date

Considerations about design RFP's and their inadequacy as expressions of the real problem to solve

My own thoughts on the self-destructive threat in closed environments, or, more appropriately the delights and benefits of openness that yield differential success (below), and we appreciated this extension of the conversation

A decision-making rubric |

Once again, into the brief

Perhaps it's because of work we've recently done for advertising and media companies, or maybe just in a sense of some process alignments, I've been caught by discussions about the "creative brief." In both advertising and product design (yet mostly absent in architecture and environmental design) there seems to be a lot of continuing discussion (for example, here, here and here) around how to shape the statement of the client's "problem." In a number of cases, you can almost read between the lines that the outline for the brief is an attempt to address a lagging of internal creativity. In other cases, it seems as if the formula for the brief is an assertion of the firm's differentiation, effectively using the form for stating the client's problem as part of the attraction of the client.

This is a link to an appreciation for another firm's approach, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, from which Dan Pankracz quotes –

He appreciates this approach for what they call "tensions in the culture," signaling apparently broader considerations of the context in which the creative work will reside.

The classic briefing statement for architectural design projects, typically called the "program," seems rarely practiced well but a great example is delightfully presented in William Pena's Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer. I've used it as a template for most of my work. I've greatly appreciated it for its key principles, and for its "information index" and "programming procedures" which, if reflected on and practiced rigorously, can open you to a deep conversation with your client to uncover what their "tensions" may be, what the key opportunity is that they are trying to capture.

In a more simple form, I like Clayton Christensen's approach of understanding what "job" the client is trying to do. I've taken this as a device to go way back in the client's thinking, well before the project at hand, to understand how the work that we will do fulfills the purposes and goals of the enterprise.

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A new value equation for organizational real estate

Emerging opportunities in organizational real estate and workplace programs – and how to capture their value

I have become considerably optimistic about the future of our practice from the evidence of disruption that had been latently present and now is increasing activating our economy. What had been a slowly emerging awareness of the need for doing things in new ways is now attaining greater momentum through the recognition that a fundamental shift has taken place, and that new strategies and designs are essential to successfully get in the flow of new achievement.

I sketched a diagram, an emergent equation of sorts, that begins to express some of the shift and its potential in a couple of domains of interest for me.

It tries to express that the content of the institutions and organizations of the recent past, which had still been bound up in closed and constrained systems, is breaking out and finding new value through more open and innovative systems. The impacts of this change of state include the collapsing value of the services and infrastructures that sustained the older systems in the first decade of the millennium, and the emergent power and potential residing in the transitional white space between the recent now and the yet-unformed next.

Some familiar recitations

Corporations, as individually competitive entities, were essentially closed systems where not being number one or two meant death. They were administrated by hierarchies enclosed in towers expressive of stature, status, and power. The value in these towers was attained through internal controls like efficiency of utilization, and external influences like financial instruments.

These real estate values were achieved through a set of services, equipment and standards managed separately from the core purposes of the organization, and yet influenced the shape of buildings and cities. People sat in policy-defined cubes. Furniture manufacturers fabricated responsive and dimensionally-confined systems. And architects and designers influenced site selection and lease negotiations based on "test fits" measuring the efficiency of the ratio of space enclosed in cubes versus the amount of space left over. Developers achieved "investment grade" ratings on their buildings by, among other things, reducing the inches of building constructed between the module of the furniture systems proscribed by the corporate standards and the minimum dimensions of aisles defined by code. Geometric precision defined economic value.

Then, a confluence of global comic development, financial meltdown, technology acceleration and the innovation imperative scrambled the value set. Rising real (and artificial) estate costs initiated a quest to squeeze, and "footprint hierarchy" disappeared. Technology enabled a work-anywhere potential, and realistic real estate utilization metrics proved the case for dramatic reduction in real estate demand. Innovation, the key to competitive differentiation and precious growth, was now believed to arise from a culture of creative and cross-disciplinary collaboration for which the cube was an enemy. Even after economic collapse and the disappearance of price pressure on real estate decisions, the demand for space may now be felt more by the coffee shop than the corporation.

Leading organizations are now trying to find ways to operate as networked clusters of competencies rather than closed corporations. The concept of work "stations" now only has value if you believe that if you have one you will not get laid off; instead, quality of place and attraction of space get attention. Work, in any case, is no longer contained in a company's buildings, nor by the clock, and is progressively becoming part of a seamlessly networked, diversely urban lifestyle. People now much more agile in place and time, choose places and spaces that are the most effective, or can be made more effective, for whatever activity is part of their workstream.

So, what might this mean?

Our clients regularly ask us about trends. Understanding what is happening in workplace planning and design, for example, allows them to become current, test their status against industry and competitors, and make more informed choices about their own programs. Trends, a term borrowed from the world of style, may however be evidence more of group-think and less a valid tool for decision-making. The trend-setter may actually have been the only one in the chain who made an authentic move, creatively adapting and innovating their workspace to meet the unique and differential needs of their organization's purpose. His followers may now be experiencing the frustration of trying to fit function to form.

In a recently posted video of his presentation at a TED conference, Simon Sinek offers a diagram – "the Golden Circle" – of the path to influential leadership, and a simple formulation that people want what you believe, not what you are. Individuals and organizations with a well-formulated and articulated belief system ("why" – their purpose for being) develop aligned and authentic means to deliver on their promise ("how"). In order for the "how" of their organization to be effective, they shape their presence in place and space in the character of their culture ("what" – the tangible and physical expression of their unique DNA).

Trends in organizational real estate and workplace design

In their real estate and workplace design programs, aspirational organizations may see the impact and influence of others' space moves and, sensing "trend," may choose a similar approach for themselves, believing they, too, may benefit from the concepts.

The trend-setting organization may say – we are relentless in our quest to understand the needs of our clients and their customers. To get this understanding we do our work standing next to them, enabled by technology and support policies that allow our people to work in our client's places. We've developed an agile workplace with all of the tools to support and nurture our highly committed and recognized staff.

The trend-following organization sees a "trend" to shed real estate costs through a reduced space inventory and minimized allocations. They initiate a mobile work "policy" and measure their success with a 40% reduction in occupancy costs, which, they believe, enhances their competitive position in the market. Their people begin to experience a high level of stress, make  harmful decisions based on the celebrated internal metrics, and cling to a cubicle as an entitlement and an assumed job insurance.

If I could apply Simon Sinek's principles to our advice to our clients, I would always propose that we design from the inside out. Developing a deep understanding of the purpose and goals of the organization (the why), we would then begin to shape with them a strategy design (the how) to meet their goals and then begin to uncover, test and develop concepts to shape a design strategy for place and space (the what) to enhance the performance of people and to achieve and sustain leadership in their mission.

In other words, I'd try this new formula with them–

  • Articulate why you are in business and let that purpose be the principle drive of real estate programs and decisions
  • Define how you uniquely do what you do, first without reference to space
  • Shape space and place around the how

This is a great time for corporations and other forms of organizations to reassess the purposes and power of place for their own goals and objectives, whether considering new initiatives or reviewing the impacts of past or recent programs.

What do you think?

© Jim Meredith

Narrow the Information Gap to capture higher value in design for workplace transformation

A continuing subject in the work we do is the concept of knowledge creation. It seems to be a subject that is rarely in an architect's or designer's commission. It may reside implicitly in the background of a design project, or may not ever be part of the conversation. It seems, however, that for the role that the workplace itself, and workplace transformation projects play, it should come more to the forefront. We've talked before about how a change in the place or space of work is frequently a key component of an organization's transformation agenda. These workplace strategy programs have a wide spectrum of objectives, with cost-cutting/space saving at the bottom of the achievement graph, and authentic interest in contribution and accomplishment higher on the scale.

Any project's place on the scale is generally determined by its origin. Workplace and workspace matters lie in different silos of organizations. Projects arising out of finance may have cost savings as a primary success metric. We've had some projects arising out of a grassroots interest in advancing the creative output of an an organization, so the primary success measure there has been transition to a different shade of operations culture.

"Change management" is a discipline that is frequently evoked in these programs and here, again, there is a significant range of content, influence and impact. We have seen some programs in which the sum of content is a directory for day-one occupation of the new place – how to find a printer in the new layout, for example. More robust programs establish web sites and other communications programs to provide information over a sustained period of time from the initiation of the project to or through its occupancy many months later.

We reflect on this because the proximity, content and communication of information is a key component in evoking the engagement with intention that is at the core of achieving the real benefits of change, especially where knowledge creation, innovation capability and creative capacity are among the intended goals of the program.

Below is a nice introduction (from Jeff Monday) to the "Information Gap" theory of George Loewenstein. I cite it both for its general relevance and also as a guide to initial thinking about change management programs and their role in achieving the intended purposes of transformation programs, and beyond.

Understanding the information gap in the design, communication and implementation of workplace transformation programs can significantly contribute to the engagement of those affected by them, and through that to significant enhancement of the performance – the knowledge creation – of the organization overall.


GM's iPhone?

skateboard_00034fe5-ba99-1d80-90fb809ec5880000_1Finding a discussion today between Steve Portigal and Chirag Mehta around the subject of designing to requirements or not, I was impressed with Chirag's framework suggestion to "Look beyond the problem space and preserve ambiguity." I've been thinking lately about new concepts for retail design, and specifically  in the automotive domain. Chirag's admonition had aligned with some coincidental wandering around the Apple App Store as a model. I was imagining a place where the conventions of brand (GM, but also Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac, etc.) and predefined models and packages disappeared, and customization to "my brand" was the norm.

The concept seemed so attractive, and could affect not only the vehicle design space, but the retail space as well. It seems a concept that could provide new brand image and vitality, and also energize the customer base.

Then I recalled that it'd all been done before. Well, in the vehicle space, at least. Somewhere between concept and execution---that typical source of disappointment in this industry---was a future lost by GM but an exploding market found by Apple.

In 2002, GM took a concept, affectionately and compellingly known as the "skateboard," to the North American International Auto Show and other places. The concept involved a thin 20-year chassis with all the propulsion technology embedded in it, and a fully customizable style frame including interior and exterior features and appearance.

Imagine this platform as an iPhone, and an extraordinarily robust industry seems to unfold. The automotive App Store---imagine even the tonal difference from "car dealership"---becomes a place of innovation where suppliers, using the parameters of the core skateboard platform, design, deliver and install innovative components pitched to the different needs, and styles, of a diverse constituency.

Five years after GM introduced the skateboard concept, Apple introduced the iPhone and, about a year later, the App Store. GM wanted the profits from SUV's and as a result needs a bailout from the government. Apple got the profits from thin, lean, customizable, open systems, and everybody involved seems to be doing fine.

If Apple were to ask people what they would want in their phones people might have said they want a smart phone with a better stylus and they do not expect their phone to tell them where they should eat their dinner tonight. We wouldn’t have had a multimodal interface on iPhone that could run Urbanspoon.

Embracing and preserving the ambiguity as long as you can during the design process would help unearth some of the behaviors that could lead to great design. Ambiguity does make people uncomfortable but recognizing that fact that “making stuff” is fundamentally a generative process allows people to diverge and preserve ambiguity before they converge. (Chirag Mehta)


A reason to support the auto companies

One of the reasons frequently cited for the bailout of the American car manufacturers was the strategic, and perhaps nostalgic, role they played/play in national security and defense. Someone asked: Who builds the tanks these days? I don't really know, but here's some of the past. 408478188_cc7a6ee886_ovia things magazine

Change at the top at GM?

600-muscleThere seem to be signs emerging that Rick Wagoner may soon be out at GM. After an embarrassing first appearance and an inconsistent second appearance in Congress, influential Congressman and other Detroit executives in the auto business are beginning to pass the word that there needs to be change at the top. Apparently, Congress will not get around to approving a bailout without that change as a condition. The subject of effective leadership at auto companies, and at other product design and marketing companies, comes again to the fore. There is much evidence of the benefit of having a "product guy" at the top of an organization when innovation is the agenda. GM is blamed for having, a generation ago, passed the reigns of leadership to "finance guys," and beginning a practice of killing design initiatives and longer-term product investments for short-term profits, and using financial tools like cash incentives to move metal where customer desire wouldn't.

I am not sure who in the pipeline for leadership could provide the shift in thinking that would generate the innovation that has been missing at GM and that now seems to be at the center of the demand from Congress. They want a payback for the taxpayers, and rightly seem to be judging that customers will not be effectively moved unless the product portfolio has something they want.

Ironically, the strongest car guy in the company, Bob Lutz, while long saying that GM has to design and build products that people want, has been the guy who has also said that global warming is bull---a comment frequently resurrected as Congress, and the market, seek greener products and companies. He is, in any case, now too old for next generation leadership, both in age as well as in thinking.

Fritz Henderson has a lot of support. His background is also finance, and most of the success stories in his resume are not about product but about cost-cutting, labor negotiations, and brand strategy. Will he turn to design as a key strategy for success in the next generation? Who will he turn to to rely on for the design and product innovation leadership, passion, power, and influence, necessary for survival and sustainability as a new kind of business?