This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.
I’ve just arrived at the offices of one of Montreal’s most internationally recognized and awarded new media and entertainment studios.
It’s across the street from a building that looks ready for demolition and¬†in a warehouse where the only sign is huge and says: “Espace a lour” [space for rent]. ¬†I go up the steps, through the front door and¬†into the ‘lobby’ – big word for the little space. ¬†It takes a minute to find any indication of where the business is. ¬†Once I do I climb the stairs and find myself in their reception slash kitchen slash dining slash coffee slash creating slash… space.
I’m greeted, very casually, by someone sitting behind a “reception” desk. ¬†A lot of distractions. I’m early so I take a seat on a long black leather couch and I look around.
White floors, white walls and white ceiling. ¬†But it’s not antiseptic or cold. ¬†It’s oddly warm and appealing. It’s messy. Paper and tinfoil creations hang from the ceiling. ¬†People are constantly moving through the space – clients rolling their suitcases through on their way back to NYC or Los Vegas or LA; staff of various ages but mostly male and mostly young walking fast or zipping through on skateboards, or making themselves tea or coffee, chatting.
Then a guy arrives and starts playing around with something on a big touch screen. ¬†All of a sudden an eyeball appears and is projected onto a huge round screen on the wall in front of me. ¬†He plays around for a bit, but something’s just not working. ¬†A younger guy shows up and starts helpfully making suggestions. They experiment with different things together. Now it’s clear that they are trying to get the huge full screen eyeball to rotate.¬†I’m fascinated.¬†He leaves. Then they are both gone. They both comes back with a more senior tech guy… Play around. Disappear so he can show him something… ¬†This is creating. ¬†
The three of them are focused on the thing they are trying to create together. ¬†Not each other. ¬†No posturing. No ego. No competition – or at least not in this moment. ¬†This is especially surprising because this is one of the most high¬†testosterone geek environments I’ve ever been in except for one other; this one doesn’t have acrobats. ¬†
Compare this experience to a recent visit I had to another corporate head office. ¬†There, I find the same¬†white walls and ceiling. This time natural wood floors. Red rather than black leather couch. Kitchens and nooks.¬†Open office space even for the CEO.¬†Spaces created for people to meet and exchange. And, by all accounts employees love it. Who wouldn’t it’s modern, clean, bright and¬†beautiful.¬†But, where is everybody? ¬†And, what are they working on?¬†Those that are there have there heads down in their space. ¬†It’s quiet. ¬†Really, really quiet.
So what’s going on?¬†Is it that the work of most organizations is not about bringing into being but solving problems as an end in themselves?¬†Is it that not all creating takes collaboration and ¬†when there is no real aspiration to create together you can’t fake it?¬†
The thing is we’re not thinking about it. ¬†Today, most leaders believe: ¬†
- Their businesses need to be more innovative.¬†
- Their¬†employees [all of them] need to be more creative and collaborative.
- They can magically create spaces that will lead to more and better creating and innovation like lighting a fuse that leads to an explosion.
When you love what you do, you can’t hide it! ¬†And that’s good business.¬†
I get my shoes repaired at¬†Carinthia Shoe Company as I have for over 20 years. It’s run by a 40 something guy who apprenticed there years ago and who obviously loves what he does. ¬†I’ve had cheap shoes repaired there. ¬†And I’ve had outrageously expensive shoes repaired there [let's just say that I have made a very few splurges on shoes or anything else for that matter, but when I do they are doozies].
What I know for sure is that I look forward to going there.¬†It’s a small space. You walk down a few steps from street level. You open the door and a traditional bell jingles over the door. ¬†You’re in another universe.
It looks, and feels, and sounds, and smells like a cobblers’ should but with a little edge. Rock playing – sometimes softly, often not.
There are strange pieces of equipment, paper patterns and gorgeous pieces of leather hanging from the ceiling.¬†There’s¬†glue, and dye, and rubber and eyelets and other small bits of things all organized in little boxes. ¬†You can tell they care about their work space and the shoes they are looking after.
The cobbler, a hip late thirties something, is focused on his latest patient – a pair of gucci’s or gum boots it doesn’t matter. ¬†The patient gets his full attention. He’s not alone. One other person,¬†generally a very young apprentice [man or woman] is working hard nearby.¬†They may talk, but there’s mostly a very competent silence between them.
I may have¬†ideas about what I think I want, but if he thinks it’s not worth it he tells me. ¬†And, if he thinks I’m not treating my shoes well he tells me – like he did today! ¬†And, I know he’s right. Why? ¬†Because I trust him and he’s never steered me wrong. ¬†He knows what he’s doing and he tells it like it is.
This cobbler is the master of this universe and all he surveys. ¬†It’s obvious that he LOVES what he does. ¬†He can’t hide it. ¬†And it shows in the work he does every time!
I was walking through the McGill University campus the other day and noticed a poster that described the invention of the Kellogg cornflake. It reminded me ¬†again of how chance has led to some of the most innovative creations of the past century: vulcanized rubber [think tires], Post-it notes, Teflon, mauve [yes, and a must read on this], the x-ray, superglue, stainless steel, and microwave ovens [for more].¬†But, there’s more than happenstance and chance or even serendipity, to these breakthrough events. There was the ‘accident’ and then there was insight.
Virtually every organization I know is trying to find ways to encourage and capitalize on innovation. Big and small, customer or operationally-focused innovation is the new ‘silver bullet’; a “key growth lever”.
Well, they’re benchmarking. ¬†They’re designing new workspaces to support innovation – atriums and agoras, open offices, whiteboard walls and basketball hoops. Mimicking the Google and Apple campuses in the hope that they will inspire new ways of thinking. They’re giving employees access to more and more collaborative tools and creating opportunities through internal innovation challenges.
But most of these same organizations – whether they are white collar knowledge workers or blue collar labourers – are designed to produce widgets.¬†It’s the nature of the work and the day-to-day deliverables.¬†The design of the overall business operation is more like a production line in a sausage factory than a research and development team in a laboratory.
Are we just “putting lipstick on a pig”? Or are these changes – especially in older traditional businesses – really delivering the promise?
There’s a lot of interest, OK hype, around Google Glass. Let’s face it, the futuristic glasses are pretty cool looking just as a fashion accessory, but add in all the power of a smart phone and well it’s a pretty compelling offer.
Here are some of the features in the current prototypes:
- Responds to voice commands
- Answers questions [since it syncs through the net it means you can search the net - it's a Google product after all]
- Has GPS
- Takes and shares¬†photographs and¬†live video
- Sends and receives text messages and emails
- Provides digital voice assistance that is customized to your personal habits [e.g. weather, traffic]
All this in a range of fashion colours!
At least one of ¬†my luckier, dare I say it geekier, friends [Mitch Joel] has already had a chance to try the Glass. ¬†His take: ¬†”I think this will blow people away.” ¬†I’m pretty sure we can expect that¬†by the end of 2013 we’ll start seeing the Glass on others if we’re not lucky enough to have one ourselves.
So, here’s my question:¬†What impact will Google Glass have on the workplace? ¬†You know it will, so it’s definitely not too soon to start thinking about the potential and planning for the future!
I first heard about Building 20 at MIT when I read Jonah Lehrer’s article “Groupthink. The brainstorm myth” in the New Yorker just over a year ago. According to Lehrer this huge ["two hundred and fifty thousand square feet, on three floors"] and un-designed, temporary WWII building was “by the time it was finally demolished, in 1998, … ¬†a legend of innovation, widely regarded as one of the most creative spaces in the world. In the postwar decades, scientists working there pioneered a stunning list of breakthroughs, from advances in high-speed photography to the development of the physics behind microwaves. Building 20 served as an incubator for the Bose Corporation. It gave rise to the first video game and to Chomskyan linguistics.” Wow, that’s an incredible list of innovation!
In a commemorative publication, to mark the demolition, one of the headlines: A building with soul, caught my eye.
If we’re going to ask employees to stop telecommuting and come back into the office, then what kinds of places are we inviting them back to. ¬†Are they workplaces with soul? If not, is there anything we learn from Building 20?¬†
First it was the Berlin wall. ¬† Now it’s the cubicle wall. ¬†Workspaces even in the most traditional environments – banks, insurance companies and law offices are changing. And they are changing in pretty radical ways. ¬†Shared work stations, open space and windows, tables, couches and banquettes instead of cubicles and enclosed offices. ¬†Even though the initial motivation of these organizations is cost cutting, according to an article in today’s Globe and Mail employees report an overwhelmingly positive experience and increased productivity.
Perhaps even more interesting, given the focus of this blog, is the implication for communication and change management. ¬†One would hope that there would be something equally inventive, but when faced with some issues “10% of negative comments are about noise and work behaviours that become distractions, the bank is doing training and distributing tip sheets about having consideration for others.” ¬†Good grief! I think the walls just went back up.
The first thing that crossed my desk this morning really caught my eye. ¬†Empowering patients. Crowdsourcing as the next big step in medicine!
And, just a few hours later, a second piece. ¬†This time ¬†an article about empowering amateur astronomers and crowdsourcing as the next big step in science.
So, what do you think? Empowering employees. Crowdsourcing as the next big step in management?