Monthly Archives: September 2010

Behavior & Space to Manage Agile Work

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Our world of work is agile.  How many people move around in a day?  Everyone moves; even if just to go to get coffee, or lunch, or other.  Some of us are in the office 50% or less.  The 8 to 5 day in corporate America is so far gone that the memory has nearly faded.  And the 20-somethings are looking around and questioning the value of work that is tied down in any way.  The value of the desk, the office, the conference room, is over shadowed by the desire to move, connect and produce results in agile ways.

How does space, or more accurately “Workplace” support agile work today?  Most space does not support work, and the proof is the millions of square feet our society builds, maintains and fills with the infamous workstations every year that, essentially, lie useless and empty.  Why?

What is the answer to this problem?  The solution seems complicated, but really it may be quite simple.  Management change!

Leaders are leading.  Associates are associating.  And managers are managing.  Sounds simple, but each motivation is quite different.


What It Takes To Be Great

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I recently read an article (Fortune, October 19, 2006 “What it takes to be great”) proclaiming that great success was equally proportional to great effort.  The articles thesis is:

 “You are not a born CEO or investor or chess grandmaster. You will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work over many years. And not just any hard work, but work of a particular type that’s demanding and painful.”

It was the idea of “painful” work that triggered my response.  Hard work need not be demanding and painful to achieve great results.  Hard work can be joyful, passionately driving more hard work and more results.  There is no doubt in the old adages, “Showing up is half the battle”, plus “put your nose to the grindstone”, equals a baseline need for greatness – at least some levels of success.  But, what success?

Pain and demand alone do not drive greatness.  These qualities create short bursts of intensity and are needed for breakthrough moments in the self-creative process.  But pain and demand alone do not sustain the journey to greatness. Joy and passion do.  These create purpose and connection to meaning and value.  If demand and pain were the central factors that drove Tiger Woods to golf greatness, it is likely that he would have stopped his pursuits in golf after earning his first hundred million.

The article concludes with the following statement:

“For most people, work is hard enough without pushing even harder. Those extra steps are so difficult and painful they almost never get done. That’s the way it must be.”

Read this article with care.  Ask if “demand and pain” are what drove the people in the examples to their greatness.  Or was it something more of a “passionate joy” that sustained them?

Food Enhancing the Work Experience

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At the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of human needs are the biological and physiological needs.   Food is part of this bottom tier.  As you move up the pyramid of the hierarchy into psychological and self-actualization levels, words like “relationship”, “creativity”, and “achievement” appear.  Consider the impact that food has on qualities of life such as these.  Food is often an acknowledgement of achievement (an in a birthday cake).  Creativity can be sparked from a good meal.  Many of our best work relationships are built over the ritual of lunch.  Food is a key component of a fulfilling and value rich work experience.

Humana Cincinnati’s Café at Eden Park was designed to enhance the associate experience through the quality of food.  The following article defines the goals and attributes of the new experience of food for the 1,200 people working at the Cincinnati Headquarters.

Facility Design Project of the Month, Jan. 2010: The Humana Café at Eden Park, Cincinnati

Why Strategy in Design?

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Why would an organization invest time and money in a strategic design approach that creates change and potential turmoil?  What is wrong with the ways that many organizations today are delivering space to their people?

There is an excellent chapter in the new book The Commercial Real Estate Revolution which sums up the intent and value of workplace strategy.  The book is advertised to teach organizations that:

Building is a fragmented, adversarial process that commonly results in dissatisfied customers and frequently ends in disappointment, bitterness, and even litigation.   The Commercial Real Estate Revolution tells you exactly why the current model is broken! Learn the 9 key principles and trends that the most innovative firms are using to change everything we know about building.

Chapter 14 exposes and defines “Key 9: Workplace Productivity”.  The chapter is compelling in many ways, but it falls short of driving home the potential impact of design on the human experience at work.  There remains latent opportunity to explore and discover the ability of strategic design to deliver on the promise of aligning the value of space with the people who work within it.  Organizations will continue to return to outdated strategies without this linkage being made through story, balanced measurement, acceptance and integrated design.  But the chapter is well worth study.


E.A.C.H O.P.

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At our house we don’t call ourselves “human beings”.  Instead we call ourselves “human becomings” because change and growth is so constant and ever present in our lives.

When giving a talk recently to our regional conference for the American Institute of Architects, I shared how interesting our human reaction to change is to me…the irony that though it is and has been constantly part of our lives since the day we were born, people hate change

It was then that I saw a hand shoot up in the audience, and Charlie a colleague of mine said, “I really disagree with that.  I think people love change.  What they hate is the process they have to go through to make the change happen.” 

After reflection, I had to agree.  I liken Charlie’s idea to a family vacation to the beach.  We all love to go to the beach.  We like the change of scenery, how it looks, the way it smells and makes us feel different from our daily life.  Give me two weeks and I will want to stay there.  What we don’t like is the drive to the beach – the process of getting there.


Leveraging the Power of Imagination

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge” Albert Einstein.

Like Tim Brown from IDEO, we have found that it is more effective to initiate the act of design by taking design out of the hands of the designer and putting it in the hands of those most impacted by the design.  On a recent project we were faced with a challenge that changed my method of initiating, envisioning and conceptualizing a project in collaboration with those it impacted the most. 


The challenge was put to us by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center when they asked us to create a new experience for the child patient, their family, and their caregivers in the design of a new satellite hospital. The essential ingredient in the process of putting design into the hands of those most impacted it was to find a way for children to be active participants in the design process.   

To do this, we created a process tool we call “Imagine.” In this case,  where we utilized narratives to lead children through a series of visioning sessions to uncover the qualities of their favorite places, the places that make them happy, feel good and most importantly not scared.  We then worked with the kids to do sketches or “ideagrams” to diagram or “draw what they saw” while listening to the narrative.  The process, taking no longer than 30 to 40 minutes opened a new way of working together that fully engaged the creativity of the children.  We then worked with the children, core project team and parents alike to apply those favorite qualities to the design of new space and the experiences they would have when receiving or giving care.  In his terrific book Inner Game of Work, Timothy Gallway puts it this way.

“It is more effective for a golfer to “see” the trajectory of his golf ball rising into an arc against the sky, then falling onto the green and rolling into the hole, than it is to say to himself, “I want to hole this shot.”  Likewise, if your goal is better teamwork with your colleagues, it contributes to mobility to envision what that might look and sound like.  When you use pictures, sounds, and words to project a desired future state, more parts of the brain are involved in the goal setting.  This increases the likelihood that more of your brain will be used in the process of fulfilling the goal.*”        

When we used this process with parents as well as kids we found it worked equally well if not better than what we were using to engage adults in collaborative design thinking.  We use this method today with a wide variety of groups, including business and community leaders complete with crayons and construction paper.  Though occasionally we find, especially serious executives, skeptical of the idea that you can do effective work with a crayon in your hand, this has tool has made the sometimes ethereal process of visioning immencely practical, leveraging the power of the imagination.

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Listening For Possibilities

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 I am allergic to unproductive meetings.  I tend to break out in a rash and need to leave immediately to seek relief.  The author Scott Hunter is particularly poignant in describing the problem with meetings.

Because of what typically happens…people mostly hate meetings. What happens: as soon as someone presents an idea, everyone else listens to see whether or not they agree with what was presented. Since it’s pretty unlikely that they do, someone invariably makes the idea presented wrong or unworkable and presents their contrary view.  

Once this is done, everyone jumps on the bandwagon and the meeting turns into a series of conflicting points of view, with everyone arguing why their solution is the right or best one.

We will often schedule meetings to solve a particular problem or make positive progress on an issue facing a team.  It may be necessary to brainstorm to find a solution. The challenge is how to collaborate productively in meetings to achieve results.  It helps to be aware of how we frame issues and leverage the power of creative imagination by learning to listen differently.