Archive for the ‘workplace of the future’ Category

The Bright & Shiny Future by Microsoft

Sunday, March 1st, 2009


, put together by Microsoft, is a window into what the world of gestural interfaces, touchscreen, data portability, and the future of newspapers just might be like in the year 2019. It is very nicely done, and full of optimism, though I struggle with the point of exercises such as this as the ways in which technology develops is nearly impossible to anticipate over a ten year time horizon. To be fair, they acknowledge this reality and assert that this is more an ongoing exercise for Microsoft to continually research and envision their own place in the future. Honestly, for insights into what the future may be like I believe there is more value in looking to science fiction (Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, etc…) as opposed to promotional vids from enormous global enterprise. Regardless, this is still an interesting perspective for Microsoft to share with the rest of us.

via .

Workspring & The Workplace of The Future

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Workspring meeting, innovation, and collaboration space

I was in Chicago last week and took advantage of this to investigate , a recent offering from Steelcase that gets to the heart of the collaborative meeting and events space. I had heard about Workspring during my visit to Steelcase headquarters last September, and was looking forward to checking it out after it launched in November. As a company relentlessly focused on innovation, and imbued with a passion for creating valuable user experience, Steelcase has become a highly valued strategic partner for my team and I, and I had high expectations for my visit.

The team at Workspring (Frank, Courtney, and Faith) were waiting for us when we arrived, and welcomed us with typical Steelcase hospitality, which is to say… excellent. Courtney gave us a tour, providing much detail on the different meeting and collaboration environments that they had created. Workspring is a perfect showcase for an entire spectrum of innovations that Steelcase has developed for the workplace, and that provide insights into the valuable “workplace of the future” for which we share a mutual and passionate interest. The meeting studios integrate technology in ways that support idea and information sharing and capture, and utilize systems that make this technology seamless, intuitive, and non-intrusive. This was technology that was presented to me last September, but at Workspring I was able to really get hands-on with it and benefit from actual use. As an example, in the image below of Studio 3, you can see the meeting surface oriented towards two large flat panel displays, which are themselves very easily connected to each meeting participant’s laptop via a Steelcase technology (developed in partnership with IDEO) called the “Puck”. This Puck enables very quick and efficient switching between desktops empowering each participant to share information. The orientation of the meeting surface also democratizes the seating by replacing a person at the end of the table with the content on which the meeting is focused:

Workspring Studio 3 collaboration space

As impressive and well designed as it is, and it really is a beautifully designed space, I wasn’t there to see the furniture and the technology, or even to appreciate the excellent design. I was there to understand how Steelcase had gotten to Workspring as a physical reflection of their research into the workplace and into meeting dynamics and interactions. There were several reasons why I wanted to see and experience this for myself, from its relationship to co-working environments to opportunities with new hospitality models, and much of this was covered during our discussion, but there were three main reasons I wanted to make this visit:

  1. Workspring is a manifestation of workplace research and innovations from a human factors, technology, and systems standpoint, and the integration of these three is the future.
  2. As such, it offers the opportunity to experience the cutting edge in meeting and collaboration design, and how this supports the goals of the individual, the team, and the organization.
  3. To be positioned for the future, organizations must improve on the limitations presented by the traditional office environment, and Workspring provides a living lab of what this could be like, and how they can benefit from a similarly executed workplace strategy.

As great as it was to tour this space, it was much more valuable for me to sit with Courtney and Frank for an hour and discuss how Workspring had become what I experienced that afternoon. Frank provided a very detailed timeline and history, dating back to the mid-90’s, to demonstrate how Steelcase had been thinking about a number of innovations in the workplace that intersected to yield Workspring as it exists today. Steelcase was actively working with clients over a decade ago in how the design of the workplace, and the systems that support this design, could elevate the workplace to the level of a strategic asset in how it supports the individual, and as a result productivity, innovation, and collaboration. There were a number of events that seemed to connect iteratively and point Steelcase to creating Workspring, which is very clearly a beta for many other analogous opportunities. We also discussed the relationship between Workspring and an approach to workplace strategy that might enable companies to potentially reduce their real estate footprint, and subsequently the associated costs of maintaining traditional office environments, something that is definitely pervasive now as organizations critically assess all aspects of their operations and overhead. In addition to saving money, this is also driven by the belief that the ways in which we work and interact on behalf of business can be more effective, efficient, and healthy for the employees, and ultimately very successful for the organization, thus also enabling it to MAKE more money. This stands to provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and when executed well this is a transformative experience for organizations.

I was impressed with how very consistent this visit was with my interactions throughout the Steelcase organzation. There seems to be a unified focus at Steelcase on user centered design and the development of holistic systems informed by thorough observation and research. This informs the ways in which Steelcase engages its customers and partners to result in greater value creation, and relevance in an industry that works hard to rise above a commodity mindset. This motivates me, and is directly aligned with my own thoughts about workplace design and strategy. For Steelcase, there is tremendous value in how they can work with architects, designers, end users, and human and business factors researchers to create an ecosystem of knowledge around their offerings in order to challenge and change legacy thinking as it relates to workplace design, to contribute to the creation of environments that support us in our needs, tasks, and desire to have better quality experiences, and to help companies benefit from their workplace in ways that are probably unexpected, and probably quite invaluable. In this way, Workspring makes concrete a dense array of thinking and research, and provides all of us with a window into what a truly effective work and meeting environment can be like, and the chance to experience the value this provides in a way that eliminates abstraction, and gets us closer to understanding how we might actually be able to love how we work.

Culture, Authenticity, and Zappos.com

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Via the excellent project , comes this great interview with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. Tony and his company are something of a legend, and for all the right reasons. This has been accentuated by how visible, transparent, genuine, and communicative they are with a growing audience of advocates, adherants, and devoted customers. Call it “marketing 2.0″, or whatever you want, but Zappos.com totally gets it. Additionally, Tony and his team have demonstrated an incredible ability to take the challenges faced by all organizations and address them in ways that may look easy to the rest of us, but they most definitely are not. In particular is Hsieh’s focus on the creation of a dynamic and incredibly successful company culture, and how this has helped focus his organization on truly excellent customer service. A few great quote from Hsieh in the video above:

“If we get the culture right, then the other stuff like building a brand or great customer service will happen naturally on its own.”

“Culture is our number one priority.”

“We hire for attitude and culture fit. We believe the skills are something we can teach.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos

For anybody tasked with building and leading a team or running an organization this is incredibly valuable perspective. In many, many cases the art of hiring for attitude and fit can far surpass the value of focusing recruitment around expertise, and result in a company culture that is strong and unified in the face of challenges presented to the company.

10 Years of The Cluetrain

Thursday, October 30th, 2008
If you have not had the opportunity to read , I suggest you take the time to do so. You can read the entire book online for free. Cluetrain is coming up on ten years old, which is amazing in its own way, but what is important here is how absolutely relevant the manifesto and its strong messages around markets being conversations still are. Messages like:
“People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.”
The Cluetrain Manifesto, Thesis 11
Seriously, read it. I’ve even embedded the book as slides here for your convenience:
View SlideShare or your own. (tags: )

Getting Millennials Right. And Wrong.

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

The video above was shared with me by a colleague with whom I discussed this post, which I have been mulling over for about a month. The video is from a project by professor and 200 of his students at Kansas State University. A few weeks ago I attended a board meeting at which the president of a local university gave a presentation on “getting” generation Y, or . The board of directors is mostly comprised of individuals between the ages of 45-70 (and 90% male), I am by far the youngest person on the board being just outside that age range by a few years (and a gen X’er myself). As the presentation was announced there was a lot of murmuring, nodding of heads, and apparent agreement that this group definitely does not understand this new generation of young people, the generation that is beginning to and will fill the ranks of each of their companies. There is a lot of pressure on millennials. There are over 80 million baby boomers on the verge of retirement with only just over 40 million gen X’ers behind them. This reality is going to mean that the millennials, estimated at around 75 million, will need to step up and fill the very important talent and leadership void left by all the retiring boomers. What was presented by the university president made me very uncomfortable. This is because her presentation seemed to be incredibly general, and largely critical of this generation. She focused on broad, strange statements like:

  • Millennials do not read newspapers
  • They do not read books
  • They do not use libraries
  • They would rather communicate via instant message than in person
  • They cannot relate to older generations (????)
  • They do not understand the Cold War (????)
  • They grew up on video games
  • They like to be entertained (????)

I added the question marks above to emphasize my own bewilderment with those statements. All of these are actual points offered in the presentation. I was shocked as none of these statements is meaningful in creating an understanding of the millennial generation, or of anything. They seem to be observations made in the context of contrasting the observation against a different experience, as if that experience is qualitatively better, when in reality it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. With regards to the reading of books, magazines, and newspapers I believe it is true that everybody is reading the printed manifestations of these less and less, hence the ongoing demise of printing and publishing as industries. Excuse me as I speak from my own experience, that of a gen X’er, when I say that I cannot remember the last time I actually held a paper newspaper, and yet I subscribe to the RSS feeds and hit the websites of probably no less than 4-5 newspapers daily. Add to this the websites and blogs of magazines and that number jumps to 10-15 per day. I would consider myself a moderate user. The university president attempts to make the case that millennials do not read. I would counter that they read, and that they probably read more than previous generations. They’re not reading the formats that previous generations grew up with, they’re taking advantage of this new information technology called the “internet”. Yes, the internet offers exponential ways to entertain, but it is also an incredibly efficient connection to information and the world around us. Does that even need to be said anymore? The university president does not talk about how millennials are using technology like RSS feeds (I subscribe to over 200 sites presently via RSS), or how they strengthen their connections and networks with instant messaging, or how they have essentially grown up with incredible technologies as commonplace. I doubt that she actually knows what an RSS feed is, which is frightening because at some level this university president is informing the curriculum for her school, and determining how students are going to be activated through education at her institution. As I was listening to this presentation I could not help but think that the standard being communicated and on which this analysis of a generation was being made, was completely and totally baseless and irrelevant to reality, to modernity, and to the way things have changed. This is dangerous, and to paint a generation with critique based on experiences that pre-date the information age is useless to all of us, but especially to an entire generation that is connected to information in ways that were inconceivable a decade ago.

It might help for people like this university president to watch this video, also by Michael Wesch:

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.

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.

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.

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.

“Walk In Stupid Every Day.”

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Dan Wieden, founder of , said that line about being stupid when asked about his job by Polly Labarre of . I believe that the full quote was “My job is to walk in stupid every day.” His point is that there is no way he could know everything, that he is aware of the obstacle of expertise, and that he will not always have the best ideas. So, coming into work “stupid” keeps his mind open to ideas from anywhere, and open to valuing them when they happened. Clearly, that strategy has worked well for Dan.

I read that Dan Wieden quote at Mavericks at Work a few days ago and have been thinking about it over the weekend. I believe it is a very powerful attitude about how we could approach our work and maintain important perspective. I think there is tremendous value in, every day, going to work ready to learn, anxious for surprises, and anticipating the new. In coming to work looking for change, for improvement, and to challenge convention. We need to go to work knowing that ideas can come from anywhere, and should, and that those ideas should be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported… arriving every day with the intent of building this, of making it happen, of not standing in the way. Every day we need to know that somebody, somewhere is better than us… and that is totally cool because we want to learn from them. We need to come in every day hopeful, hungry, and focused on being in a different place than we were yesterday, on being in a different place this afternoon than this morning. We need to spend more time listening than talking, more time trying to understand and see from alternative points of view and work to avoid reaction and to lessen our reliance on instinct and instead give ourselves the time to own our decisions, and be thoughtful about it. We should spend as much energy on building our team as we do building our careers, and realize that our team is better when it is made up of people who just might be, and probably need to be, smarter than us. Instead of adopting the persona of an expert, we should try that of a student. Being a student was fun, everything was about newness and possibilities. Being an expert is limiting.

We all see the well-worn grain of company “culture” begin to show in ourselves and the others we work with. We see the behaviors that are counter to doing things better, to doing them the right way, and we allow this to happen. We see people who have stopped learning, people who no longer have wonder and curiosity and no longer have passion and drive. This is a form of giving up, or retiring from what is important. This is not an option. Dan Wieden nailed it.

In a similar vein, I found an excellent, direct and honest speech by Dan Wieden on the W+K London blog , which I have followed for a long time. Both the speech and the blog are totally worth reading.

The Workplace of Now is Not About Furniture

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

The Office of The Future

For some, that is an incredibly inflammatory statement. As inflammatory as saying that the workplace of the future is not about real estate, which it’s not. That is because the workplace that many of us already operate in is boundless, and is defined by where we are at any given moment. The workplace of now is our home, hotel room, car, airport lounge, coffee shop… wherever we are. The workplace of now is not a desk, chair and filing cabinet. It is our laptop, mobile phone, and other tools that support us in our tasks wherever we are. This is not a new development, but one that has been in motion, and gaining momentum, for over a decade. There are individuals in the workforce now who have never worked another way. This change has been driven by innovations in the ways in which we communicate, in connectivity, and in how we do business. The “virtuality” of business is not something that can be overstated, really, as so many tasks that required meeting in person twenty years ago are now completed without the involved parties ever needing to occupy the same geographical location, or ever actually talk to each other. That certainly devalues the importance of an office with regards to the effectiveness of business process. Or does it?

There is pressure on the office to change in ways that support this boundless workplace. The reality is that the office is not going away, and it shouldn’t as there are many circumstances where we need to work together in the same place, but how we use the physical space of an office environment is changing and evolving rapidly. As such, the ways that our organizations think about the office needs to change and begin leveraging notions of flexibility, adaptability, and customization to task. The physical office is an important node in our network for bringing us together for interactions that cannot be bested virtually, but this is very different than the typical archetype on which most offices have been built, which is the idea of warehousing workers to make operational control more efficient. Our work is increasingly defying the effectiveness of this archetype, and as a result we are experiencing productivity levels in the United States that are staggering. Organizations are learning that we can share a “mission and vision” without actually having to be in the same place at the same time. Some companies are way ahead in their thinking with regards to the boundless workplace, others are stubborn in the face of this change. The reality, though, is that there are many, many factors driving everyone to begin working in this manner and at some point the entire traditional 1950’s corporate office metaphor is going to collapse and be called out as an obstacle to effectiveness, productivity, and employee health and wellness.

That’s the point of the headline for this post. The office today is in so many ways defined by the furniture that fills it. This doesn’t really work anymore, and the office we increasingly require is one that supports business process, and that meets the requirements of being an effective node, one of many, for the ways in which we do business. There will be furniture in this office, it just won’t be defined by it.

The Productivity Industrial Complex

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Time, money, and productivity…

A friend shared with me. We’ve discussed the workplace of the future and productivity issues previously, especially as these relate to the tension between controlling your time, how you use it, and the pressures exerted by a production focused mindset in so many businesses. The Alternative Productivity Manifesto is an excellent response to the present realities of the 40 hour work week, a productivity system visited upon us in the 1940’s and not revisited since. This despite the doubling in worker productivity over the last sixty years. We’re twice as productive, yet real wages are going down as compared to a historical average. We’re twice as productive, but there is ubiquitous pressure to put in more time, not less, and to sacrifice more to productivity. When did productivity become equated with quantity of time? Why does the worker not also benefit from their own efficiency and productivity? This disconnection is partly driven by our own ignorance of and inability to exert influence over the value systems within corporations, and partly by the enormous industry that has grown to help organizations squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their workforce. Productivity is big business, and big businesses invest big money with consultants that help them optimize and maximize the people that make up these companies. Not only that, but there is an enormous productivity industry focused on individuals promising enlightenment through productivity. This, of course, is achieved through the reading of endlessly published productivity books, blogs and through the purchase of innovative new productivity products. We struggle with ourselves.

In response has put forth The Alternative Productivity Manifesto to provide some perspective, and perhaps challenge the status quo. Here are just a few tenets from the manifesto that resonated with me:

  • If your productivity increases, but your pay stays the same, then you’re effectively taking a pay cut (same goes if you begin working longer hours for the same pay).
  • Productivity should be designed around our lives, not the other way around.
  • The via productivity are failing us.
  • Hyperfocusing on productivity often gets in the way of the messy, circuitous, and discursive routes of personal development.
  • Massive value creation often happens during times when no work is ostensibly being accomplished and productivity levels are ostensibly nil.

Growing Innovation Culture: Honda

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

The light shines brightly on Honda

I don’t care what business or what industry you are talking about, innovation matters big time. I get this, and my investigations into how you cultivate a culture of innovation is an ongoing theme on schneiderism. I find it really interesting that companies like Toyota (as well as BMW, Porsche, Audi, Tata, Nissan, VW, Mazda…) continue to receive coverage with regards to the success of the innovative internal cultures they have supported, and the measurable benefits of those cultures in terms of market success, while essentially the entire American automotive industry struggles to find itself, let alone perpetuate a culture of innovation, let alone even THINK about market success. Many, including myself, have looked closely at how Toyota’s long history of creating and supporting innovation wherever it sets up shop. In many ways, innovation defines Toyota. Recently, Fortune took and revealed another deeply innovative company culture. It also revealed the demonstrable benefits of that culture.

For Honda, innovation is equivalent to excellence, and excellence clearly pays. The article states that since 2002 Honda’s revenues have grown close to 40%, approaching $94.8 billion. Most interesting to me is that Honda’s U.S. market share has risen from 6.7% in 2000 to 9.6% in 2007. That is partly because of American manufacturers LOSING market share, but is also because Honda continues to provide smart, affordable and innovative products that people WANT. Badly. Honda, along with Toyota and BMW, are the only automobile companies to make it into Fortune’s list of the top 20 of the . Apple is number one, by the way.

So, how does Honda make this happen? They let people experiment and explore. The culture encourages this. Leadership wants it. More specifically, they encourage their engineers, especially those who drive R&D, to be entrepreneurial in their pursuits. The kicker is that at Honda not only are employees typically paid less than at the competition, but their opportunities to move up in the organization are pretty limited. That’s because Honda is very, very flat as an organization… and it is this flatness that empowers people to experiment and to be entrepreneurial. To innovate. Employees tend to be incredibly loyal to Honda, as an added bonus, and this also is directly related to the flatness of the organization. That, and they magnify their passion by being around others who are so invested in experimenting, improving, and creating. Others that are passionate about innovating. There is even a on Honda’s corporate website dedicated to their focus on innovation, and the important results of that focus. Masaaki Kato, president and CEO of Honda R&D, offers his perspective on Honda’s innovation success:

“We want to look down the road. We do not want to be influenced by the business.”

Masaaki Kato, president and CEO of Honda Research and Development

The War For Talent

Monday, March 10th, 2008

The Duke of Wellington rallies the troops at Waterloo

Despite whatever you believe to be our immediate economic reality, it is a good time to be young, smart, and focused. Companies struggle to navigate what is really a seller’s market for “human capital,” and attract the next wave of talent into their fold. The problem? There are several other companies fighting to recruit the same individual. A very successful public company in the consumer lawn care space that I know well admits actively raiding the talent pools of the medical technology companies in the area. Med tech to lawn care? Why not! The thing is, these talent pools are also targeted by financial services firms, retail giants, and others. They’re all competing openly for the same talent. This is a really good case study in supply and demand. You don’t have to look far to realize this is playing out everywhere. Often times, takeover bids between companies are as much about expanding talent as they are about increasing market share. Talent is perhaps the most important weapon in the battle for market success.

And this is nothing new. Look back ten years and business magazines were full of articles about the looming, and now pressing, “War for Talent.” that surveyed 6,000 executives in 77 companies which consistently identified that the single most important corporate resource over the next 20 years as talent, define in the study as “smart, sophisticated businesspeople who are technologically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile.” Sounds familiar. Not much has changed in ten years. What’s more, the study goes on to tell us that even as the demand for talent goes up, the supply of it will be going down. Supply and demand in action.

What’s a company to do? Get aggressive, really aggressive. Focus resources on talent acquisition that are commensurate with those focused on market expansion. The reality is that the former will ultimately beget the latter. As a best practice, companies need to be obsessed with ensuring that they are staffed by the best possible people, from the top on down. This is entirely a quality proposition, and it means always having your finger on the pulse of available talent, regardless of the real need for people. It means having an organized HR team that has an effective talent profile, and relentlessly tests for this profile. It means ensuring that your organization is a recruiting machine, that your people, your environment, and your package are not only competitive… they’re compelling. And relevant. And tailored to the people you seek to attract. Stop and think about your company for a moment, and think about your company in two years if a focused plan to attract talent was deployed. I suspect we are talking about two very different companies.

The McKinsey study also revealed ten years ago that only 60% of the corporate officers interviewed said that they were able to pursue most of their growth opportunities. These corporate leaders said that they had good ideas, and that they had the budgets to pursue these ideas, but they lacked the right people to execute. They reported that they did not have enough talented people to pursue their good ideas, regardless of budgetary abundance. They were “talent-constrained.” Ten years ago the implications of this were huge, and was a part of the feeding frenzy that became the .com debacle. Today these implications are staggering and I have yet to find a similar analysis regarding the relationship between growth and talent, but I would surmise that we are facing similar if not more critical deficiencies in growth as it relates to the talent needed to create that growth, and the lack thereof.

The Demise of The Tastemaker, The Rise of The Collaborator

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Rugby Scrum

The perspective of this interesting article I found at is that design value is increasingly driven by very effective and highly collaborative teams. Behind this is the ever-increasing realization that design has the potential to transform and grow business in ways not previously considered. Business leaders are getting this, and as the value of effective design teams become more widely recognized and understood, they are paying more focused attention to how they might effectively support these teams in new and different ways. This is in part due to the complexity of the situations engaged by design teams, that they defy an object approach and rely intensely on an effective collaborative process to achieve the desired end. It is also partly due to changing expectations for the value of design, that it has definitively moved beyond the domain of creating beautiful things and resoundingly into the realm of creating beautiful things that work really well and provide an experience that exceeds audience expectations and solves important problems, while increasing shareholder value. A choice quote from the article:

“The tastemaker idea is out of date. Perhaps there’s a place for taste-making within the consumer market, but the approach is out of date when it comes to more complex stuff, where it’s not just about creating beautiful things…Take sustainability. You can’t have an iconic object approach to the problems of sustainability. It’s a systematic thing.”

– Director of Innovation, Royal College of Art

None of this is to say that process, which I have posted about before, should suddenly take precedence over individual inspiration. It is that the complexity of problems demands a more holistic approach to addressing potential solutions. This is about the power of an effective team, the power of successful facilitation, to take solutions far beyond what perhaps a lone genius may be able to provide. At the level of designing complex interactions and environments that must address a matrix of need, this is increasingly evident.

The Changing Workplace of Office 2.0

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

The modern office circa 1960

Set aside your disdain for sticky web monikers for a moment. I have been following the “The Workplace of The Future” for a while now, and have been writing about it since last July. The Innovation Tours that I organize for my team are focused on surveying where boundaries are being pushed and how businesses are responding to changes in the ways people want to work and the resulting impact on meaningful workplace design. No doubt, the demands on the physical workplace environment are changing right before our eyes, being driven by rapid changes in technology, notions of work, telepresence, and shifts in workforce demographics. Intersecting these drivers is the concept of Office 2.0, which encompasses the increasing number of web-based collaborative work applications, such as the smart suite of web applications from . They are a fast, efficient way for users and teams to organize, manage, disseminate and develop information using a simple, intuitive interface. The value of these applications are that they let you work remotely with people in ways that make us less dependent on desktop workstations and organized offices. At their heart, they functionally support collaborative idea and project development and the efficient sharing of documents and files, but the potential for how they will potentially change the ways in which we work go far beyond the functional benefits and they will ultimately influence what work actually constitutes.

Google is in this space with the web-based offerings , and Microsoft is throwing its weight behind a rekindled web-based initiative. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller start-up applications also struggling for attention. Start using these tools now. Familiarize yourself. Encourage your teams to do the same. In the imminent future more and more of our work will take place on the web, leveraging web-based applications, and less and less of it will happen within the confines of an office. Smart companies are already there, and are redefining their models based on their own understanding of how Office 2.0 benefits them. In the short term, the biggest benefit for companies is the liberation from legacy notions of space and real estate, in the long term a benefit will be a workforce distributed globally, not locally. Physical offices will become less about the housing of workers during working hours and more about space that supports in-person meetings and collaboration. Think about how you were working ten years ago, think about how you accomplished your tasks and contrast that to how you work now. Now recall ten years before that, and if you’re old enough, ten years before that. I think it is safe to say that we would be hard pressed to not acknowledge the dramatic change that continues to occur, only with increased speed.

There is an annual conference, aptly named the , focused on exploring developments around Office 2.0 which I am planning on attending this year.

Robert Scoble recently talked about web-based work apps in an .

Value vs. Commodity

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Boom!

We’re going through some very important exercises at work. The goal is a real and unflinching assessment of the state of our industry, architecture and design, and the role we play in that industry. The goal is to seriously challenge notions of status quo, and to question accepted practices. Hard questions are being asked. Tough answers are being put up on the white board. None of us disagree. But, what are we to do with this information, with these confirmations?

We are to change.

Actually, we have already been changing. We know that architecture has become a largely commoditized business, that the value provided by many architecture design firms has been slowly and consistently eroded in the United States over the last 20 to 30 years. Architects have allowed this to happen, and it has happened as issues of liability and responsibility have come to dominate project realities. But instead of embracing this and accepting the challenges, architecture has retreated behind drawings and plans and allowed others to step in and manage the process of building, of making. A long list of other trades were only too happy to step in and take on the historically traditional role of the architect, that of a master builder. Allowing this has effectively removed architecture from the value stream of building. Many, many firms now exist to produce drawings. They are production houses.

What we are finding is priority is the importance of reinserting ourselves into the making and effectively taking back the control of the value stream. We know that we must do what it takes to become the most relevant and influential force in building culture, this much is clear. What is unclear is exactly how we will get there, and I suspect we will continue to challenge and explode traditional notions of design and building. Embodied in this is the reinvention of our firm around core goals of design excellence, as we define it, and the reconnection of our design to implementation, to execution. Architecture is a strategic move, and that move will not be successful if architecture does not protect the value and integrity of the idea, the idea power, from inception through implementation.

While I have framed this discussion around my immediate industry, the reality is that it is powerfully meaningful for a diversity of creative professions who face very similar challenges.

Of Work, Not Place

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Cover of TC Tenant

Bear with the shameless self-promotion for a moment while I make a point.

Yes, that is me on the cover of a local commercial real estate publication. It came out last month and something about the interview with me inspired them to put me on the cover. Good times. The point of the interview was a conversation about how the modern workplace has changed, and will continue to change, and how my firm is beginning to experiment on itself to navigate this change and determine those workplace innovations that work, and those that do not. This is as much about organizational dynamics and ergonomics as it is about technology and communications, and it is part of a much larger exercise we are undertaking to develop a comprehensive program and master plan for our office and studio environments. By 2010 my firm will be in a new environment, and ideally one that we own, and this programmatical exercise will inform the type of space we ultimately need to occupy. It is also the inception of a longer term plan to treat our entire office environment as a laboratory, to experiment on ourselves, and be able to model different workplace innovations for our clients by using our own environments as proof of concept. Currently, we have an experimental area of our office, featured in the magazine, that is a studio dedicated to one comprehensive project, and we have used this studio to co-locate the central project team of 8-10 individuals. The space is flexible, surrounded by collaborative tools, and emphasizes the immediacy of communication. It is not private, it is not perfect, but it is a valuable experiment and the quality of work from this team has greatly benefited as a result.

The point that I want to make is that without having experienced and experimented with workplace innovations and organizational concepts it is impossible to appropriately represent them to our clients. For lack of a better expression, this would be “walking the talk.” A significant focus on this blog has been the concept of “the workplace of the future”, but what does that really mean? It means an environment that is about the work to be done and not about place. It means that substantial thought goes into the way an organization works, into its culture and business strategy, and how a work environment can manifest in support of these key aspects. It means that the conservative notion of office organization and layout is not only increasingly irrelevant, but actually counterproductive to the longer term success of a company. At its core, this is the physical embodiment within the environments that we create of superior occupant quality, of environments that are supportive of work and task while also enhancing health, well-being, and ultimately productivity. We know that an environment that we create today may be challenged anywhere from one to five years from now, that is how fast organizations and the markets within which they operate can change. The challenge to us is how we build in flexibility and anticipate this change so that we create value on behalf of our clients that allows their work environments to grow and change in advance of the demands of their markets and their people, without sacrificing the occupant quality of the environment. This is workplace innovation, and at its core involves a thorough understanding of organizational dynamics, occupant quality, product design, communications, materials technology, cultural analysis, and of an organization’s long term business strategy. These are the catalysts to the creation of successful work environments, and it mandates a rethinking of legacy notions of office and a focus on innovations that begin with an individual person’s needs and experiences as they relate to the physical environment.

White Space

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Google’s offices

“White space” is a term describing areas within flexible work environments that represent the diversity of work styles and the supporting environments sought by people who demand alternative ways to work. White space is the focus of an in the New York Times, and follows an employee at an advertising firm as he spends his time being productive everywhere but at his desk. I think that is a terrific name for a flexible work environments, one that is more about our work and less about place. At its core, white space challenges the traditional notions and expectations of how we work, and the environments that we work in, and represents the growing movement in office design to provide employees with flexible space that can adapt to their tasks and their work styles.

Realize that this is not a generational thing. Most people, regardless of age, would prefer flexibility in their work environment and the freedom to tailor that environment to what is optimal for them. That might mean working at a stand-up desk, or while sitting in a common area. Also, the tasks that we need to perform, the work that we need to do, over the course of a day can change dramatically and are better supported by environments that can flex with these changing needs. What do I mean? Think about the productivity savings if meetings did not have to be in conference rooms and always scheduled for an hour. What if, in lieu of a fixed desk, an office was actually made up of a diverse series of work areas with each supporting specific types of work… from intense concentration and focus that might require quiet privacy, to a raucous and energetic brainstorm, to an open and ongoing collaborative environment that fosters easy communication and connectedness. The net result is a radically different approach to the way we work, and one that defies the 1950’s notion of an open plan work environment. Finally. Beyond this, though, it yields very different space demands for companies that ultimately result in smaller, more efficient office environments which changes the real estate equations and potentially saves tremendous investment in space.

A good example of an office environment that successfully blends white space is pictured above and is one of the environments in Google’s headquarters. Much thought and research went into their environment with the ultimate goal being real support of their people in their work. Google realized that tying people to desks is limiting, and in a fast moving and innovative company the people that make it up need to be fast moving and innovative. The environment of their offices is a manifestation of this need. People are rarely at their desks as they are busy engaging in work that is collaborative, impromptu, and occurring over a large campus. A desk would take them out of the flow.

While Google might be an extreme version of this, suffice it to say that more and more companies are seeing the value of white space in their environments. We know that the office as we know it has been under siege for over a decade. Our work has intensified to a point that the traditional office environment can no longer keep up. The value is in adaptive, flexible and customizable environment that empower and support people and allow them to tailor the environment to the immediate task at hand.

There Is No There At Sun Microsystems

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Underground carpark

Sun Microsystems is six years into a program that takes full advantage of their technology and is modernizing the way their employees work and adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. This Open Work program has met with tremendous success, and anticipates the type of radical change we are beginning to see more progressive companies embrace. At Sun, more than half of their employees do not have an assigned office space in a fixed location. Employees are allowed to work wherever and whenever it suits them, and Sun arms them with the best in mobile technologies to support this.

Why is Sun doing this? Because they can. The cost of maintaining a legacy notion of “office” is incompatible with the concept of an agile, adaptive, and flexible workforce… especially one that is determined to do business where their clients are. Are they saving money? Most definitely, and in the range of $250 million. This is radical, innovative and apparently effective. Sun is now in Open Work as a consulting sideline business to other companies. For those of us in the workplace design and innovation space… we should be taking note and work to balance this with our own efforts to effect change in workplace environments.