Archive for September, 2008

Thoughts on Value, Effectiveness, And Getting To The Workplace of The Future

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I spent the better part of the weekend digging into research reports and knowledge papers from the (ARC) group at Steelcase. I was doing this to deepen my understanding of how ARC works to connect workplace design to organizational culture and business model. The big idea here is that a workplace is a social interface, and this interface can work for or against the goals of an organization depending on how successfully it manifests organizational culture and business model. The physical environments in which we work affect, both positively and negatively, the behaviors of those individuals who make up the organization and the culture that results from this bringing together of people for the purpose of business. The markets that we all operate in are increasingly competitive, whether driven by change in technology, the war for talent, or any number of other forces exerting pressure, and to be effective it is required of organizations to think deeply about all of their assets, and how they apply those assets in support of their business model. Success demands that organizations align the often separate business strategies for people, business process, technology, work environment, and real estate.

Workplaces that reflect the desired innovative behaviors and attitudes for an organization are rare, so it is difficult to point to readily available examples. They are rare because to create this type of environment requires an entirely different approach to designing them. It requires a change in the paradigm of workplace design, and as we all know… change is hard. This is partly because legacy thinking pervades how we conceive of the work environments that we create, legacy thinking that begins and ends with cost models that are more about reducing costs using a well-worn methodology based on control, minimization, and reduction, and not on the strategic application of resources. The net result is that enormous opportunities for innovation, efficiency, and effectiveness are missed. This reduces the workplace to something of an “isolated asset” that is effectively constrained by the legacy thinking of real estate cost models and arcane concepts of point and control as a management methodology. Our people demand better, our clients demand better, and those companies that figure out how to empower their human and social capital with effective workplace design have a distinct competitive advantage.

This begins with understanding how an organization’s business model and culture is not only impacted by the physical workplace, but can be aligned with it… and how that alignment can scale over time to the great benefit of the organization. All of this allows us to work toward an understanding of how a workplace is intrinsically related to value creation, and how it is a strategic conduit in delivering this value to the marketplace. The days of point and control are ending as we find ourselves deep into a business environment that is fluid, reactive, and taxing of our best efforts. Workplace must support this reality, it must be able to respond to it, it must adapt. The results will be evident.

Part of the historical problem, and hence the challenge, is that workplace research and analysis has historically been the limited to investigating adjacency and proximity, executive interviews, employee expectation management, and the creation of workstation mock-ups. No doubt, this has helped organizations understand a process and evolve smoothly from one place to another. But it is not enough, at least not anymore. The workplace of the future will emanate from a thorough analysis and the understanding created from a substantial investigation into company and organizational culture, the networks that comprise that culture, the relationship of all of this to business model, and how the inter-relationships of all of these factors will scale together over time. Within this depth of analysis and understanding are revealed the critical business factors.

When we begin to embrace our work environments as a tool, of a manifestation of the valuable processes that not only make organizations unique, but comprise the competitive factors that create success in the marketplace, we realize that this is a first step in transitioning the social and human capital of an organization into innovation and learning. The arcane model of the workplace that seeks to warehouse us in the most efficient and cost-effective way is not only losing relevancy in today’s marketplace, it is becoming an operational liability. What is needed is a workplace that unleashes the potential of the organization, it’s amalgam of groups and networks, its connection to the marketplace, and each individual. This is an approach that turns the workplace into a launchpad for the organization, not a landing pad.

Hot, Red, and Fast: Ferrari V4 Concept

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Visually beautiful, modern, and purposeful. I would ride this, but prefer my motorcycles in low-visibility black. Summing up this concept motorcycle from :

“The concept motorbike is the work of Israeli designer Amir Glinik, who centered his design around the theoretical application of the Ferrari Enzo’s V12 engine, chopped down to four cylinders and modified to drive just one wheel in a motorcycle frame. Around the V4 engine, Glinik has designed a fluid shape that may appear more futuristic in its styling than inspired by current roadcar designs, but certainly catches your attention. Glinik has even planned out the theoretical controls, which blend elements from an F-16 fighter jet (more common in his home country than Ferraris, anyway) and the Scuderia’s high-tech Formula One steering wheel, supplemented by a weatherproof touch-screen LCD atop the fuel tank.”

There is a convergence of technologies and materials happening that, when added to the forces driving change with regards to how we get from one place to another, is going to yield some incredible advances in transportation design over the next decade. I am both optimistic and excited for what these advances will reveal, and I believe that this motorcycle concept embodies some of what I am optimistic for with regards to design.

A Winner Departs

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

I awoke to sad news this morning, that Paul Newman had died. There are several of his movies that I love, movies that truly represent the independent, driven energy that Newman brought to everything that he did. For me, though, it was his passion for racing that I found inspiring, ranking up there with James Dean and Steve McQueen who also shared this passion for going fast well. Paul Newman was a great actor, no doubt about it, but he was also an incredibly natural race car driver. He discovered this racing, and his talent for it, in the 1970’s. He went professional in 1977 racing and winning in a long, long list of events. One highlight would be his team’s second place finish at Le Mans in 1979 (that is Newman at Le Mans that year pictured above). On racing, Newman famously said:

”Racing is the best way I know to get away from all the rubbish of Hollywood.”

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

I think it would be hard not to respect Paul Newman. He embodied an integrity and love for life and family that provided a role model for a generation. He had a legendary sense of humor, an obvious devotion to his wife, and a lifelong desire to help others. He will be missed.

A commercial featuring Newman’s SCCA win in 1985 that I found and enjoyed:

What Would You Wish For?

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


from on .

There was something very endearing about this video and I felt compelled to share it. It’s very well done.

Biggest Canyon in The Solar System

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

More incredible imagery from Mars. This time it is a nice detail image of Ius Chasma, an area within Valles Marineris which is believed to be the largest canyon in the solar system. This recently released image by NASA was snapped by the , one of the many robotic explorers working for us on Mars right now, and shows in pretty stunning detail the stratigraphic layers believed to have been created by both wind and water. I am in awe of the detail of this image and with the frequency and quality of images available to us from Mars. Nice work NASA, the ESA, and all of your partners for all of the Mars missions. I’m a fan.

Virtual Architecture

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

An amazingly fluid presentation of 3D rendered models of recognizable and iconic American buildings layered onto Google Earth, some in incredible detail including interiors. Worth checking out, especially when actually being there is not good enough.

More at the .

Making a SuperTower

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

The , designed by and completed and opened in August of this year, 11 years after construction began. It stands 101 stories tall and is among the tallest buildings in the world, at one point being the tallest building in the world by roof height, and is sheathed in over 10,000 windows which were installed at a rate of roughly 15 per day. This building will be work, entertainment, and hotel to some 17,000 people and features the world’s highest observation deck, and with a transparent glass floor. Visually, the design is relatively straightforward, simple, and elegant despite its giganticness. What is most interesting, though, is the story behind the construction:

Telepresense vs. Business Travel

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Telepresence is something I have been following for some time, and I am curious to see discussions of this technology begin to surface with more frequency, like this piece at the . I have been especially interested in the developing intersection between telepresence, virtuality, and robotics and have written about this here and here. Additionally, it was exciting to see the CEO of Steelcase, Jim Hackett, experimenting with telepresence technology in his own office with a direct connection to IDEO’s David Kelley in Palo Alto, they call it “the wormhole”, which I touched on in my post 10 Things: Innovation at Steelcase.

The big deal here is that technology is beginning to catch up with science fiction, and this is being driven by the pressures of speed, efficiency and cost management. Business travel is becoming more and more costly for companies, and as the business we need to do becomes increasingly global this cost will only grow. Limited access to private jets and the potential for supersonic travel aside, one of the biggest contributors to the increasing cost of business travel is the time, and downtime, required to get from one place to another, and the implications this has on productivity and effectiveness. Telepresence is a golden opportunity to eliminate this cost, shrink distance, increase productivity, and virtually create the value of meeting in person. Things are definitely going in this direction, and this would be another significant influence on the workplace of the future. We have already seen great change in that many business practices that required meeting in person a decade ago are now completed without individuals ever having to actually meet at all. This is the reality now for a diversity of industries.

The system depicted in the image above is from , and is very similar to how Jim Hackett is utilizing this technology at Steelcase. There are systems also offered by (who estimates that their telepresence systems save HP employees up to 20,000 flights per year), most notably their Halo telepresence conferencing technology. To be sure, these are significant investments and not yet viable for smaller enterprise, but even that is changing with forays into telepresence by companies like and Apple’s offering and refining for some time now of video chat as part of on their computers. Also, telepresence is not a technology to replace the importance of meeting in person entirely, but this is hugely empowering for business, and telepresence technology used well and integrated into a company culture will have an incredibly positive influence on communication, collaboration, and innovation. It will also free tremendous resources for companies that have previously been dedicated to the inefficiency of business travel, resources they can invest into priority areas like R&D or talent acquisition, areas that are so important to success in the competitive marketplace.

Possible Futures: The Computer of 2043

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The clip above is part of Bruce Sterling’s keynote presentation earlier this week at the in Austin (wish I’d been there), here’s the . In it he gives a very personal perspective on what he believes and wants the computer, 35 years in the future, to be like. Given our need to more comfortably embrace the seemingly impossible, I feel there is more truth and reality to his vision than fantasy.

If you don’t follow the prognostications of the futurist, science fiction writer, and Bollywood enthusiast , you should, as he is about as tapped into possible futures as anybody and has had a hand in shaping them from a multitude of angles. His blog, , is always both interesting and entertaining.

Found this clip via .

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Sad news this last Friday that author had died. He was only 46. Wallace had immense talent, was an expert at darkish comedy, and had an incredible gift for storytelling (see the video below). My experience with his writing was through his many contributions to and his novel , which I read and re-read several times as the 1990’s drew to a close. I was introduced to his work by a friend who, while also an excellent writer, was a gratuitous admirer of Wallace and found great inspiration in his work. Wallace is considered by many to be one of the most influential writers of the last few decades, and a great American satirist who nailed the more inane aspects of modernity.

“This is so American, man: either make something your God and cosmos and then worship it, or else kill it.”

David Foster Wallace

Test Firing of The LHC

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

CERN test fired the , which I wrote about previously this year, earlier this week and, minus a couple minor electrical issues, the test firing was a success. The test this week was just an activation of the particle beam accelerator, testing the firing of the beam in both directions of the 17 mile accelerator, with the first beam collisions not planned for testing until October when researchers at CERN will intersect proton beams. When fully operational the LHC will allow researchers to recreate and closely observe the earliest moments of the universe and record the particle behaviors that occur during these incredibly brief moments.

Putting some numbers (via ) to all of this, when up and fully functional the LHC will accelerate protons in 14,000,000,000,000 electron volt collisions 600,000,000 times a second after traveling 26,659 meters (17 miles) at 11,245 times a second. To do this the LHC will utilize 10,000 tons of liquid nitrogen cooling 9,300 magnets to control these proton collisions occuring at 99.99% the speed of light, all taking place at -271.3°C (-456°F) and 10-13 atmospheres.

There is much misguided fear that the firing of the LHC will potentially end reality as we know it. There is absolutely no science behind these fears. Regardless, it is interesting to contemplate:

Motorcycle of The Future

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

This concept motorcycle from Jake Loniak is very interesting, it being a “wearable” motorcyle. First, there is the ergonomic differences, giving the rider a range of positions that can be determined by comfort, speed, or performance. Then, there is the inherent stability of a three-wheeled platform that lowers its center of gravity and lengthens its wheelbase as speed increases while offering the increased visibility and improved rider view of the lower speed upright driving position. Contextual performance, that would seem to be both very safe and very logical.

Found at

The Power and Presence of Ike

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Hurricane Ike made landfall at 2:10AM CST this morning at Galveston, Texas. Ike is an enormous storm, as seen in the image above taken from the International Space Station, so much so that it poses a disruption to orbital traffic above it. The damage from Ike is expected to be massive, and not because Ike is an incredibly strong hurricane but instead simply because Hurricane Ike is so expansive. has a great post on the damage models for Hurricane Ike.

10 Things: The Network is The Computer

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Last year, at the , author and visionary gave an incredibly compelling and thoughtful talk where he points out that the web as we know it, depicted as a graphical representation above, is only about 5,000 days old (the internet is actually much older than that), and that in this time we have seen unprecedented change. He proceeds to then explore what the next 5,000 days might bring, with much thought put to the notion of “the cloud”, networks, and ubiquitous computing… themes that I am increasingly exploring myself, and have written about on occasion. The talk is worth taking 20 minutes to watch, and below are my 10 Things from :

1.  Ten years ago we thought the web was going to be “TV, only better.” Obviously, that was just a touch limiting.

2.  The first lesson we have learned from the last 5,000 days is that we have to get better at believing in the impossible. Many things that are/were inconceivable to us previously are happening regularly.

3. Think about all of the handhelds, laptops, mobiles, and servers in the world and how they are networked. They are giving us one thing, what Kelly refers to as “The One Machine,” or “The One.” All of these devices are windows into this single, global, exponential machine.

4.  This machine, The One, is the most reliable machine ever made with zero down time running uninterrupted.

5.  On the web there are over 100 billion clicks per day on the computers of the world with over 55 trillion links between the pages on the web made per day.

6.  The internet uses about 5% of global electricity.

7.  The internet uses about 246 of storage (an exabyte being equivalent to 1 quintillion bytes).

8.  Total traffic on the internet is around 7 terabytes per second. The Library of Congress is 20 terabytes. Every second about half the Library of Congress is moving around the web.

9.  At this point, the internet is roughly comparable to the human brain in terms of connections, processing power, and capacity. The rate of increase will put the One Machine equivalent with about 6 billion human brains 30 years from now. By 2040 the web will exceed humanity in processing power in raw bits.

10.  Humans are becoming the extended senses of this machine. We are the web. We are the machine. The next 5,000 days are about intelligence, anticipation, personalization, and ubiquitousness… a new kind of stage in the development of the web. The web is becoming an organism, and a unity is beginning to emerge:

  • There is only One Machine (the network is the computer)
  • The web is its operating system
  • All screens look into The One
  • No bits will live outside the web (the internet of things)
  • To share is to gain (participation requires transparency)
  • Let The One read it
  • The One is us

Hurricanes, As Seen From Space

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Hurricane season is in full swing, so it is only appropriate to check out this incredible series of images at of hurricanes as captured from Earth orbit. These images go far in visually depicting the power and magnitude of hurricanes, something I have posted about previously. You see pretty clouds, I see the release of 600 trillion kilowatt hours of energy. The image above is of Hurricane Ivan and was taken on September 11, 2004 by ISS astronaut Edward Fincke taken from a window onboard the International Space Station. Here’s another favorite from the series of Hurricane Isabel taken from the ISS on September 15th, 2003:

10 Things: You Couldn’t Do This Last Year

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

I am attending the conference in San Francisco. I am here because I believe strongly that the tools and technologies that make up Office 2.0 are having a dramatic effect and influence on the way we work, interact, and collaborate, and that this will have a profound effect on how our physical workplaces will need to evolve and respond to this change. I have made no mystery of my feelings on this point, that the office as we know it is becoming increasing irrelevant. I want to be at the forefront of this change.

This morning at Office 2.0 , who heads up Google’s enterprise products team, gave an impressive presentation (and thinly veiled Google sales pitch) entitled “10 Things That I Can Do In The Cloud Today, That I Could Not Do a Year Ago.” This has been a big week for Google with the launch of and secure video sharing. Sitting next to at the presentation, he quipped… “And this from an online ad company.” Business model innovation right before our eyes. But that’s been Google’s model since inception. Matt’s 10 Things essentially outline this innovation and thinking, presented in reverse order:

10.  Everything on the go. Just over a year ago the iPhone opened up computing for the mobile world and drove a paradigmatic shift in how we utilize our mobile devices and access and interact with information. The cloud is a central player in this paradigmatic shift with everything potentially living in and accessed from anywhere.

9.  Search through all my email. Google’s 25 gigs of personal email storage allows you to save and search everything. We live in email and this makes it actually work for us allowing you to do email how you want, where you want, when you want.

8.  Chat with customers and partners in any language. In cloud computing you can tap services like real time translation. The ideal of the individual knowledge worker working in isolation is arcane. We are always collaborating and language barriers are falling away because of these tools. Matt demo’d the translational tool in Google Talk chatting with a team member in Spain. Very cool.

7.  Collaborate simply and securely on projects with sites and docs. Google Docs was launched at Office 2.0 two years ago, and in that time has been refined into a seamless and effective collaboration tool.

6.  Organize all of my business travel with email. Matt demo’d , a service that takes any travel related confirmation email message and builds a personal itinerary and feed for you to more easily access and manage your trips. It offers a seamless integration with your calendar and a great mobile interface, with email as the integrating medium. Fascinating.

5.  Easily collect data from co-workers and customers in Forms. Matt demo’d which allows you to create a custom form in Google Docs and embed it for use. He did this and we watched as it populated and autofilled live. Very cool.

4.  Build any scalable business application on the cloud platform. Basically, the ginormous and complex infrastructure needed to do this is done (Google App Engine, force.com, Amazon Web Services). You just need to pay for what you need and use as a service. The platform is the service? Salesforce.com already has 80k+ applications.

3.  Use online templates for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You can create custom templates for these tools and use them for your business, accessing them from anywhere and allowing easy collaboration or use of them from anywhere.

2.  Run fast, secure, and stable with web applications. Essentially, the recently launched browser, Chrome, from Google is the next generation of web applications (Mac support is happening ASAP…). Chrome is the term for the area around your browser, and the goal of this team was to get rid of the chrome (ironic naming). The browser is the new desktop, but with speed and stability that eliminates browser hang, crashing. Matt bench-marked  Chrome’s speed against IE. Chrome rocked by a significant factor. It is also open source, pushing the state of the art. Much excitement in the room around this.

1.  Securely share video in applications. This is a powerful medium, and with the security that business needs in order for it to be useful. It empowers the use of video in business and offers a paradigmatic change in the way we collaborate. This is made possible by the cloud and by the reality that we all now have video recording embedded in our mobile devices and computers.

Matt ended with an amazing statistic. Business adoption of Google’s tools is skyrocketing, with 3,000 new business sign ups EVERY DAY. This is one of those shifts in thinking that can wipe away entire careers and subject matter expertise, and it is a rare opportunity to actually witness a paradigmatic shift as it is happening. For some, cloud computing is all blue sky. For others, it is a looming and business model challenging storm.

Thirst: The Looming Water Crisis

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008
Did you know that only .007% of Earth’s water is available to drink?
This is an excellent presentation about the emerging water shortage, I encourage you to check it out.

View SlideShare or your own. (tags: )

10 Things: Innovation at Steelcase

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Before I get into Steelcase, allow me to announce this piece as the inaugural “10 Things” post on schneiderism. My plan is to use 10 Things as a way to recap some of the more interesting experiences and information I come across. I have added 10 Things as a category in the category menu and am planning on writing several posts of this nature in the coming week or so to get the category going.

Last week I had the opportunity to spend an intense day meeting and interacting with some of the more fascinating aspects of at their HQ in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Most will hear the name of this company and think first, and perhaps only, of office furniture and cubicles. They do design and manufacture a lot of both, but that is not why I made this visit. Steelcase has developed tremendous assets with regards to workplace and human factors research, as well as what would appear to be an organization-wide relentless focus on innovation and understanding the complexities and preferences of human interaction. The building in the image above is their WorkSpace Futures Research headquarters, and is essentially the nexus of design and innovation for this nearly $4 billion global enterprise. Yes, that building is a pyramid and yes, it does appear to have fallen out of the sky.

The following are 10 Things from my visit:

1.  User experience, user-centered design, user-focused process was everywhere. It has become the company. Everybody speaks in these terms and they are passionate about understanding people, their needs, and designing solutions and systems from this perspective back to technology and materials. This was an incredibly consistent theme.

2.  Design thinking is the practice and methodology. A few years ago Steelcase very smartly acquired a controlling interest in , which remains a stand-alone business. Most people hear this and are very, very surprised. That is because IDEO is much more than a portfolio piece for Steelcase, the value being the relationship between the two companies, a relationship between a David and a Goliath. It has become an invaluable strategic partnership.

3.  IDEO/Steelcase has done an expert job positively influencing, infecting really, how Steelcase approaches its business, and that is a truly amazing outcome.

4.  is an intense area of focus, and they actively experiment with technology on themselves in an effort to shrink distance and remove the obstacles presented by working remotely. Steelcase CEO is all over this, so much so that he and IDEO’s have a direct telepresence connection between their offices. Jim is in Grand Rapids and David is in Palo Alto. This link is referred to as “the wormhole” and is a connection that is much more than symbolic. They benefit greatly from the opportunity to virtually sit across the table from each other to ideate and challenge ideas. I was fortunate to visit Jim Hackett’s office and actually see how this works. Very cool.

5. Innovation at Steelcase begins at the top. Literally. In many ways it appeared to me that as well as CEO, Jim Hackett also functions as a Chief Innovation Officer. Many initiatives and innovations began with Jim asking some questions or believing that something could be better. In fact, he changed the management paradigm at Steelcase physically and functionally by moving executives out of their arcane and isolated top floor 1950’s executive suite and into a functioning, experimental workspace laboratory that allows even Steelcase executive leadership to be their own lab subjects.

6. “Furniture is a given, and is not what we really need to be talking about.” Furniture is a commodity, Steelcase is not in the commodity business. I heard this a couple of times during my visit, and I believe it was attributed to CEO Hackett. This is somewhat revolutionary in terms of how this organization is thinking about itself. The opportunity is in innovating at a level that their products as physical elements almost fall away with the focus instead being on the thinking behind the products.

7. It’s not about technology, it’s about human factors and the seamless integration of technology into the communication and collaboration needs of teams and the individual. There is much effort being put to understanding the tensions between presentation and collaboration, or presentation vs. collaboration. More collaboration, less presentation.

8. The goal is the strategic application of space. Steelcase is moving way beyond a product mindset and into areas of research that positions them to help organizations map their physical and virtual workplaces to their unique business model. This was a favorite quote, “Stop talking about space, though, and instead look at the table of contents of the latest Harvard Business Review. That is what Steelcase is concerned with, with understanding, and with integrating into our needs response.” Architects and interior designers should take note of this, immediately.

9. “The change in the mindset is that our work is not about saving our client’s money, it is about helping them make money.” It is also about business model alignment and business model innovation. It is about identifying the critical success factors for an organization, at a complexity of levels, and integrating this into the needs response.

10. More than a few people that I met spoke to me about (ubicomp), and about “the cloud.” Steelcase knows that these ideas will change the way we work and interact. They choose to be the vanguard by investing serious resources in researching and investigating exactly how this might happen. The Workplace Futures team is constantly projecting out years into the future and hypothesizing about what our interactions might be like, about what new technologies may be of use. Let me remind you that this is happening at a $4 billion global office furniture company. Tom Brown, CEO of IDEO, and Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett conceived of an idea 18 months ago that would provide comprehensive media and communications seamlessly integrated with telepresence, information capture, and idea sharing. They rapid prototyped and iteratively and incrementally improved the concept. Media:Scape launches in the spring of 2009.

There was so much more that I experienced and that is worthy of writing entire posts on. I’ll get to all of it, especially my time in the Learn Lab and with Details president Bud Klipa, but for now these are my 10 Things from my time with Steelcase. I came away very impressed and inspired.