Reinvention – September 5, 2005


Future’s Ramblings – Issue 13 – September 5, 2005

Have you ever wondered what makes some things run their course, hit a peak and be done with never to be seen again; and others to do the same, but then years later emerge like a phoenix out of the flames? I am talking about things like flared pants, ponchos and pheasant tops or ‘The Fonz’ returning from a relatively dead acting career to star in Pulp Fiction. Consider Apple computer who is ‘thinking differently’ all the way to the bank with the popularity of the IPod.

Thinking differently is quite challenging for most of us, particularly if we have personally advanced to a position of authority at work or home where we may have the expectation of resting on our laurels. To continue to push yourself and remain open minded and nimble to new ideas and the changes that are taking place in the world is not something that happens naturally. The Aznavoorian children remind me of this daily. I’ll admit I’m fascinated with people and companies who are able to rise to the challenges that a new world presents and do so successfully.

It takes training to remain open minded, and having the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves, is something that Fred Kofman, a US business consultant speaking in Sydney a few weeks ago, encouraged business leaders to consider. He believes leaders that wish to improve the way they do business must concentrate on three things: 1. Accept responsibility and accountability for all of your decisions. 2. Find a purpose – beyond the next big deal 3. Learn how to have difficult conversations in the spirit of truth. Achieving any kind of success with this is about training, not about an idea. “It’s like golf. If you don’t go out to play, and have some supervision, and a coach, and someone to give you feed back when it didn’t’ work, you are not really serious”.

Recently I attended the 7th annual conference on culture and leadership put on by Human Synergistics. If any of you know anything about this group you will understand what I mean when I say that it was bordering on feeling like a religious convention. Not that I attend many  religious gatherings; however, I do read and admit I’m fascinated every time I hear of groups that  decide to drink Cool Aid or don purple T shirts and Addias runners and snuff themselves. You have to wonder how some individuals can have so much influence on others, is it the sign of the leader’s strength and charisma or the weakness of the masses?

Human Synergistics believes that to understand and focus on improving culture in an organisation, you must understand the personal style of its leader. If you have the wrong leadership style they will train you to gravitate towards more constructive styles of leading. They do this by performing two ‘lifestyles inventories’ which measure styles and behaviours, one inventory is done with the leader and the second with their co workers. You would be shocked to know that there is often a disconnect between what the leader thinks his personal style is, and what his co workers think it is! From these inventories a leaders behaviour is identified into the three categories which I have listed below, with a few of the associated behaviours attached:

>        Passive – Looking to please others, non committal, process driven, avoidance

>        Aggressive – Oppositional, critical, competitive, perfectionist

>        Constructive – Achievement and goals oriented, personal integrity, self actualizing, tries new things

It is no big surprise that leaders who are constructive fair better. Leadership and organisational effectiveness are connected; personal styles can be shaped by organisational factors or culture, unfortunately organisational factors often reinforce the wrong styles of leadership. Therefore individual change depends on organisational change and vice versa, and both impact company effectiveness.

Human Synergistics is not alone in believing that we must understand the link between leadership and culture when it comes to changing or reinventing a business. They maintain that to really understand how to change, we need to question the assumptions we hold and not just tap around the edges. Like Fred Kofman, Human Synergistics believes we must practice or train to become more aware of the impact our actions have on our co workers. The sad thing is that most leaders know this; they just don’t do it because they don’t think it is that big of a deal.

As identified above driving cultural transformation takes training, it also takes courage which involves taking risks and encouraging people to do things differently. I have heard two CEOs speak in the past few weeks on the topic of company transformation. Mitsubishi Australia’s CEO Tom Phillips did not just lift sales; he pulled Mitsubishi up from near disaster after the closing of the Lonsdale plant and the aftermath of several of the company’s Japanese executives going to prison for hiding dangerous flaws in their vehicles. Ron Walker the CEO of Freedom Furniture spoke of the transformation of his business, how he created a company culture in remote locations where turnover was high. Their tips for constructive reinvention:

>        Surround yourself with great people and allow them to make mistakes

>        Life is short – Just do it

>        Seek out and learn from others and their mistakes

>        Start over – Tom Phillips fired Y&R and launched a new ad campaign with CHE featuring Tom (who is no movie star)

>        Hold your people accountable – leadership without accountability is management.

>        Lead by example –show leadership humility

>        Hire and develop the right people – be willing to get rid of others

>        Focus – over communicate and stick to it.

Sometimes reinvention of a business requires a more radical approach. In the book Blue Ocean Strategy the authors describe how Cirque de Soleil achieved rapid growth in an industry that had limited potential for growth. Cirque du Soleil did this not by taking customers from other circuses but instead created a new market that rendered the competition irrelevant. To understand this the book asks that you imagine a market universe composed of two sorts of oceans – red and blue. Red oceans represent all industries in existence today, blue oceans denote those not in existence. In blue oceans demand is created, often by expanding existing boundaries.

According to Fast Company you don’t need to compete in a red ocean of bloody competition. Because even exhausted industries like the circus can be reinvented. Here are their tips

Don’t swim with the school

Quit benchmarking the competition or setting your strategic agenda in the context of theirs.

Find new ponds to fish

Don’t assume your current customers have the insights you need to rethink your strategy. Look to noncustomers instead.

Cut bait on costs

Put as much emphasis on what you can eliminate as on what you can create.

I will leave you with one last story that I heard on the radio. Madonna, who has sold millions of CD’s, has engaged in market research to determine which songs to put on her new album. I believe this is along the lines of DJ’s noting when clubbers stay on the floor and dance as opposed to going to get a beer. Not being a big fan of Madonna, it is hard for me to say anything about relying on past talents, because as far as singing goes I never thought she had any. As far as reinvention goes, she is a master and I just bet her next album sells just as much as any performer half her age.


Human Synergistics – 7th annual conference on culture and leadership, Sydney

AFR Boss club – Tom Phillips The man from Mitsubishi

BlueOcean Strategy  Renee Mauborgne

Fast Company

No Risk, No Reward by Keith H. Hammonds

Issue 57 April 2002

The Australian Financial Review Tuesday 9 August 2005

Seeing into the heart of the matter  by Bill Pheasant

Fast Company

Creating a blue Ocean of Innovation  by Renee Mauborgne

Issue 96 July 2005




Corporate Myth Busting – July 29, 2005

Corporate Myth Busting

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 12 – July 29, 2005

Have you seen that TV show Myth Busting, where two nerdy guys conduct experiments in the California desert to test the accuracy of long standing myths such as whether a ceiling fan can really decapitate you if you jumped up into it? The show has endless resources to experiment on such pressing issues, money well spent I’d say. What is more important curing cancer or knowing the true danger of letting your kids jump on the bed?

This show has inspired me to do some myth busting of my own, the myth to investigate today is the one about work life balance. Does this really exist; do companies really care about you or your life? The first area of investigation will be standard work hours. As you may know the French have recently voted not to join the European Union, according to the New York Times this is a short-sighted attempt to hang on to a 37 hour workweek. The Times explains that if they were to become a part of the union, the Bulgarians and Romanians who are willing to work longer hours, would rush in and that would be the end of their café sitting, wine drinking culture.

It is true that that economic globalization has had a great impact on the hours we work. In Japan 63% of the workforce now works an average of 50 hours, they are slackers compared to Hong Kong where 70 % of the workforce works 50 hours a week. According to Washington Post Op Ed columnist Thomas Freidman, in India they would work a 37 hour day if they could. Work hours in America have risen steadily over the last three decades, but that just gives them something else to brag about.

This evidence goes against the predicted trends that we would be working less due to industrialization. Futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that by 2000 we would have so much free time we would not know what to do with it, and you may remember that in the television show The Jetsons a standard workweek of 3 hours was mandatory.

The Nobel Prize winning economic historian Robert William Fogel has done studies on what is called the efficiency of the human engine. The studies find that the size, strength and stamina of the human body have evolved equal to mechanical advances in the industrial revolution. As you read this your body is adapting to the increased hours we work, apparently this evolution will mean that the more work you do, the more you are able to do. If we find we are unable to deal with the greater work load we can turn to drugs to help enhance our performance, antidepressants, anti anxiety drugs. New drugs such as Provigal, will allow a person to stay up and alert for two days without sleep, this is currently being tested with helicopter pilots in the army. The Defense Advanced Research Project is also testing drugs with solders that will allow them to will themselves not to bleed and to function efficiently for up to a week without food or water. You would recognize how helpful this could be in a war, but may also explain why there are so many ‘black hawk’ crashes in Iraq. In addition, it will not earn smiley faces in the work life balance category

Many companies go to great lengths to promote work life balance by providing gyms, day-care, pool tables, masseuse, health food in cafes and rooms of all sorts from prayer rooms to sick rooms. However, in the Silicon Valley, there is an increasing feeling that such spaces are a “cosy face on white collar sweat shops” A debate is currently being waged over whether these fringe benefits are a means for technology companies to exploit workers, who they should really be paying overtime to. The pressure has become so great that employees of games company Electronic Arts sued the company in July; they now offer overtime pay to some employees.

The issue continues to escalate, this month several hundred video game makers met in San Francisco to discuss work life issues, giving them something else to talk about besides the fact that they can’t get a date.  The prospect of creating a gaming union is being considered, but companies are well aware of the impact unionizing will have on efficiency, which in the gaming industry is measured in revenue per employee. The opportunity for such companies to drive more jobs overseas is a real fear, and like most large publicly owned companies, they are driven by shareholder return.

The reality is that when you or I fill out our Superannuation forms, we don’t much care whether the company our fund invests in is good to their employees or not. We care how much money we are going to make. This drive for profit, and the complacency of shareholders, has had negative impacts. In the article “Is Your Boss a Psychopath” Alan Deutschman outlines the similarities in behaviours between psychopaths and many CEO’s . “The standard psychopath is a callous, cold – blooded individual who does not care if you have thoughts or feelings they have no sense of guilt or remorse. Top executives are charismatic, visionary and tough but they can also be callous, cunning, manipulative & deceitful verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self delusional, irresponsible and egomaniacal”.

Due to the large number of mergers, acquisitions and restructures in business, the climate is particularly suited to the corporate psychopath who thrives on power and control and who ruthlessly seek their own self interest in the form of shareholder value. Personalities like Andrew Fastow of Enron, ImClones Sam Waksal and our own Steve Visard from Telstra are examples. While they lack the chronic instability and anti social defiant lifestyle of the unsuccessful psychopath, they are cut from the same cloth.

Corporate misbehaviour is alive and rampant in Australia and America. An example of the lenient attitudes toward these activities is displayed in the AICD Boardroom Report from the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In the report former CEO of Tyco, Dennis Kozlowski was described as “not a criminal but a victim of the excesses of the time”. On the other hand, in Europe new antibullying movements are beginning to address psychological abuse and manipulation in the workplace. These behaviours are less common in Asia as their businesses are based on community bonds rather than glorified self interest. At least in Australia and the US the CEO’s are finally being held accountable for their crimes, Kozlowski, Fastow, and Waksal are all going to jail even though the AICD do not consider them criminals.

So is this myth busted? Do companies really care about what happens to their people; is there a sense of work life balance? You make the call.

FYI – To find out if your boss is a psychopath go to boss-quiz

to take their quiz.


Sources –

“Is Your Boss a Psychopath” by Alan Deutschman  Fast Company July 2005

“The Way We Live Now; No Rest for The Weary” by Charles McGrath NYT published July 3, 2005

“Fringes vs. Basics in Silicon Valley: by Matt Richtel NYT published March 9, 2005

AICD Boardroom report July


StarTrek Leadership – June 28, 2005

Star Trek  leadership

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 11 – June 28, 2005

This month has been quite a whirlwind, as luck would have it my husband went to the U.S. for a month which happened  to coincide with futures landing several new jobs all with identical deadlines. The result being little time to read, with the exception of Who Weekly.  It is critical to keep abreast of the important issues happening in the world such as what is going on with Brad and Angelina, Russell throwing phones, and Tom popping the question for the third time. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area many of my technology clients used to read Wired, Red Herring, Fast Company, and Martha Stewarts Living – at that time I assumed Martha was in the mix to keep touch with humanity. There is more to life than business and technology, to balance your life you want to know what the newest web browser is and how to make a moist turkey. In retrospect maybe it had nothing to do at all with connecting to our humanity, perhaps reading Martha Stewart was about stock tips.

Fortunately all is not lost, I have been watching TV and despite what you may think there are lessons to be learned if you look deep enough – or drink enough wine while viewing. This months Futures Rambling will be dedicated to what I have learned watching TV this past month.

An insightful lesson about leadership was given in one of the episodes of Star Trek that I watched. I do love this show but swear I don’t belong to any fan clubs nor do I dress up like any characters. That being said, I’ll admit that if I had a figure like Seven of Nine, and didn’t think that the dimples in my butt would show through the fabric of my one piece spandex suit, I would wear one to work too.

In the episode I saw, the Starship Enterprise comes upon another ship that has been destroyed, on board is a teenage boy who is the only survivor of a mysterious attack on the ship. Shortly after this discovery Enterprise is hit with a wave of energy that rattles Enterprise quite severely. Of course Captain Picard orders the shields to be put up, for you non fans that is what you do when your ship is under attack.  They survive the energy wave attack, unfortunately another comes, and then another. With each subsequent attack the energy wave gains strength and the Starship Enterprise is forced to divert critical energy from other systems in the ship to strengthen the shields. Around this time the kid that survived the attack on the other starship explains that the identical scenario took place on his ship; ultimately the waves intensified to a point where they had exhausted all of their reserve power and were unable to combat the attack.

Suspense mounts; the starship enterprise is headed for imminent destruction. At this point Lieutenant Commander Data, who is a robot, begins to do some calculations in his head. Data is quite brilliant and has a mind like a calculator, a bit like Amanda Wood but she is human and her skin is not green. The next energy wave is set to hit the ship in minutes when Data tells the captain to shut down all of the shields. He explains that the wave is using the energy of the ship’s shields to gain strength; effectively the ship’s energy is being used against it. Data suggest that they lower all shields and “go with the flow” similar to surfers riding the rip tide out rather than exhausting themselves paddling out against the surf.

The idea of joining forces to create one that is more powerful is not dissimilar to Edward DeBono’s concepts of lateral thinking. Using the talents that we have to focus toward a common goal rather than exhausting energy and effort picking a side or proving a point. DeBono suggest an effective way to make decisions it to insist everyone involved view the issue from a variety of different view points, effectively focusing the room’s energy to get the best information and thinking around a topic exposed. Then when everyone has viewed the situation from a variety of angles you make an informed decision.

It is a bit obtuse but this is the message I get from that Star Trek episode, another is the complete faith and trust that Captain Pickard had in Data. With the possibility of imminent destruction of the ship the captain took the word of his crew. Had he hesitated, had he said wait a minute Data can you explain those calculations to me, or if he was the sort of leader who could not stand to not be the one that produced the answer, the ship would have been destroyed. Maybe this is why none of the crew on the Starship Enterprise resigns, or goes to join the Borg. They are a team who benefits from one another, and they have the up most respect for each others ability. Of course maybe they all stay because it is TV show? But I choose to think they have faith in the leader.

Leaders have different types of “action logic” which is the way that they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. There are seven identified ways of leading, and knowing your action logic can be the first step in developing a more effective style. According to HBR (okay I did read something besides Who Weekly) the seven action logics are:

Opportunist – They win any way possible. Self – oriented; manipulative; might makes right

Diplomat – Avoids overt conflict. Wants to belong; obeys group norms; rarely rocks the boat

Expert – Rules by logic and expertise. Seeks rational efficiency

Achiever – Meets strategic goals. Effectively achieves goals through teams; juggles managerial duties and market demands

Individualist – Interweaves competing personal and company action logics. Creates unique structures to resolve gaps between strategy and performance.

Strategist – Generates organizational and personal transformations. Exercises the power of mutual inquiry, vigilance, and vulnerability for both the short and long term.

Alchemist – Generates social transformations. Integrates material, spiritual, and societal transformation

As you might imagine each type of action logic lends it self to different situations. The least effective for organizational leadership are the Opportunists and Diplomat; the most effective, the Strategist and Alchemist.

Generally I do prefer to read more and hope to get back to that in time for next months Futures Rambling. Somehow reading about business is not as depressing as reading about Tom jumping on Oprah’s couch because some 20 year old agreed to marry him,  or realizing that no matter what you do no one is going to let you drop the shields.

Rocket Science – May 11, 2005

Rocket Science

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 10 – May 11, 2005

I may have told some of you that one of my brothers is a rocket scientist, no I am not joking. He lives in Houston by Cape Canaveral and works for Lockheed Martin they make plane parts, rockets, WMD’s, they are contracted to NASA. My brother and I don’t talk much, it is not that we don’t like each other or don’t get along, there is just little that someone of my intellectual capacity can share with someone of his intellectual capacity.

My brother is working on a new project which he hopes will go better than his last; the last project was called Columbia. You may have heard about the Space Shuttle, it disintegrated on returning from a mission after hot gasses entered the craft through a hole punched in its wing. The hole was made by foam debris that fell off the shuttle during ascent, all seven crew members on board Columbia died that day. Can you imagine what that would feel like to have your colleagues blow up? Sometimes we wish it would happen, which is why my Mother always said you must be careful of what you wish for, but if it did what would that do for workplace moral?  What would be even worse for workplace moral would be to learn after investigations that it wasn’t just the foams fault. The real reasons that Columbia blew up are far more complex and unsettling.

According to the Columbia Accident Investigation Report NASA suffered from the symptoms of the perfect place. Its decision making was marked with unwarranted optimism and overconfidence, and this led to a warped outlook on safety. Frontline engineers had requested photos of the damaged shuttle, but these were denied, the big guys didn’t think it was important to listen those in the trenches.  The result was the engineer’s feared ridicule for expressing their concern about the foam that flew off, so remained quiet. The culture at NASA created a situation with the engineers that is similar to Shapelle Corby’s predicament with the Indonesian court system – they had to prove that the situation was unsafe rather than prove it was safe, backwards considering what was at stake.

According to Karl Weick who has studied NASA in depth, viewing something as you almost failed rather than barely succeeded can be a great reminder that the system is all too capable of big mistakes. “In general, it just breeds the kind of wariness, a kind of attentiveness.” He goes on to say that “complacence is what you’re worried about”. Maybe it is all semantics, never the less; Weick says there’s a fine line to walk between a proud culture and a prideful one, between celebrating a healthy history of successes and resting on your laurels. “Delusions of a dream company” is what Sydney Finkelstein, professor of management at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and author of Why Smart Executives Fail, calls it. That honest pride starts going toward self-confidence, overconfidence, complacency, and arrogance.

You may have heard that NASA has delayed the launch of the next shuttle because they realized that ice can cause as much damage as the foam caused. According to James D. Wetherbee the former commander and critic of NASA this is a “healthy change for the better in culture” I should hope so after blowing up two shuttles and losing 14 people! Don’t get me wrong I love using my taxpayer dollars (yes I still pay US taxes) for space exploration, and after all as long as that goes on, my brother has a job. Also in this case the money is being spent on real science, unlike when NASA spent ridiculous sums developing a ball point pen that can write in zero gravity – the Russians just use a pencil. Nope, I don’t mind my money being spent on science. What I mind, what really chaps my ass, is dumb leadership.

The Columbia disaster highlights the ultimate price of poor leadership and organizations not communicating internally. Getting people in an organization to communicate is tricky business. In some cases the opportunities are not there, and in other cases people only trust those that they know, which has obvious limitations. Creating opportunities for people to work together creates social networks that can develop the kind of trust that enables people to communicate information in a way that gains value from the exchange. Establishment of networks is good, but they will not work if leaders don’t let them.

Leaders must listen on all levels and embrace what is unconventional. If they shape cultures that are open to possibility and failure they will learn how to combat the problems that lay ahead. They need to imagine the unimaginable. I read a story in the February 2005 edition of Fast Company about a guy named Elon Musk. Musk is a dotcom zillionaire at  30 years of age, he has taken his money and is using it to fund a new company called Space Exploration Technologies (Space X), they plan to take on NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the rest of the big rocket makers and with Musk’s leadership and their companies attitude they just might do it.

There are no R&D labs at SpaceX, no PhDs and no government subsidies. Space X is a place where innovation is a state of mind. It’s about process. Even though they don’t have the training or business connections they do have an entrepreneurial culture that dreams big. Space X plans to derive its success from small improvements done on the cheap. Since he has funded the company with his own money, Musk has challenged his employees to do more with less. The company borrows parts and buys others on e bay. They find inspiration in odd places such as making fuel tanks out of milk truck – which didn’t work but they gave it a go. Rather than toiling away for years on something till it is perfect, Space X has a commitment to fast prototyping and testing.  They build as quickly as possible and then they “test the crap out of it”. The people that work at Space X have been cherry-picked from other companies that they were bored working at with the draw at Space X being they have freedom to do their job. No all day meetings, no waiting for months to get parts they requested or wading through bureaucracy. They just build rockets.

Reading all of this you cannot help but wonder where we fall in the whole mix. Do we have “delusions of a dream company” are we overconfident, complacent, arrogant, or are we more like Space X? If we’re not can we be? Unfortunately, if we are not what we want to be, the scientifically studied odds of us changing are nine to one. This taken from studies of people who are given the choice of changing or dieing, i.e. they had a life or death situation that required change. Face it; people don’t like to change, especially the way they act.  Sadly, changing behaviours is the most important challenge for businesses trying to compete in a turbulent world says John Kotter from HarvardBusinessSchool. The CEO’s who are supposed to be the leaders of change are often the most resistant, and as the change or die studies shows, crisis is not a motivator. So what is, how can you be the one in ten? Kotter believes it is by talking to people about their feelings and appealing to their emotional side. This can be done, Louis Gerstner turned IBM around in the 90’s and he did so by making powerful emotional appeals to “shake them out of their depressed stupor, remind them of who they were – you’re IBM damn it!” Not saying that we are like NASA, but if we did want to change we could.  AFTER ALL WERE GEYER DAMN IT.


Women in the Workforce – April 29, 2005

Women in the workforce

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 9 –  April 29, 2005

There is much debate, and I am sure more to come in our office soon with the new and soon to be Moms, about something coined by the Harvard Business Review as the “opt – out revolution”. This refers to what has been identified as a surprising number of women dropping out of main stream careers. The figures are substantial: a survey of the class of 1981 at Stanford University showed that  57% of women graduates leave the workforce. Of three graduating classes at The Harvard Business School only 38% ended up with full time careers. A study of MBA’s showed that of women holding MBA’s only one in three works full time compared with one in 20 for men.

To understand why women leave the workforce the Center for Work Life Policy (a New York based not-for-profit organization) formed a private sector multi year task force in 2004. The task force entitled “The hidden brain drain: Women and Minorities as Unrealized Assets” was sponsored by Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers. From the study of 2,443 women with graduate degrees, professional degrees, and high honors undergraduate degrees a portrait of women’s career paths was charted.

What did they and others find? There are a variety of reasons. One identified by Fast Company in Where are the Women? Feb 2004 is that there is still a lingering bias in the system. Women interviewed for the article say that while overt discrimination is rare, the executive suites of most major corporations remain largely boys’ clubs. Catalyst ( a women’s business group) blames the gap on the fact that women often choose staff jobs like marketing and HR and not what they called ‘line jobs’ – those responsible for profit and loss and it is from this rank that executives are normally chosen.

Another reason identified by Fast Company comes out in the story of Brenda Barnes president and chief executive of the North American arm of PepsiCo. Brenda was considered a top contender for the CEO position but she decided to ‘take this job and shove it’ in 1997. When asked why she offered “When you talk about those big jobs, those CEO jobs, you just have to give them your life. You can’t alter them to make them accommodate women any better than men. It’s just the way it is” In a workplace where women CEO’s of major corporations are so scare it is a true disappointment when any contender voluntarily steps down.

In 1986 Charles A. O’Reilly III, professor of organizational behaviour at Stanford followed up a group of Berkeley MBA’s to see if he could isolate the qualities that led to the corner office. His conclusion: Success in a corporation is less a function of gender discrimination than of how hard a person chooses to compete. And the folks who tend to compete the hardest are generally the stereotypical manly men. In 1999 Marta Cabrera was vice president at JP Morgan Chase, one of only two women in the emerging – markets trading desk. She had a great job, a happy marriage, and two healthy beautiful children – she managed to pull off the career woman’s trifecta. In May of 2000 Cabrera quit. When asked to comment she said “There’s a different quality of what men give up versus what women give up. The sacrifices for women are deeper, and you must weigh them very consciously if you want to continue. I didn’t want to be the biggest, best, greatest. I didn’t feel compelled to be number one”. In his book The Myth of Male Power  William Farrell says the fact that few women make it to the top is a measure of their power not their powerlessness. “They’ve learned they can get respect and love in a variety of different ways – from being a good parent, from being a top executive or a combination of both” He says women are free of the ego needs driving male colleagues. Hmmm.

Another significant reason for women leaving is that corporations don’t do enough to accommodate women’s more significant family responsibilities. Nearly four out of ten highly qualified women 37% have left the work force voluntarily at some point in their careers. There are factors other than having children, there is personal health and caring for elderly parents that rank among the leading reasons. This can be particularly tough with women in the 41 to 55 age group called the “sandwich generation” that are caring for children and aging parents. Sadly there is still a highly traditional division of labor on the home front (and now for my personal favorite statistic, one that will end the debate in the Aznavoorian household that has been going on since I became Mrs. S Aznavoorian in 1989) A survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy said 40% of highly qualified women with spouses felt that their husbands create more work around the house than they perform.

When asked to create a workplace wish list women describe the following as important: the ability to associate with people they respect, the freedom to be themselves, opportunity to be flexible with schedule, and 61% of women consider it very important to have the opportunity to collaborate and be part of a team. The importance of work relationships, of being a part of the team, has been highlighted in research done by Sydney Uni. in their Quality of work/Life index they found that relationships at work are the major factor in what people consider a good quality of work/life.

Work relationships are considered important, however there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. In “Forget about home…the real family is at work” AFR April 16-17 2005 states we place a greater importance on our work lives now because we are spending more time at work and have deeper and more nurturing relationships – partly because open plan offices encourage interaction. The article introduces the idea of the “office spouse”. You know you have one when you do what Condoleezza Rice did when she called GW Bush her husb… I mean the president. Or for an example closer to home, Peter Mac meant to ring his mother and instead rang Lyn Lennard. Isn’t that special!

Among women who take “off-ramps” the overwhelming majority (93%) have every intention of returning to work. For many the reasons are financial – they have to work to make ends meet. For others it is because they find pleasure in their chosen careers and what to reconnect with something they love. In focus groups conducted by HBR women talked about how work gives “shape and structure to their lives, boost confidence and self –esteem and confers status in their community.” Their professional identity is their primary identity. Interestingly, focus group participants also spoke of a deepened desire to give back to the community after they took time off work. For these women they went back to work, but not to their previous job because they did not find their careers satisfying or enjoyable.

Unfortunately, only 74% of women who off ramp and want to rejoin the workforce actually do, which goes to show you girls, On the career highway there are many off ramps but few on ramps. More good news, women on average lose 18% of their earning power when they take time off, in business sectors the penalties are more severe where wages drop 28% on average. It is worse if you spend a longer period of time away, women who spend three or more years out of the workforce can expect to lose 37% of their earning power. Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2003 (in the article “Nice Girls don’t ask” showed fewer women attempt to negotiate pay increases. The article concluded that women were less likely to negotiate because of their social conditioning with results in an aversion to promoting their own interests; and many companies penalize women who do ask, by tagging them pushy and aggressive.

So now that I have painted this happy picture, and you look around you and see that in fact a whole lot of Geyer employees are women, and if fact many have had or will have children, what can we do. Fortunately, the data suggested actions that companies could take to ensure female potential does not go unrecognized. Smart companies can develop policies and practices to tap into the female talent pool, and create strategies around retention and reattachment of highly qualified women. Those that do will enjoy a substantial competitive advantage, especially as we all wonder how we will find enough high- caliber talent to drive growth. Such policies include:

1. Create reduced hour jobs – The survey indicates that 89% of women think this is important.

2. Provide flexibility in the day – Many women, like me, don’t require reduced work hours they merely need flexibility.

3. Provide flexibility in the arc of a career – Booze Allen Hamilton, the management consulting firm, recognized that it is not just workday, or work week flexibility that is required. Flexibility must be present across the arc of ones career.

4. Remove the stigma – Don’t penalize people for taking off work, or for wanting to be paid the same as their male colleagues.

5. Stop burning bridges – Only 5% of women in the survey are interested in rejoining the companies they left. Managers will not stay in a departing employee’s good graces unless they take time to explore the reasons highly qualified women leave the work force, and are able and willing to offer options.

6. Provide outlets for altruism – Employers would be well advised to recognize and harness the altruism of women, support their female professionals in their advocacy and public service efforts. 7. Nurture ambition – Implement mentoring and networking programs that help women expand and sustain their professional aspirations.





Collaboration – March 29, 2005

Collaboration  – March 29, 2005

I think that I would fall off my chair if I went into a workshop and didn’t hear the organization we were talking with want to be at least one, if not all of the following: an employer of choice, flexible, innovative, be the market leaders. It is not surprising that most organizations have the same goals, after all they are all businesses and even though they produce different services and products most are there to remain in business and to make money.

It is also not a big surprise that so many of the organizations we talk to feel that one of the ways they can achieve their goals is by promoting greater collaboration on every level: manager to staff, department to department, office to office. After all, it is a complex world we live in, the problems we solve are not simple; in fact the most significant changes in human history for good or bad have come about through individuals combining their forces in groups, like the Coalition of the Willing (sorry couldn’t help myself). As competitive pressures force companies to do more with less, there will be a greater need for organizations to rely on one part of their company to help another, putting a greater demand on the need to collaborate. The challenge will be how you get people to work across the organization, many of whom have different priorities, incentives and ways of doing things.

Getting this kind of collaboration right promises great benefits for companies. As a result the focus of the workplace in the past ten years has been away from individual spaces toward collaborative spaces of various types. It is expected that in the next five years individual / dedicated workspaces will be on average 10% smaller and the expected floor area dedicated to individual use will drop 16%. Today we design for small collaborations, big collaboration formal and informal – we provide mood lighting, comfy furniture, white boards etc. to promote interaction. We have done nothing short of providing  a few Barry White CD’s to get the sparks flying. A survey of Global 500 companies indiactes an average of 41% of their staff work collaboratively for significant portions of their workday. The average ratio of individual to collaborative workspace today is 3:1 over the next five years it is expected to reach 3:2.  All of this is great news when it comes to our ability to enable collaboration. Unfortunately, when it comes to making a real difference in terms of collaboration, it takes much more than a “space” to get groups working together.

Companies are hot to foster collaboration and in fact spend billions of dollars on initiatives to improve collaboration. However according to a recent Harvard Business Journal article the results of these initiatives are disappointing. They identified three myths in companies attempts to foster collaboration:

1. building a strong team will ensure collaboration.

2. An effective incentive system will ensure collaboration

3. Companies can be structured to encourage greater collaboration.

All of these they say are ineffective “seemingly sensible but ultimately misguided assumptions” because they focus on the systems and not the root cause of failures in cooperation. They believe that you cannot improve collaboration until you have addressed the issue of conflict.

The inevitability and importance to the organization of conflict is underestimated by most company leaders.“ The disagreements sparked by differences in perspective, competencies, access to information, and strategic focus within a company actually generate much of the value that can come from collaboration across organizational boundaries.” HBR recommends a clear step by step process for conflict resolution be integrated into a companies day to day decision making process. Conflict should not be viewed as a nuisance but as a valuable resource that should be managed, and exploited to gain greater insight into companies issues. Internal friction is often caused by unaddressed strain within the organization, or between the organization and its environment, there is great benefit in setting up methods to track and examine conflict that can lead to interesting new perspectives on a variety of issues.

In the Sage Allen New Business training some of us attended we were taught to probe to discover our clients needs, and their “real need” those that are not talked about as openly and are often personal. When thinking about collaboration and conflict we may be able to apply the same ideas. By probing to discover the issues that are not discussed, the ones that cause conflicts, we can encourage greater collaboration.


Innovation Process – February 29, 2005


Future’s Ramblings – Issue 7 – February 29, 2005

Yesterday I gave a talk to facilities managers at the AusFM conference. My talk was aimed at FM professionals, but I believe the message is also relevant to the design profession. The thesis of my presentation  was: FM professionals have a unique pragmatic and political knowledge of the organizations they work for, they know where control lies in the organization, who the squeaky wheels are and who the thought leaders are; they know a bit about everything! Consequently they are well positioned to take a more accountable leadership role in the creation of environments that can do more for their organizations, if fact they could behave more  like a Hollywood movie director might and assemble the most talented people, and direct them towards creating environments, that if they were movies, would sweep the Academy Awards.  As providers of space (both facilities managers and designers) need to get off their arses and rise to the challenge of making environments that go beyond the status quo and address tomorrow’s problems. Tomorrow’s problems are not communication and collaboration,  breaking down silos, or empowering workers – those were issues of the past. To really support the organizations we are working for, we need to begin thinking about how space can influence and impact the issues that are on the horizion. Those new pressing issues are supporting the creative class, shortage of skilled workers, management of distributed teams, and the cultural implications of offshoring to name a few.

If we want to make a difference, we must take on this challenge. I offer two ideas for how to proceed. One is to change the process of how we talk about and use space and open the conversations we have to more people within the organization. The second is to use the skills we have as creative innovative people and think differently, sorry for the cliché but think out of the box which we sadly do not do often enough.

Pulling together a group of people with different interests and agendas is a scary prospect for most managers of projects, even more frightening for them is the concept of engaging their “clients”. There is a logic that if you don’t ask, they wont tell, then you wont know, so you will not need to deliver. Success!  In many organizations expectations have been managed by keeping them very low. This is a shame, companies  gain from their interactions with others, the act of interaction itself yield benefits if for no other reason than it has the ability to change our perspective. Companies get better at what they do by working with outsiders whose specialised capabilities complement their own. Some would argue that these kinds of transactions are a key to driving  innovation, the friction that is produced coined “creative abrasion”.  It is obvious that different enterprises and people  bring different perspectives and competencies to tackling a problem. When people from diverse specializations interact,  the potential for innovative solutions to result rises .

Assembling the right team is a start, there also needs to be a process to maintain control. There is a company in the San Francisco Bay Area called IDEO who has won more design awards over the past decade than any other firm. You probably have not heard of them because they don’t design buildings or fitouts – they design things. In the 90’s IDEO was responsible for the design of the Palm V,  Polaroid I zone camera and the first non squeeze stand up toothpaste dispenser for Proctor and Gamble. The founder of their company, David Kelly was responsible for the design of the first Apple computer and the first mouse. I heard David Kelly on a panel at the Alternative Officing Conference in San Jose. Later I had the opportunity to  watch a video called “The Deep Dive” which was a replay of a 60 Minutes spot on IDEO and their creative process. It was a great, very inspiring video about how this company has applied a process to innovation.

The process that IDEO employes looks chaotic but is very controlled and clearly produces fantastic results. The IDEO’s design process begins with a diverse team, they advise clients by teaching them through others eyes: anthropologists, graphic designers, engineers and psychologists. The creative part of the process is done very fast, they insist on client participation, and in creating mock ups to test their ideas.

The design process has five steps:

Step One – Observe

This is done by shadowing, behaviour mapping, having clients keep a camera journal, and having Unfocused Groups ( an odd mix of people to discuss an issue)

Step Two – Brainstorm

Intense idea generation where the word but is not allowed, only and.

Step Three – Rapid Prototyping

Quick no frills mockups to demonstrate creative scenarios

Step Four – Refine

Narrow down the choices, brainstorm and engage the client to get agreement

Step Five – Implement.

The video showed the IDEO team designing a shopping cart. There were a few things that have stuck with me about the IDEO process. One was the courage that David Kelly had in leading his team, he defined the goals, set assignments, outlined basic protocol (the task had to be completed in 24 hours) and then let his team go wild. The team threw out as many ideas as was physically possible, none were abandoned or labeled as “duds”,  they let their minds be free without constraint. After a set period of time, Kelly reigned the team in. The group narrowed down the ideas, eliminating those that could not be done within the time frame, or were unacceptable for other reasons. When they settled on the new shopping cart design they quickly built one and tested it in a grocery store, where they discovered flaws that could be improved.  My colleagues and I were impressed and wondered if we could use a similar process for interior design. We began our own version of rapid prototyping, which is the same as the Translation process we have done with some clients here at Geyer.

Whether we adopt this process, or some other, as providers of space we must take on the  challenge to solve tough problems, ask different questions and use the skills that we have as creative people. We do ourselves and our clients a disservice by following the status quo when it comes to workplace design because we know that ‘work’ is not what it used to be. The existing set of solutions we work with today will not effectively contribute to solving the problems of tomorrow. I am not advocating blowing the budget, or project program but suggest we challenge ourselves to provide greater value, by taking some time in a controlled manner to consider the issues and the different options that might exist.

The pressing issue for businesses in the next decade is the eminent labor shortage and associated problems that will result from it. So what are we doing about it? Nothing. In the same way that I challenged the FM professionals at the conference I want to challenge you. If we begin to develop some innovative thinking around this we are going to provide our clients much more than just a design for their new office. Lets start by thinking about how we make space take on an active role in the process of innovation? What process do you go through when you innovate? Can space be used to help transfer knowledge?

Worker Shortage – January 29, 2005

The Shrinking Workforce

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 6 – January 29, 2005



I have been think a lot about Peter Geyer’s Chris Kringle. For those of you in Brisbane and Melbourne let me describe the gift: A very very VERY large pair of white underpants, Y front briefs to be exact. On the back was stenciled the word STRATEGIC. Like the rest of us in the Sydney practice I thought the gift was quite hilarious, now after a bit more reading and thinking about it my thoughts have gone from humor to fear. You might ask, what is so scary about a huge pair of underpants?


What is so scary is that those are big drawers to fill, and Peter is not the only one in this organization sporting big drawers.


In a previous version of Futures Rambeling I made reference to a problem that will be one of the key challenges that dominate the world of work in 2005, that is the shrinking workforce. It is not a new problem we have been talking about it for some time now, but it is becoming more urgent and some say it will be a dominating factor in the world of work in 2005. Developing economies around the world are facing an impending talent shortage that will make competing for business seem simple compared to competing for skilled workers. Finding good people will be a major aspect of many companies future success, and we may see companies going under not for lack of business but lack of workers.


There are many reasons this is occurring. There are fewer new, or “emergent workers”, some estimate we are roughly about  10 million knowledge workers short to meet our demand for the next five years. In addition to fewer new employees, the baby boomers will soon retire and when they walk out the door we will not just lose their bodies we will also lose the critical knowledge, important relationships, and wisdom about how to get things done.


In his book Lost Knowledge David DeLong describes four distinct types of knowledge that are important for organizations, the loss of any one of them can be devastating:


Human knowledge – basic intelligence, information, and skills


Social knowledge – embedded in relationships, some call this “social capital”


Cultural knowledge – that collective understanding of how things get done around here, in particular the values, norms, and shared assumptions that differentiate one organization from another


Structured knowledge – the formal systems, processes, and procedures that have been developed within an organization.



Beyond the four types of knowledge listed above there is something else we would lose when some people leave the work force ( I had to say some people because many of the baby boomers don’t have this due to extreme drug abuse) the Harvard Business Journal calls it “Deep Smarts”. It is not raw brain power, it is not emotional intelligence either, it is the ability to see the complete picture and yet zoom in on a specific problem.  Almost intuitively people with deep smarts make the right decision, at the right level with the right people. These are people whose knowledge would be hard to purchase on the open market, and in fact these “intangible” asset are increasingly recognized as legitimate sources of worth or merit in the global business context.



Human Behaviour and Physical Space – November 29, 2004

The Connection between human behaviour and physical space

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 5 –  November 29, 2004


There are global forces of change that are requiring us to re-think our accommodation solutions. Technology, globalisation and the disappearance of borders means that the customer has more power than ever before when it comes to choosing the range, quality and speed of products and services. This means that as the world begins to resemble one large shopping mall the key to competitive positioning is differentiation or demonstrating ‘value add’. This has given birth to the knowledge economy as we know it and attracting and retaining those ‘gold collar’ workers is the critical to a company’s long-term sustainability. This is especially important in today’s tight labour market.


These knowledge workers have certain expectations and needs if they are to deliver the innovative and creative solutions so necessary for survival today.


They seek a well-branded office as image is important. They look for an environment that provides life balance, technological sophistication and inspirational spaces.


The accommodation solutions of the future should provide design that not only enhances productivity and efficiency but also supports the sharing of knowledge, enable cross-functional relationships, promote brand, and reflect social responsibility and ESD. As product life cycles become shorter and shorter, flexibility is the key to long-term returns on investment although it must be said that it is virtually impossible to have a ‘future-proof’ environment.


The workplace must become a magnet for talent and structured around excellence in service delivery.


The key challenge in all of this, of course, is how we take people on the journey with us.

How do we ensure that we take the human factor into account when we require an organizations people to adapt to new behaviours and build new relationships? This requires a structured process for change that takes into account the difficult subject of human emotion and human needs for understanding, respect, empowerment and involvement. When an accommodation solution is aimed at supporting the business plan, then people need to understand and get excited about the future and their new physical environment.


There are three key cultural indicators and our physical environment is one. Our physical environment is a daily living reminder of who we are and the messages in the design can be symbolic as well as clearly articulated in the form of inspirational statements about desired behaviours and culture. (Clemenger Harvey is an exciting example of this where their corridors are lined with quotes from people like Einstein and Aristotle) The other two key cultural indicators are leadership and the reward system (both implicit and explicit) and it must be said that the greatest space design in the world will not compensate for dysfunctional leadership.


The link between these three factors is an understanding of the relationship between human motivation behaviour and physical space. People respond positively when they are understand the context (the purpose, picture, plan and part they are expected to play in their new environment*) Clarity leads to a reduction in anxiety that we have all experienced with any situation of uncertainty. Managers experience the ‘marathon effect’ when they race to the finish line on a project and look back to see no-one behind them because of the lack of communication efforts to buy-in ownership and accountability in the process. Other reasons why people stand at the starting line tapping their foot and refusing to budge are often related to parochial self-interest and individual differences. These can be generational differences, varying levels of tolerance to change and different assessments of the situation that have not been explored.


The retail environment very overtly uses psychological influences such as eye level product positioning and small items at the check-out that tap into spontaneous buying habits. Even the music you hear at a supermarket is similar to that played to battery hens to stimulate egg production. The casinos are outstanding in their use of psychology when it comes to draining purses. If the seduction of a retail environment can be used to effectively to influence behaviour then why wouldn’t we use this principle to stimulate alternative behaviours in a corporate environment?


Projects often fail because people have not been given the ‘user manual’. This would be in the form of training from anything to creative thinking, technology or change management itself for a company’s leaders.


We must be able to integrate design solutions that inspire and enable creativity and innovation in the workplace and be prepared to integrate a structured Change Management process as a critical part of the project plan so that people are engaged and committed to adapting to their new space as quickly as possible. There are many examples of where this approach was undertaken that led to significant productivity improvements. In these cases the transition and ending of the old space that was the key focus because this is where the productivity losses occur and the impediments to the ‘soft landing’ happen. There has been some valuable research done in Europe and the U.S. that demonstrates the links to productivity when Facilities Management adopts these strategies. In Australia the evidence is still anecdotal but the anecdotes are powerful enough to continue to inspire the blue chip companies to invest millions in Change Management and strategic briefing as it relates to design.


Facility managers can help decision makers make these connections by:


  • Engaging a wider range of people in the organisation, such as marketing, human resources, IT, facilities, finance etc. in their project teams so as to arrive at a more holistic solution
  • Exercise some degree of ‘push-back’ and insist on principles and guidelines from the executive about corporate goals as they relate to the physical environment so that they have a compelling vision for the new environment and adhering to these even when funds are looking low.
  • Identify and determine opportunities for all parts of the business to contribute towards the business goals with a targeted approach
  • Define an effective Change Management strategy that takes into account identifying success factors through stakeholder analysis, communication and engagement of end users and ongoing measurement of success.




Why do a workplace strategy – June 18, 2004

Why Do A Workplace Strategy?

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 1 – June 18, 2004

Recently we were asked by a prospective client (Optus) to help them explain to the senior leadership of their organization why they needed a workplace strategy. It is a question many of our clients ask, and also one that continues to be asked by our own people at Geyer. Since taking over as the Leader of Futures I am determined to provide a simple answer to this question and one that we all feel passionate about communicating to our clients.

When considering the need for a workplace strategy, it‘s critical to understand that workplaces and the workforce in general are changing radically in response to demographic, socio- political and economic factors. The very nature of work; what it is, how it is accomplished, and the tools people use to get their work done is changing. As a result, we need very different places and spaces in which to work and we also need a new way of defining it. To help develop our ability to define this new “grammar of work”, we need vastly different methods and approaches than the ones in common use today in the architectural and interior design fields.

I would suggest the new grammar involves workplace strategy, as an overarching idea. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a workplace strategy let alone a good one, most of our competition and our clients simply ask their people to extrapolate their current environment, roles, relationships and work process into the future. This approach misses the opportunity for companies to use their space as a business tool. We should be asking bigger questions about workforce planning and strategy. For instance, what if a company’s workforce makes a fundamental shift in the type of work they do? Like MBF diversifying from a company that helps clients insure their physical health to one that also looks after their financial well being? How about a company that has a work force of 40% part time employees, or 40% of their workforce in New Delhi? Or what if, and this happened to me, a company suggests you eliminate properties for their headquarters that are in tall buildings because they fear terrorism. This suggestion was made by The Boeing Company before September 11; they eventually did selected a high rise building a block away from The Sears Tower in Chicago. Six months later we were evacuating our site office, and the floors of the headquarters that were occupied, for fear that the SearsTower would be the next target. Fortunately, no one died, or even got hurt in this instance, what did happen is we could not access our place of employment for two days, further losses of productivity occurred through the emotional impact of this experience in the days to come.  When you consider the lost man hours and the effects this kind of occurrence has on a business, it can be quite sobering. I have a confession to make here, when the Boeing executives made the tall building comment we laughed and said that it would never happen.

We may not be able to help our clients position themselves for the next SARS outbreak, terrorist attack, or major power outage, but we can help them to understand that their accommodation is more than a place to sit. We should encourage them to consider the ways they can leverage their environment to support organizational or cultural change. Plant the seed of flexibility within the workplace, so it is able to address future needs we have not even imagined. We can ask about the types of behaviors they would want to encouraged and then design the space, which has been influencing human behavior throughout history, to encourage the desired behaviors. Finally, we can use the space we design to inspire people to do their best, to improve whatever it is that they do, and bring joy to their life. We here at Geyer can do all of this and more, we just need to ask the right questions to appropriately define the problems our clients face. Helping our clients define their problems and consider holistic potential solutions is workplace strategy.

Consequently, when a client asks why do I need a workplace strategy?  I think of all of the opportunities they could miss out on by not asking a few well guided questions. I think of the relatively low cost of paying someone like Future Environments to take the time to ask those questions, clarify the need,  and challenge how design can support their strategies, compared to the costs of not using every tool they have as a business to excel. If I consider the cost of mistakes and miscommunication. Understand that the pace of change we are now experiencing is going to increase, making companies that provide their workers with workplaces that support enhanced productivity, increase personal satisfaction, and foster creativity will be the ones that not only survive, but thrive. When I think of all of this, I conclude that as a leader of any business YOU WOULD BE FOOLISH NOT TO DO A WORKPLACE STRATEGY!

If we collectively convince our clients of this, then ultimately each of us will have opportunities to broadening our scope of experience and client base.