MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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

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Can an unexpected ending make for a stronger beginning?

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

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4 approaches to slowing things down in order to get out front

4 approaches to slowing things down in order to get out front

Weeknotes, May 26, 2012

Yet again this week, considerations about being “ahead” of our clients were in our thinking. This is a relatively complex place to be.

Being ahead of our clients is a condition of being ready to propose concepts and solutions before they have come to an awareness or comprehension of the information that they need in order to make good decisions.

Being ahead of our clients is also an issue of envisioning the concepts and solutions that we are confident will be greatly helpful to them in their enterprise, while they may not yet be ready to accept the “risk” of investing in concepts that leap over the intervening decades of development in workspace thinking since their last workplace design project.

They are typically constrained by a variety of factors – low confidence in making a bold move, perceptions of politics in the organization that may imply risk in bringing new ideas forward, lack of exposure or familiarity with the benefits that could be captured from available concepts and potentials, and other factors. Most of these, it seems, arise from having spent too long in one place managing an existing set of resources without having contact with a world of workplace management thinking and workspace design insight that has moved place-making rapidly forward.

We, however, are generally unconstrained as we enter the situation. We have been working for decades on similar issues. We bring to the current context a cumulative set of investigation, speculation, experimentation, innovation and implementation derived from a succession of clients from a spectrum of domains and with diverse challenges and objectives. This body of experience makes us eager to apply what we’ve learned to each new project.

The challenge, then, is how to reconcile these two very different states of readiness. How do we avoid, as we begin to understand our client’s mindset, adjusting our approach to aim only for the middle or getting stuck in the middle because we must produce while our client learns? How do we, realizing we’ll be unable to achieve the excitement and satisfactions from delivering an advanced concept, avoid disappointment and disinterest in the current context? How does our client avoid disappointment and disillusionment with the eventual realization, on moving in, that they could have aimed further out, should have been carried further out by their designers?

Slowing the process to get out front – 4 approaches

There may be other approaches that can help resolve this dilemma, but here are four to think about and test –

What has your experience been? Have you used these approaches and have they been successful? What other approaches would you suggest? Let us know in the comments, or by email.

Slow the conversation to enrich the solution – In most of our experience, the design team comes to a much more satisfying solution if our client has engaged a creative “consulting” team first. The biggest barrier to breakthrough results is a poorly defined problem. And a poorly defined problem is typically a facilities problem – deliver so much square feet of space for this many people at this budget for this fee in this time. None of that problem definition says anything about what you are trying to do as an organization as you strive to bring value to the world. Start by engaging a curious team who want to know more about your company, your culture, your purpose, and how you are different. Engage a team that is especially interested in your perception of the behaviors of your staff that represent your leadership goals, and the experiences you think they should have that will engage them in achieving your purposes. Develop, and rigorously apply, a set of guiding principles and success metrics – The goal of your project is not to be “on time and on budget.” Goals and objectives like that mean that the project team is working only for themselves. Instead, prepare and present a briefing on the mission of your organization, the values it holds dear, the purpose it fulfills for its customers, and the challenges it faces. Then engage your design team in an extended discussion around those subjects and ask them to generate a set of guiding principles that will lead them to measurable solutions targeted to advance your organization’s purpose. Generate and test a good range of alternative concepts – Allocate sufficient resources inside and outside the organization to explore alternatives. Alternative concepts can help to more rigorously define the problem, significantly clarify intentions and develop metrics that matter, engage more in the process and uncover latent or politically hidden problems that restrain organizational performance, and develop solutions that are more creative and more innovative and that return much more for the investment about to be made. Build a network of inputs around outcomes – I believe that, among the most important disciplines of those who seek to serve their organizational purposes better, one is to build a rich network with others who have done, or who themselves are in the midst of, a workspace transformation project. There can be rich rewards in asking tough questions about what the workspace is intended to do, what link there is between those purposes and what was designed, and what now is taking place in the organization as a result. I have been especially surprised that, in more than two decades of practice, I have never heard of a potential client calling one of references, inviting him or her out to lunch, and asking about how their organization is performing as a result of our work.


As a postscript, there is, in all of this, the inherent problem of corporate purchasing. Inherent in projects solicited by an RFP and awarded through competing proposals are faults of trust and speed. The people who will ultimately occupy the spaces we design will have been, usually, poorly served by an internal function that uses a process that squeezes resources for everybody engaged in the process. The spareness of resource allocation demanded by the procurement process means a speed in execution that, in turn, means that users will not be engaged in the discovery and design process, facility managers will be unable to change direction or enrich the planning and design process as their awareness of the mis-aimed intentions of the RFP become revealed, and we as designers will be unable to do much more than speculate about the real organizational purpose and goal and apply a templated solution and cross our fingers in hopes of the best for all.

Weeknotes | 16 April 2010

We spent the past couple of weeks in visits to several cities in East of here. Our objectives were to meet with some very interesting people doing great work in those places and to see how our work intersected with theirs.

We were impressed, despite the press reporting a turning in the economy, that everybody we spoke with was still greatly concerned and significantly affected by the economy. We've tended to look out from the black hole of the Great Lakes economy and imagine that everything is better in other places. Well, it is, but not in the much better way that we'd thought.

Among the impacts of this condition is certainly the fact that all are operating with considerably smaller teams and with a significantly narrower spectrum of work. They are dealing with conditions of surprisingly diminished differentiation and dramatically increased competition. In these markets, former brackets of firm size and project scale no longer apply as even the biggest firms are after any available work.

The strategies for dealing with this condition vary. Some are looking to newer, more robust markets (or expected soon to be) like health care. Some are moving firmly into the implementation space, working with a smaller volume of work but providing clients with integrated approaches to reduce complexity and cost, and increase the value of the relationship. Some have considered whole new ways of doing business through unexpected partnerships, but have not yet found the path or the resources to realize the vision.

In general, it seems that all are in an expectant condition, but it was clear that each and all must get energetically moving on a plan now or risk a backslide as the economy does warm up.

Previously loyal clients are opening projects to competitive bidding. There is certainly an apparent economic incentive for this, but in a number of cases, it appeared to us that the change in the competitive landscape has opened clients to new resources they had not seen before, and even to premium services to which their budgets had not previously given them access.

We think that this may be the most dramatic impact of the recession: that creative and innovative thought leadership is moving into secondary and tertiary tiers. As the big and complex clients have collapsed and are still caught in a cost conscious mode, this may be a significantly dramatic shift for the agile and nimble companies who can capitalize on knowledge, experience and expertise that had previously been out of reach.

We also think that this is an unappreciated shift. Firms that are looking at comparative volume and costs associated with the practice of the past generation are missing a tremendous opportunity. The knowledge gained by these firms, now applied to emerging energetic, motivated, agile, and clever clients can provide a rich resource for creativity, contribution and growth.

In this spirit, an unexpected delight in the trip was moving through a landscape coming into Springtime.


Weeknotes, January 16, 2010We're testing the "weeknotes" concept, basically a report on what we were up to in the last week.

"Sitting there waiting for the economy to get better" A bit out of context, this is a quote from Anna Wintour in reference, obliquely, to the sisters behind the Rodarte fashion label. We're using it as a theme, of sorts, for the development of some thoughts about the state of "sitting there."

Wintour was referring to some fashion houses who, currently sitting things out, needed a talented designer to get things going. Our interest is the implication that even great brands are losing ground. Some assume that it is the financial market holding them back, when it may be other, internal conditions that affect their perceptions and confidence, and therefore slow momentum and affect their position.

So we're reexamining some of the issues associated with projects that have been put on hold over the past year or two. Then later this month, we'll join others to explore combining creative financing with creative consulting, and develop concepts to help our clients grab leadership and move things forward.

Activation strategies We finished the year with some very interesting projects. The subjects were right in our "sweet spot" and were made even more fulfilling by clients who understood that the world of work is changing quickly. In each case, their interest was in new kinds of work settings to  engage people more effectively and innovate more quickly. In each case, the workspace became a place for others outside of the organization to participate actively and deeply in projects.

We've begun to outline a presentation on what we've found as common concepts and principles we've developed in this work.

Agile organizations We've been connecting with an increasing number people we've worked with in the past and developing ideas together about our next moves. It's impressive how much the organizational model, for both clients and colleagues, is changing toward a more flexible platform with more dynamically scalable resources.

Directions in innovation We were pleased to get an invitation to write a paper on new directions in innovation from the leader of a group who was the editor of an earlier compilation on the subject.

Boilerplate In every life there comes a time for the necessary introductory presentation. We've bitten the bullet and are outlining and preparing a visual statement of qualifications, interests, curiosities, accomplishment

Archizoo We updated the blog with some speculation on some subjects of interest. We're keeping the list a bit light, perhaps superficial, yet, as we warm up to a deeper exploration of some of these subjects.

Matthew Barney We went to a presentation and conversation with Matthew Barney at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Barney is an artist, perhaps best known for some extraordinarily interesting and beautiful films composing a work called the Cremaster Cycle.

Barney found an interest in Detroit and is now working here to develop some pubic and private performance pieces, and record them as part of his next major work, a years-long effort to develop an epic "opera" based on Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings.

Barney showed some "rough cuts" of the work that were extraordinary as images and surprising as Detroit contexts. A portion of the piece takes place in and around a more than 100-year old Catholic church in Detroit's Delray neighborhood, the former St. John Cantius, now surrounded by a waste treatment plant.

Some other interests Walking through walls We had a short exchange over on BLDGBLOG about the concept of "walking through walls." Although the tone for us there was political, we nonetheless are considering further the concept of open, fluid space and how walls in some contexts defend and in others limit.

Red Cliff We're assessing whether we have the stamina to get out and see Red Cliff this weekend. It's a five-hour commitment, but the movie is one of the greatest – and the most expensive of all time – to come out of Asia.

October Sky In the meantime, we enjoyed watching October Sky, a good movie to inspire the entrepreneurial, start-up, competitive spirit.

and, over at one of our tumblrs...