MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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The M-Shaped Strategy Weekly for April 7, 2017

This has not been a project week for me, but a strategy week. 

That is, if I were asked to show the evidence of some concrete movement forward this week, I don’t know what I’d touch. 

Yet, I’ve made a number of moves this week that have felt substantial and, in my metrics, tangible. Each move has put in motion a perception, an approach, a proposal, an event, a meeting, or a resonating communication that I am confident will result in profound positive impact for our clients or ourselves in some near future. 

I hope I’ll get to discussion those moves in the blog sometime soon, But, in the meantime, here are a few of the things in the outside world that caught our attention this week. 


“Somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins … No one who has threaded through the metal detectors and endless layers of security can fail to notice the sense of desperation that is the modern skyscraper — an awareness of its physical tenuousness, the overwhelming desire of its bones to return to earth” [Link]

Is coworking really about reducing the cost of office space? HSBC supposedly saved $1B going to WeWork. This is an otherwise undeveloped reference in this report, but what does it mean? If any of you have any more information on this, please let me know. Does this mean that HSBC can't negotiate a lease better than WeWork? Does this mean that HSBC told a thousand people that they had to compete for 300 workstations at WeWork? Does this mean that WeWork can't negotiate subleases? Is this a story that erodes the WeWork brand, putting them back into the Regus world? Or is this a fake news story? [Link]

Success formula? “I’m not a businessman. I didn’t start a business, I started with an idea.” We might assume that all businesses start with an idea. We might also assume that at some point along the way, otherwise inspired people had to give in to managers. Scaling is clearly a big problem and, it seems, only big ideas (or big egos) can hold professional management off. [Link]

"Differentiation should be a prime motivator of any strategy; firms should always look to find an edge. But too often CEOs find themselves stuck in what I call an innovation plateau. They fall into chronic sameness, an inertia driven by a feeling that they must focus on cost, even cheapness, to remain competitive". (Alejandro Ruelas-Gossi [Link]

Is Fifth Avenue losing the luster of Fifth Avenue?  [Link]

Related? Malls are dying as shoppers move online and begin to embrace smaller, niche merchants. [Link]

New self-driving technology threatens an American way of life. [Link]

Autonomy and electrification will have bigger impacts on the world than you might expect. [Link]

Regarding cars, electrification and autonomy, “it's also useful, and perhaps more challenging, to think about second and third order consequences” [Link]

Autonomy drives a huge expansion in the auto market. The auto industry in Michigan is valued at $57 billion annually. Globally, the industry is valued at $3 trillion. Projections for the shared-use/mobility sector are somewhere around $10 trillion. [Link]

Data should be generative, not conclusive. [Link]

Recall the famous Sherlock Holmes story about the dog that didn’t bark [Link]

Parkorman, concepts for a walkway through the trees and redefining the urban park experience [Link]

8 photos showing why RCR Architects won the Pritzker Prize [Link]

Cities, of course, have always enjoyed outsized prominence in national economies, because density and agglomeration and general creative ferment do matter. But there are healthy degrees of prominence and unhealthy degrees, and America has shifted decisively toward the latter. [Link]

The “Trump Series” at the LATimes [Link]

The faster growing companies, and the fastest shrinking [Link]

The problem is obvious: it’s not clear what “artificial intelligence” means [Link]

When everything, absolutely everything, in your life is used for advertising [Link]

Internet Noise, a very clever device to mask your online activity in a time  when government conceals its secrets while commercializing yours.  [Link]

“Detroit’s future requires connecting the worlds of design, technology and innovation to neighborhoods.”  [Link]

A new report from Navigant Research shows two of the ‘Big Three’ Detroit auto companies, Ford and General Motors, ahead of auto and tech rivals based in Silicon Valley and Germany. [Link] and [Link]

The M-Shaped Strategy Weekly
Linknotes for July 30

Here are some of the articles we found interesting this week. 

Is it time to rethink zoning? 

We live now in a world in which the phases and places of work and life are blending. It might be time to look at zoning with a new lens. "German ideas about urban order were combined here with distinctly American notions of the primacy and sanctity of the single-family home. German zoning rules generally allow for mixed uses such as shops in residential neighborhoods, apartments next to detached houses, etc. In the U.S., by contrast, early zoning apostles advocated strict separation of residences from businesses, and houses from apartments."

Work is changing. But why, and how do we respond? 

The workplace is changing and perhaps the biggest factor in that change has been an ideological shift. “If one wanted to look at single changes that matter a lot to work, the biggest in my view has been ideology, the shift from the idea that business had a responsibility to all stakeholders toward the idea that they have responsibility only to one – shareholders.”

There must be better problems to solve

We are overlooking some of the key problems in our society. There are two key ways to look for better problems to solve – 1) Look for root problems and 2) use the perspective of the human. 

Maybe stepping away is a good technique at the start of design

Ideo designer goes to German techno palace and is inspired. "Berghain has also set me thinking about needs we all have that we might not always perceive so clearly in the rational design process. To enjoy an absence of selfie-taking. To enjoy not being shared and socially broadcast. To keep a secret. To disengage with transparency, predictability, and the many other conveniences of our lives that maybe, when we really think about it… are kind of boring."

Digital business models require a shift from incremental to exponential.

 There is constant pressure to launch quickly, but this may not be a winning strategy. "In all of the stages, the challenge is to “unlearn” familiar ways of thinking and embrace the unfamiliar. But with a shift from the incremental to exponential mindset comes the opportunity for real innovation."

Upending the very nature of what a company is

The Dollar Shave Club was acquired for $1 Billion this week. For some this was a signal of a very real threat to the business model of many companies. "The deal anecdotally shows that no company is safe from the creative destruction brought by technological change. The very nature of a company is fundamentally changing..."

Is this how to make people happy at work? 

Sometimes, when you try to do good, the opposite happens. “The irony is, when you’re trying to get people to do something positive, you can’t do it. Once it’s required, it’s fake and forced. It feels like Big Brother.” You create a negative backlash. 

Some of what we saved to Pocket this week

Six Drivers Transforming the Healthcare business (Link)

20 habits that will help you live a better life (Link)

The creepy world of Bruce Conner (Link)

The LED quandary: Why there's no such thing as "Built to Last" (Link)

How to get rich (Link)

Can Cadillac reinvent itself (Link)

The Scientific reason why coworking may be the future of work (Link)

"Airbnb's Sheryl Sandberg" is the Valley's quiet superpower (Link)

"Unloaded" minds are the most creative (Link)

The mysterious metamorphosis of Chuck Close (Link)

Turning on a dime

Here are some excerpts from and links to some of the things we found interesting and relevant this week. 

Is the future of the auto industry in Detroit's partnership with Silicon Valley? "Today’s clash of cultures is returning us to those early days of the automobile. We are no longer merely rethinking how cars are designed, but how they work, how they are owned and how they are used. Neither the software geniuses in San Francisco nor the gearheads in Detroit can design the best solutions alone." link

Or, is the future of the industry about to be revealed in an Apple pivot? "Apple is not spending $10 billion on R&D just to come up with new Watch bands, larger iPads, or a video streaming service. Instead, Apple is planning on something much bigger: a pivot into the automobile industry." link

And GM seems to be concerned. A General Motors Co. executive credited Silicon Valley companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google car division and Tesla Motors Inc., for accelerating the development of autonomous vehicle technology and shortening the timetable for when safer self-driving cars hit the road. link

And for good reason. "Apple erased any doubts about its interest in autonomous vehicles with a $1 billion investment in Chinese ride-sharing service Didi Chuxing Technology. Though Apple didn’t elaborate on its motivations for the investment, the company has been working on electric- and autonomous-vehicle technology for two years, according to people familiar with the plans. The investment sets up a potential showdown with firms aligned with Uber Technologies, which counts Alphabet’s venture-capital arm and China’s Baidu among its investors, and with General Motors, which acquired Cruise Automation and is allied with ride-sharing service Lyft." link

Or, maybe this is the future of transportation. "In this postcard from the future, Eric Spiegelman, the president of the Los Angeles Taxi Commission, envisions how automated taxicabs will fundamentally reshape the city he loves." link

While we're in the technology space, I confess to continual fascination with VC stories, such as this one about Andreesen Horowitz. "In the days I was on site meetings like this were taking place in every conference room of the dedicated space, every hour from 8 to 6. A parade of portfolio company execs marched through these rooms; plugged in, presented, and talked with exec level decision-makers. Each customer prospect had been hand-picked based on vertical targeting and “wish lists” we had provided in advance, and each left feeling connected to the next generation of enterprise technology in the valley and beyond. The scale and quality of execution of the machine they’ve built there was nothing less then awe inspiring, and I left feeling an unusual mix of humility and gratitude." link

And on the subject of pivots, one of the great American design brands is repositioning itself. "The way Walker saw it, in the last 40 years Herman Miller had narrowed its approach to focusing on one particular audience: its bread and butter, American corporate customers. However, amid the volatile economy in the '00s (between 2000 and 2003, Herman Miller’s sales dropped from $2 billion to just $1.3 billion), slow growth in the contract furniture industry, and changing demographics and living styles, the company saw the writing on the wall. It had to either change its approach or keep fighting with its competitors—including Knoll, Steelcase, and Humanscale—for a piece of a smaller pie. "Our fundamental belief was that people’s lives were blurring and they no longer live compartmentalized," Walker says. "We also thought that Herman Miller’s unique gift was not its specific focus so much as its ability to reinvent itself based on understanding of social change." link

Perhaps because corporate inequality is the defining fact of business today. "There’s a pessimistic synthesis between the competition and concentration stories. Perhaps the gap between firms starts out as the inevitable result of competition. Firms concentrate on what they’re good at, adopt new technology, and deliver products and services more efficiently. Having reached those heights, they then cement their status through lobbying or M&A. “Once those firms get there, it may be that they can actually draw up the drawbridge,” said Van Reenen. Maybe competition creates corporate inequality. But maybe it’s lack of competition that preserves it." link

And retail is pivoting too – "Macy’s woes could doom a third of America’s malls" “On an apples-to-apples basis, we have twice as much per-capita retail space as any other place in the world. The U.K. is second. They’re half of what we are. So, yes, we are the most over-stored place in the world.” link

And for some feel good news... "The core reason for the disconnect between the nation’s pretty-good condition and the gloomy conventional wisdom is that optimism itself has stopped being respectable. Pessimism is now the mainstream, with optimists viewed as Pollyannas. If you don’t think everything is awful, you don’t understand the situation!" link

Innovation, infrastructure, architecture and the corporation

I am not sure why I cannot keep up with a weekly posting of links that have been interesting to me and that might be interesting to others. Time is, of course, a factor. Yet there are other habits that seem to find their time. I do, otherwise, find myself immersed in the collection rather than the curation. The FOMO factor may be at play in that; I do periodically remind myself that actually reading this a few of the pieces that I bookmark might be better and more rewarding.  And, the ones that I do link here are typically the ones that, once read, I find some lingering value and want to retain. Anyway, this week, these. 

Several articles this week found reason to address the matter of the corporate campus and the urban context. All of these are quotes from the linked articles. 

When Apple finishes its new $5 billion headquarters in Cupertino, California, the technorati will ooh and ahh over its otherworldly architecture, patting themselves on the back for yet another example of “innovation.” Countless employees, tech bloggers, and design fanatics are already lauding the “futuristic” building and its many “groundbreaking” features. But few are aware that Apple’s monumental project is already outdated, mimicking a half-century of stagnant suburban corporate campuses that isolated themselves—by design—from the communities their products were supposed to impact. Link

But while this wave of construction captures the optimism and wealth of a cohort of companies that are imagining and packaging our digital future, Silicon Valley could lose something in the long term. The Valley thrived because people met and shared ideas in office parks, restaurants and cafés, and talent has historically moved around easily within and between companies. As firms build self-enclosed universes, that mixing may stop. Innovative architecture may attract talent and tourists initially, but it also risks altering an environment that has fostered world-beating ideas and products. Cupertino and other Silicon Valley towns may come to long for the time when they had no interesting buildings to distinguish them. Link

The sweeping real estate play — which affects 30,000 employees working in 70 separate buildings — is designed to give the company a fighting chance in the war for young professionals as Silicon Valley tech giants with hip corporate campuses hire away the auto industry's most talented engineers to develop autonomous vehicles and electric cars. It also accelerates a trend among major automakers to inject a fresh dose of innovation into their once-stodgy workplace environments, where PowerPoint presentations and top-down management once prevailed over collaborative working and free-flowing communication. Link

When complete in spring 2017, JLL's space will have been revamped from top to bottom to incorporate the latest strategies in workplace design, including many of the best practices it already uses in its work for clients and features inspired by direct input from its workforce. Following principles outlined in its recent Fully Engaged report, JLL has created a space that reflects its culture and values, and inspires employees to rally around business performance. The company is using workspace and technology to further connect employees, improving their ability to work productively to achieve superior results for their clients and attain higher levels of job satisfaction. Link

A growing body of research in cognitive science illuminates the physical and mental toll bland cityscapes exact on residents. Generally, these researchers argue that humans are healthier when they live among variety — a cacophony of bars, bodegas, and independent shops — or work in well-designed, unique spaces, rather than unattractive, generic ones. Link

From the crumbling bridges of California to the overflowing sewage drains of Houston and the rusting railroad tracks in the Northeast Corridor, decaying infrastructure is all around us, and the consequences are so familiar that we barely notice them—like urban traffic congestion, slow-moving trains, and flights that are often disrupted, thanks to an outdated air-traffic-control system. The costs are significant, once you reckon wasted time, lost productivity, poor public-health outcomes, and increased carbon emissions. Link

Innovation is a dominant ideology of our era, embraced in America by Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the Washington DC political elite. As the pursuit of innovation has inspired technologists and capitalists, it has also provoked critics who suspect that the peddlers of innovation radically overvalue innovation. What happens after innovation, they argue, is more important. Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations. Link 

The M-Shaped Strategy Weekly – 2016 Week 1

Closure experiences

I am always appreciative of the generosity of others who post their presentation decks online. While many of them may be there for promotional purposes, the best of them are also designed to socialize ideas. They are the material of conference presentations, class lectures, client pitches and other projections. While they take a bit of reading between the lines, there is frequently enough content there to learn something new or get pointed in a good direction for learning or development.

I thought this was a very good one. The experiences our clients have with our products or services always have a very positive beginning. They then move into a gap of contact and connection and end, ultimately and frequently, without us. This deck from Joseph Macleud, on the sociology and psychology of closure experiences, offers some great insights into the client/consumer experience and awakens us to the potential power of designing their closure.

21st Century Strategy

The strategy that is in our domain – design of real estate and workplace strategy – is very proximate tothe domain of Clay Parker Jones. Like us, Parker Jones’ company, August Public, is interested in organizational design. We liked his take on how to make strategy relevant. His message? “The way we do strategy today is ridiculous. Decks on decks on decks that people approve but never revisit. Let's try to incorporate strategy into everything we do.“

CES, NAIAS, Silicon Valley and Detroit

We made observations on our blog (Is Detroit Relevant Anymore) about the Consumer Electronics Show and its focus this year on the technology of the car. There was an interesting CES-oriented interview by the MIT Technology Review this week with Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, and his take on the track of development of autonomous vehicles. His observation that the self-driving car may need to take on certain human behaviors evoked the problem of the “uncanny valley.”

Oops, look what I found!

A very nice piece on serendipity (NYT) as something you do rather than something that just happens.