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Futures Rambling # 105

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Most people don’t know who Sisto Malaspina is and they draw a similar blank when they hear the name Michael Rogers, but when prompted with the words shopping trolley and Pellegrini’s those in Australia will recognise Malaspina as the cafe owner killed by an armed terrorist in Melbourne last November and Michael Rogers as the homeless man who attempted to stop the attack by ramming Rogers with his shopping trolley of worldly possessions.

A gutsy move and a great example of individuals making a difference, in some instances doing the jobs of others such as: law enforcement, authorities, elected government officials and business leaders. Becoming a vigilante or shouting one’s dissatisfaction with the state of the world is by no means a new phenomenon, but the shouts are getting louder. In fact, today PR firms like Weber Shandwick’s have built entire practices advising corporate leaders on how they should talk about divisive issues like: guns, race, sexual orientation, gender, immigration and the environment.

In the big tech mega centres and bastions of globalization, technology and market liberalization: San Francisco, Seattle and the nooks and crannies of the Silicon Valley; people are screaming their heads off. Perhaps because this is there where the contrasts between the haves and have nots is gut wrenchingly profound. Everyday in those cities people commute to work past people sleeping in the streets in cardboard boxes or tent encampments. Not all, but some of those people displaced by their very success.

Walking that gauntlet as I did exiting the Bainbridge Island ferry in Seattle, or now riding my bike up Kent Street in Sydney, causes one to pause and question what responsibility we have to those negatively impacted by our success? Do the companies we work for have any accountability? Is it reasonable to expect business leaders to protect us from disruptive changes in our industries?

These questions are rife in the tech sector, the industry is in a collective crisis over this predicament and perhaps they should be, they have plenty to answer for. Of the 143 tech billionaires in the world, half live in the Silicon Valley. The rest of the schmos who drank the tech Kool-Aid never got what was promised, had their data compromised and if unlucky enough to live anywhere near them, got priced out of the housing market by those that made it big in tech.

The worry is not confined to the domain of tech. We thought a lot about the impact of disruptive technology in the design of our studio. The physical manifestation of our pondering is a large experimental zone that cuts through the workplace dedicated to robotics, VR, 3D printing and anything else that tickles our fancy. It’s perhaps a token measure, but one we hope will broaden our perspective of what architects and designers do. Truth be told, we’re kind of scared of the day when computers are smarter, less snarky and more accurate than we are.

It’s a challenge for those who dabble in academia too. Students aren’t told they’re learning skills that might be radically different, or obsolete, by the time they graduate. Nor does anyone let on that employers select candidates based on adaptability, cultural fit and personal curiosity. Who tells the kids that the impact of AI and other disruptive technology will mean knowing soft skills that machines can’t perform will be their true worth.

Corporations have long played a role in social issues and the political process that surround them. Today this has been exacerbated to the extent that this has been coined the era of the ‘activist CEO’. Business leaders (in particular the billionaires) assume the role of stewards of company’s values; accountable parties who stand up for employees, customers, partners and communities. They do this, because the public demands it and have told them they must serve a higher purpose beyond maximizing shareholder values.

Some listen. Marc Benioff the CEO of Salesforce contributed $7 million to a Proposition C, which is San Francisco’s ‘homelessness tax’, and he challenged his contemporaries to do the same suggesting it was a moral responsibility of tech companies who have received tax breaks to give back. And in May Seattle’s City Council voted unanimously to pass a similar payroll tax to support the homeless in that city.

That didn’t go so well. Amazon threw a dummy spit and threatening to stop construction of their new office building in Seattle; understandable, Jeff Bezos’ needs to finance a divorce and even Donald Trump, who knows plenty about divorces and pay outs, says that divorce is going to be ‘huge’. In San Francisco Apple and Lift opposed the measure as did Twitter a company who benefits from a massive tax break just to operate there.

Benioff may have been swayed by employees shouting outside his San Francisco headquarters “Caging children is a crime. Salesforce, fuck your bottom line”. That of course had nothing to do with Prop C but was a response to a contract they signed to provide human resources services to US Customs and Border Protection. The point is, employees aren’t quiet anymore; 20,000 Google employees who staged a walkout to protest the company’s payouts to executives accused of sexual harassment certainly aren’t keeping their mouths shut.

It’s a tough predicament the world is in. One that will require a handful of courageous companies to change the rules, otherwise no one wins. Star Trek fans will recognize a Kobayashi Maru situation.

For my part I’ll continue challenging corporates who claim they’re socially responsible with suggestions they let the homeless sleep in their empty offices. Maybe someone, someday will say yes and not look at me like I have three heads. Who knows, it may be the start of new breed of social workplace. As for the university kids, maybe they should skip Revit training and go to the pub to work on their people skills.




Captain, Sean; “Meet the Silicon Valley Socialist Who are Pushing a Tech Worker Uprising”;; July 17, 2018

Chamorro-Premuzic Thomas and Frankiewicz Becky; “Does Higher Education Still Prepare People for Jobs?”; Harvard Business Review; January 14, 2019

Chatterji, Aaron and Toffel Michael; “The New CEO Activists”; The Harvard Business Review; January – February 2018

Molloy, Shannon; “Victoria Police Hunting for Bourke St Hero dubbed ‘Tolley Man’ Over Alleged Burglaries”;; November 16, 2018

Rogers, Adam and Tiku, Nitasha; “San Francisco Billionaires Go To War Over Homelessness”; Wired; October 29, 2018







By Laurie Aznavoorian

Futures Rambling # 104

Last week I exercised my rights of free agency and personal empowerment by unplugging my desk from the octopus it was tethered to and rolled it across the studio to the spot previously occupied by Peter Titmuss. It took about three minutes to link to a shiny new octopus and voila, I became a member of a new team.

Since the name is less than self-explanatory, an octopus is part of BVN’s boom & octopus combination that allows each of us to re- configure our studio environment at will. All desks are on wheels and both power and data drop from fibre optic cables nestled in overhead circular booms that connect to a host, or octopus, which supports up to eight desks.

Why move desks rather than people you ask, isn’t that somewhat hypocritical coming from people known for flogging alternative working? The answer is poor performance of programs like Revit, V Ray, Rhino or Grasshopper over Wi-Fi. For those who know me and are spitting their coffee on their keyboard, no I’ve not upskilled. But there are others here who are far more talented and unburdened by technical challenges than I who’d be crippled.

For organisations like BVN, extreme flexibility opens many doors, some like enabling teams to reorganise are fantastic, others are a work in progress. For example, we’re currently drafting guidelines that clarify when and how one can roll, otherwise to quote our office manager “it would be a real shit show.” And even though you would think it unnecessary to remind architects not to park in fire exits or blocking loo doors, the guidelines will dictate exactly where you can stop rolling.

In parallel, we’ve embarking on a research project intended to track desk movement. This is critical since a successful rolling studio will inherently rely in part on human nature. We all know that just because an individual has the right to roll, doesn’t mean they will. Humans abandon privileges all the time, just look at American voting records. The psychological aspects of rolling we might explore are plentiful: what inspires one to roll while others are happy to stay still, do some people have roll phobia, is the fear of recrimination due to location real?

We also wonder whether people will learn anything from rolling. Perhaps some will become roving studio journeyman, or roll to locations where they’ll amass skills or positive behaviours via osmosis? The hypothesis could be tested on me, we can take note if I’ve become more hip sitting next to Sebastian and a wiz at photoshop, or if being in the mere vicinity of Selina encourages me to learn Revit.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds, particularly if you know anything about social contagion. I recently learned about this theory listening to an interview with Dr. Gary Slutkin, a physician and infectious disease control specialist at the University of Illinois Chicago. He knows plenty about spreading things.

He also happens to live in a city where the murder rate surpassed 1400 in July; therefore, is well placed to pursue his vocation of studying infectious disease along with his other passion, the spread of crime. Cure Violence is the program he founded that’s being rolled out across cities in the US. It marries both spheres of Slutkin’s expertise and led him to suggest the spread of violence through a community happens in the same manner as a contagious disease.

Take something nasty like Ebola, your chances of contracting the disease increases with exposure and the disease spreads quickly or slowly depending on specific factors: age, overall health and living conditions. With violence the factors are exposure to gang wars, riots or childhood abuse. The evidence that Slutkin has amassed contradicts the common belief that violent acts are random. Instead, he suggests it follows the patterns of contagion and both disease and violence cluster in time and space.

Social science has reached similar conclusions about behaviours. Attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours move through populations like infection, they spread rapidly and are often accepted uncritically. Given the human condition is a combination of both a biological and social process, and each rely on replicated instructions, you can start to see the connection. In biology a gene is reproduced, in social processes it’s a meme, or culture.

It’s called social contagion and applies to both good and bad behaviours and the concept is by no means new. In 1774 Goethe’s publication “The Sorrows of Young Werther” inspired so many people to commit suicide that both book and Werther clothing style were banned. The Werther – effect is now a synonym for media induced imitation.

Social learning theory posits we learn social memes and behaviours by directly experiencing, observing and imitating and make cognitive inferences based on our observations. Back to our studio, based on the theory of social learning and contagion it is entirely plausible that I might develop new skills because of where I sit, or at least adopt an attitude or aptitude to learn.

Of course, we must be mindful not to spread bad behaviours, the research says this can be minimised by limiting exposure or inoculating people against the effects. Currently the only really bad thing that I can think of that could infect the studio would happen at the Christmas party when the New York crowd comes over. As far as I know there is no inoculation against stupid and our colleagues do live in the same city as the Trumps and may be infected. We should be thankful to have no office in Canberra.



Bushman, Brad J. PH.D, “How Violence Spreads Like a Contagious Disease” Psychology Today, May 31, 2017

Niederkrotenthaler T, Herbert A, Sonneck G.; The “Werther-effect”: Legend or Reality?” Neuropsychiatry 2007; 21(4)

Jack, B; “Goethe’s Werther and its effects – The Lancet Psychiatry”, The Lancet, April 30, 2014

Marsden, Dr. Paul, “ Memetics & Social Contagion: Two Sides of the Same Coin?” The Journal of Memetics: Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 1998 Vol 2.

Slutkin, Gary MD, “Violence is a Contagious Disease”, National Academies Press (US); 2013 Feb 6. II.9, Available from:

“How Treating Violence As A Disease Could Help Prevent It”, Here and Now, PRI WBUR, March 22, 2017





Futures Rambling #103

I recently read that if your life is dominated by negative incentives, my source put it as living in a world of sticks and no carrots; that you’ll quickly lose interest and motivation. That’s about the best excuse I can find for not having written if I want to avoid unhelpful labels like shiftless bum. Therefore, the diagnosis of loss of motivation due to negative incentives suits me just fine. What negative incentives you ask? Have you watched the news lately? It’s a motivational black hole.

Even if you had zero interest in the asinine things Trump did in the past 24 hours, you would be hard pressed to avoid it with your phone pinging at each absurd debacle you allowed it to push and social media scrolling down your display screen like a waterfall. It’s like driving by an automobile accident, we want to look away but don’t. We can partly blame BJ Fogg for that. He taught “The Facebook Class’ at Stanford, that was a curriculum that explored how technology persuades people.

Fogg’s students went on to use the basics of behavioural psychology and other psychological principles to map out how to attract attention. They created an ‘addiction code’ that uses the electromagnetic reward system in the brain to manipulate the habit-forming tendencies we’re all prone to. Some call it brain hacking. It’s very effective, few can resist a sweet hit of dopamine, that’s the neurotransmitter in your brain that makes you happy when you smoke crack or look at Facebook.

Every day we enter into a bargain where we exchange our time, attention and personal data for news, entertainment and services. The conundrum is that it’s hard to tell what’s worthwhile from what’s rubbish. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that whole industries have emerged that take data and knowledge about you and sell it to the highest bidder. This is not new, in the 1990s three scholars: Jonathan Beller, Michael Goldhaber and Georg Frank coined this the ‘attention economy’.

In the attention economy most of us live in a perpetual state of deficit, not knowing where to look next and easily distracted reading stories about Stormy Daniels rather than paying attention to family, friends and work. To put this in perspective, authors Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck noted that the Sunday New York Times contains more factual information in one edition than in all the written material available to a reader in the 15th century.

Anything that is scarce can form an economy. Today what we have in abundance is information and knowledge, but human attention unfortunately occurs in limited supply. Davenport and Beck say human attention has been commodified to the point that it often fails to meet the demands of our businesses or society and that can have serious psychological and organisational consequences.

Running at attention deficit for too long can cause businesses to miss the boat because they fail to see the trends and new developments that are occurring with their competitors. It’s a form of organisational ADD where the businesses attention is hijacked leading organisations to focus in areas that don’t serve them. Consequently, managing a valuable currency like attention is critical for companies today, it’s a determinant of business success.

Navigating the muck to sort what’s worthwhile is something few of us excel at, particularly when psychological tricks are being played. But before we throw stones in glass houses, consider this, we do the same in our desperate attempt to attract the best talent, keep employees attracted, create points of difference to get attention, develop services, offers and wonderful experiences to attract clients. Everyone is waving and screaming and vying for time and attention. Some losers even write blogs no one reads – all for attention.

Some people are very worried about this, one is Tristan Harris. He graduated from Fogg’s class and then went to work for Google where he created a presentation “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention.” That was a precursor to what he is doing now, running an advocacy group called Time Well Spent – they are lobbyist that go after the tech industry encouraging them to align with societal well-being.

Good for him. It made me think, who is doing this in our industry and what contribution are we making? In particular, do the open plan offices we design contribute to negative incentives that rob attention? There are many reasons we recommend open plan environments, most are sound including: flexibility, creating community, mentoring, social support, not to mention clear environmental drivers. Less space built equals lower carbon footprint.

We also tout open plan leads to greater collaboration and faster decision making, but new research done by Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban from the Harvard Business School found just the opposite. The study measured interaction in two multinational companies during completion of new office designs. They observed employees for eight weeks before and after the fit-out were complete using sociometric badges and Bluetooth sensors.

What they found was a 70% decrease in interaction and a 20 to 50% increase in emails. WOW, when you consider this with findings from past Harvard studies that concluded poorly planned open plan environments increase our cognitive load, it becomes downright frightening. Cognitive processes are the ones knowledge workers engage in daily: gathering information, analysing and making decisions. If interrupted it compromises the workers ability to focus and concentrate and that leads to stress and errors.

Personally, I’ve been unable to concentrate for the past thirty years, but am I guiding your plane in for a landing or operating on your brain? As if that wasn’t enough, there’s more from Harvard. It appears that when we can’t concentrate we get snarky and that leads us to cease interacting with the very co-workers we’re meant to be collaborating with. We don earphones and distribute disapproving glances to those with the audacity to laugh or talk in the office.

Wait there’s more, open plan causes us to assume defensive behaviour that strain workplace relationships. An example of this can be observed just near my desk where the IDT help desk team have tried to use potted plants to keep me from asking them tech questions. It’s futile, shrubbery won’t stop me, I’ve got them on speed dial.

Alas, the study is not all gloom and doom, it suggests that rather than a one-size-fits- all approach that organisations create environments where workers have options to work that vary between places that support privacy and focus, interaction and collaboration. They also suggest cognitive resources can be replenished by allowing people to look out the window. This works even in the presence of distraction, how novel. Who would have thunk it! That my friends, is why people from Harvard earn the big bucks.



Beck, John C and Davenport, Thomas H; “The Attention Economy – Understanding the New Currency of Business”

DiSalvo, David; “The Reasons Why We Can’t Put Down Our Smartphone” Forbes; April 9, 2017

Sander, Libby; “Here’s the Final Nail in the Coffin of Open Plan Offices” The Conversation; April 11, 2018

Schwab, Katharine; “Everyone Should be Reading “The Attention Merchants” This Summer”; Fast Company CoDesign; July 16, 2018

Stilzoff, Simone; “The Formula for Phone Addiction Might Double as a Cure” Wired; February 1, 2018


The following synopsis of Worktech appeared in The Worktech Academy Newsletter


For a conference with intentions of knitting together the best of work, technology and workplace; Worktech Sydney 2018 began and ended quite appropriately on the topic of people. After all, it is human beings, who play the critical role of aggregate binding these elements together.

Beginning with strategies to inspire individuals by enhancing the hopes we all have of being fully engaged in our work and performing jobs that provide a sense of purpose and meaning, we moved to the opposite end of the spectrum. Touching on another innate human desire, our hunger to be part of a larger collective: contributing, sharing and striving to meet common goals.

As we have come to expect from Worktech, we were offered glimpses of exciting new technologies that augment the workplace experience for both individuals, and those who work together. New technologies employ expanded sensory touch points: biometrics use vision, haptic interfaces apply touch and through the introduction of food in the workplace our sense of smell is called upon. All illustrate a multi-sensory approach to enhanced engagement.

In a similar vein, new research considering the impact of hearing drew corollaries between noise in the workplace and knowledge transfer. This work offers a welcomed contrast to recent focus on quiet and distractions that have dominated workplace discussions and only reflect on the negative aspects of noise. Interestingly, the same research explored the representation of females in office interactions and found women underrepresented in areas of ideas generation. Clearly, we have a ways to go if we hope to engage everyone and achieve real diversity.

Changing scale, examples of cities like ShenZhen China illustrate the significant power of individuals working together in communities, joined by common vision and goals. In this case, people unite against a collective enemy that is speed to market. Similarly, the notion of the ‘civic supermind’ gave us a prevue of the strength of shared vision to leverage the power of people working together, using data and technology, to create stronger, safer and better cities.


The concept of community was equally prominent. Communities address both individual’s emotional needs and an economic imperative to join forces to solve complex problems. The notion of community here is defined not in terms of what we build, but how we create a sustainable fabric that binds a collection of people together.

Unsurprisingly, technology and data play a key role in supporting community, both in physical space and through digitally connected networks. Workplace communities now connect using fog computing, an enterprise approach to storage, communication and control. Partnerships like Beco + Alexa and Cisco + Spark are finally offering the type of seamless workplace experiences we were promised when the term Internet of Things first graced the workplace lexicon.

With ubiquitous connection theoretically solved, attention now turns to supporting groups in broader community contexts that exist beyond the walls of our office buildings. Global community networks, such as Top Coder, join together through technology and tap into the exquisite skills of accomplished developers around the world. They offer each other on line help and employ an open innovation approach to solving complex problems.

Clear benefits of ‘community beyond the walls’ are speed and transparency. Since the groups operate under a different dynamic to traditional organisations, they are able to build a collective intelligence and learn faster than traditional ‘in the walls’ organisations.

Another advantage of ‘communities beyond the walls’ is their ability to engage a highly skilled workforce who have the freedom to work together without the crippling obstacles of implicit bias against sexual preferences, ethnic background and gender that plague many organisations. It is not surprising, but never the less a disappointment, that it takes the blinding aspect of technology to open the doors to all people and achieve greater workplace inclusion.


We were warned of a tsunami of change on the horizon that could decimate the working class. Led by super technology, it brings a new generation of volatility and uncertainty that will demand a level of resilience, agility and inherent creativity in organisations. It will most definitely challenge the status quo.

Many organisations have already tapped into metrics and baseline data available, and know their office space is only used a portion of the time. The savviest are scrutinising their contracts and challenging landlords and developers for greater flexibility, paving the way for solutions that offer the ability to scale down or down and procure space differently.

One positive outcome of this tsunami is the impact it has on ‘normal workplaces’ of ‘normal organisations’. Many companies and individuals are oblivious to the benefits of contemporary workplace ideas adopted by upper crust organisations who have greater financial means and insights. Seeing these notions trickledown is a pleasing change.

For example, the workplace of the NSW government reflects the significant reform they have undertaken and illustrates a physical environment that mirrors the way the agencies now work together. A dialogue has opened related to the adoption of flexible working that challenges built offices. The strategy looks to the future anticipating how the shifting demographic of Sydney that redistributes the population across Central, Western and Eastern Sydney hubs, underpins the workplace strategy.

By overcoming fear the NSW government was able to consider the same unquestionable metrics many corporates use to demonstrate inefficient use of space, paving the way for change. Importantly, those changes are executed at a very different price point to many of the workplaces featured at the conference. It highlights the benefits of contemporary workplace have just as much, if not more, to do with mindset than the physical environment.


As is the case with all of the themes of the conference, Trust is explored at individual and community levels. We are familiar with the critical role trust plays in developing relationships between employers and co-workers. New technologies serve to remind us of the tenuous position we are in, straddling the blurry, thin line that separates privacy infringements and productivity enhancement.

Taking the notion of trust to a macro level, communities and networks must also augment trust to encourage the reciprocity required to leverage the benefits of a working collective.

Sadly it comes at a time where institutions and social trust have eroded, consider Brexit and Donald Trump. The s@#t show we are currently living in has created a state of individual and societal disillusionment. It’s imperative we rebuild social trust and legitimacy. The remedy offered was a call for greater openness; in theory, this will lead to the optimism required to get more people to participate.

We end where we began, with people. Whether it is in a workplace, a community or global network, our future lies in an ability to tap into brilliant individuals possessing the conviction necessary to combat today’s societal maladies: mental illness, loneliness, complexity overload, bullying. Our success lies not in work, workplaces or technology, but the people who occupy them.

Futures Rambling #101

In the book, The Enigma of Reason cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber help us understand the concept of bias using the analogy of a mouse who is bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats in the world. One can quickly see the inherent danger when the mouse becomes a kitty snack. On the world stage examples abound from the silly, e.g. Trump’s ‘birther debate’ to those with broader implications, such as denying climate change.

Sadly, to add to the list, we humans have another fault referred to as ‘myside bias’ clouding our reason. People are amazingly efficient at spotting weaknesses in another’s approach, but can be completely blind to their own. Sperber and Mercier suggests this occurs when the pace of change in the environment is too fast for natural selection to catch up. There are many examples, one is the dizzying speed that technology and digital interfaces have entering our environments, and the impact they have.

Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, also cognitive scientists, put it another way. They say people are simply dumb and believe they know more than they actually do. Ignorance fuels bias. To make the point they suggest thinking about a toilet. It’s of course one thing to flush one and another to know how it actually operates.

As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding. This is particularly worrisome when people who think alike collect together and form dangerous communities of stupidity. One excellent example would be the Trump’s cabinet and their highly inexperienced advisors. Really, who knew selling handbags and shoes was transferable to running a nation, but has it kept Ivanka from the West Wing?

Humans are so flawed, even our own physiology sets us up for failure. We experience a rush of dopamine when our beliefs are reinforced by others. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that control the brain’s reward and pleasure center; consequently, thinking you’re right and sticking to your guns, even when you’re wrong, produces a rush of dopamine. We actually get high. It’s sick and warped in the same cruel way a dopamine rush from checking email is.

A final addition to the list of flaws is implicit bias. They are learned bias associated with various qualities or social categories such as race or gender. These are currently playing a critical role in America right now, think about the Black Lives Matter debate. Implicit bias are hard to correct because they’re based on rehearsed, or learned, neural connections in the brain. Unfortunately, our brains are very good at leaning, they are not very good at unlearning.

If we can’t rely on data, because no one believes in it anymore and logic and reason are prone to bias, might we perhaps we turn to intraception? This is the term psychologist use to describe those who process the world primarily through their feelings or emotions.

Lisa Feldman Barret, professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, discusses this approach in her book How Emotions are Made. The long held belief that emotions are hard-wired in neurons in the brain is one she challenges, the status quo thinking is these neurons are automatically triggered when something happens to produce a specific emotional response.

Instead, she suggests emotions are more complex. For example a smile cannot provide clues to appreciate the nuances of a given emotion because there is more than one type of sadness, happiness or awe and emotions vary from culture to culture. She’s coined ‘the theory of constructed emotion’ which posits the brain relies on the past to construct the present. It predicts what to expect, and what actions to take, from sensory input based on experiences rather than hard wiring.

Thinking about this from your brains point of view it makes sense, it’s in your skull with no access to what causes the sensations it receives; it only has the effects. Given the plethora of human flaws outlined above what’s great about this is that Barret believes it is entirely possible to invest energy into cultivating new experiences that in time, if practiced, will become automated emotional responses.

Architects and designers can learn from this. If we know people’s immediate emotional response to change is ‘no way, no how, not doing that’ and we also know banging our heads against the wall trying to change beliefs hurts, we should stop talking and start creating experiences. It’s not complex, in fact the benefits of exposure to new things was introduced by the famous Dr. Suess in the legendary tome Green Eggs and Ham.

If all else fails there is always professional help to be sought. Extreme lost causes can be sent away for neuroscience-based coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy. Yes it’s a real thing. There are even programs to overcome implicit bias called Raciest Anonymous, naturally this concept was conceived of and is held in California (there’s an example of implicit bias in action). Finally, if the people you deal with are just plain stupid, perhaps suggest they immigrate to America. I hear there are still spots in the Trump administration up for grabs.



Futures Rambling # 99

By Laurie Aznavoorian

This second of three posts written for the Worktech Academy

There are many reasons it is a challenge to describe the impact of digital on physical workplace design, one is that digital is manifested more through the experiences we have in spaces than in their outward physical appearance. Another is workplace has been very slow in coming to the digital party. Other types of environments, such as retail and entertainment, were early adopters and have now advanced to a point where a seamless digital experience is all but expected.

Contributing to the sluggish uptake in workplace is our propensity to want to measure and relate what we do in the environment back to return on investment before we will commit to major works. Clearly this is easier when repeating a design that is tried and tested, not so much when we hope to implement new ideas. This highlights the critical role of belief in promoting innovative workplace design, because when it comes to challenging the status quo, clients must believe in ideas before they are willing to take a leap of faith. Of course at some point they will have no choice but to go out on a limb. It is our job to build the belief that will help them overcome fear.

Belief trumps truth every time. As designers we should never underestimate its power, for evidence of this one need not look any further than the vast amounts of workplace data that unequivocally proves the typical desk is frequently unoccupied, yet users swear hand on heart that they’re in their seat for a majority of the day. Even though the data says the opposite they believe what they believe – and that is why it’s important for us to acknowledge that beliefs do not need to be ‘true beliefs’ for people to wholeheartedly buy into them. As we’ve seen with the US election and the Brexit vote, facts are often optional in the decision making process.

Another pitfall to be avoided is short changing the critical role design plays in building belief. This begins with the development of a robust workplace strategy linking the organisation’s sustainability to the physical solutions we create. The relationship is the foundation for a rich narrative both designer and organisation can use to build broader buy in across an organisation. Finally, once a design is created it must put EX, employee experience, first surpassing pragmatic form and function to create a space that focuses on people’s experience. This is the blueprint for building belief.

Wonderfully conceived and designed spaces supported by convincing stories are an excellent start, but it still may not be enough. Fortunately we can now call on digital tools to help our clients overcome their natural aversion to taking risks. In the last post we talked about chip maker Qualcomm, one of the many working with Virtual Reality and instantaneous Artificial Intelligence. These new chips present audio and video, track eye, head and gestures and also track audio, all of this paves the way for virtual experiences that are more realistic than anything we’ve seen to date. Once relegated to the realm of video games, they’re now frequently used to enhance the design process.

Tech enthusiasts have been talking about Virtual Reality headsets since 2012, in March of 2016 the long awaited ship date of the high end consumer virtual reality headset Oculus Rift arrived and that is significant because to date there were none on the market that offered the quality an architect would require to use it as an effective design communication tools, not to mention their ability to afford it. At $1,500 USD for the headset and computer that it operates on, Rift is affordable and sophisticated and is rapidly making its way into design practices.

A second digital tool the Holograms has also moved beyond the lark stage to play a role in supporting designers. Today in Lowes, a home improvement retailer in the United States, which is neither high end nor exclusive, offers their customers the opportunity to cruse the store and use Pinterest to drop pins on products they’re interested in. Then donning a pair of Microsoft’ HoloLens goggles they can view a high definition hologram of their kitchen remodel. It would be hard to find a more powerful tool in the today’s market to help workplace designers build belief.

These technologies are quickly evolving from being follies and fads to tools of the mainstream and with their rapid development we’re quickly moving to a place where we’ll have real time dynamic immersive 3-D experiences. Products like Magic Leap, currently in development, but on the horizon, employ ‘augmented reality’ by creating realistic holograms superimposed on the field of vision. It is predicted such headsets will eventually scan our brains and transmit our thoughts, the technology will communicate a full sensory experience with emotions through thought.

When that day comes it will be much easier for us to build belief, in turn we will have greater license to explore the boundaries of innovative workplace design.


Futures Rambling # 97  By Laurie Aznavoorian

Over a year ago the quick actions of three American off duty marines stopped a terrorist attack on a French train. Experts say the reason they were able to react while others sat stunned and nonreactive is due to something called ‘situational awareness.’ When you or I hear the sound of gunfire we’re confused, it takes time for our brain to process what the sound is and we lose time, but a marine is programmed to immediately and appropriately react.

While it may seem a stretch, adapting to new work environments requires a similar type of awareness for individuals and organisations to successfully conceive and accept new ways of working. Over the past decade workplace experts have understood the impact of mindset and the incorporation and integration of new technology in creating successful workspaces, this workplace ecology or comprehensive approach, is all the more critical as new types of work environments seek to redefine what it means to work.

The notion of workplace has evolved from being a desk we sit in to incorporate the floor that desk is on and the entire buildings and precinct it belongs to. We continue to expand the concepts of what workplace is by exploring the digital environment along with the physical, we are also beginning to really challenge the status quo approach to procuring space through the emergence of co-working spaces. The global rise of Co-working spaces could arguably be one of the most significant changes to workplace that we have seen in the last half century.

Co-working spaces are shared work environments generally located in prime CBD buildings. The main difference between a Co-working centre and the traditional hired or temporary office space provided by companies like Regus, is the acknowledgement that work today is less about completing a series of tasks and more about connecting, collaborating and from a personal standpoint, feeling part of a community that inspires and delights.

The typical Co-working venue provides a worker with a place to set a computer, coffee cup and their backside, and also offers the service of savvy centre managers to facilitate professional introductions when a specific synergy or skill set might be beneficial, for instance pairing an accountant with a web-designer. Centre managers in Co-Working environments organise seminars and learning opportunities to educate their constituents, creating a state of constant stimulation for those who work in them.

The advantages to small or start-up organisations are obvious. Following the popular shared economy trend seen in companies like Zip-cars, Co-working cultivates an immediate network to deliver and receive services. For workers whose alternative is to work from home, Co-working satisfies the human need to be a part of a professionally and personal community. Anyone who’s attempted bouncing ideas off the family pet can appreciate this concept.

The big ‘ah-ha’ that’s emerged from Co-working is that it’s proved to be just as attractive to small operations as to large established companies who see Co-working as a means to dial up innovation by expanding the circle of professionals people can liaise with to inspire and provoke. For organisations who have merged, or acquired new business to expand and complement a skill set, but find they are suddenly dealing with cultural opposites, e.g. big banks or accounting companies with newly acquired digital teams, Co-working is a very attractive solution.

Given the benefits of Co-working and flexibility it offers from a real estate perspective one might question why every organisation hasn’t gone down this path. For that matter we might question why there are still companies who insist on having offices, high partitions, who insist on presenteeism and forbid use the internet at work. To understand why new concepts with such promise don’t always succeed we need to explore the important impact of people in the workplace equation; in particular note how awareness of one’s self, of the personal surroundings and of the situation can impact acceptance.

To take advantage of new ways of working: such as Activity Based Working or Co-working environments we must encourage people to build greater self-awareness by asking individuals to must make an honest assessment of what they’re good at and areas where they’re not as proficient. This type of awareness is rarely seen in today’s corporate environment where workers are busy masking flaws, blaming others or their physical environment for internal challenges they have, are unaware of or don’t care to address.

Cultivating greater self-awareness by accurately and honestly assessing professional performance and contribution and letting go of the façade many don of believing they’re really good at what they do, when in reality they’re following a template that delivers mediocre status quo results, is a first step. Those with the guts and audacity to critically self-reflect may gain an understanding of how to control or correct the environment to better leverage their skills and the skills of others around them.

Self-awareness is impacted by culture; therefore, it’s important to appreciate some may have a greater challenge in developing self-awareness than others. For instance, in the United States there is great weight placed on personal freedom and decision making, the typical American vehemently defends their right to choose, while their Asian counter parts have a cultural expectation of alignment. In Australia the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ discourages individuals from calling attention to their needs and expectations.

It will not be enough for an individual to make the effort to understand their unique workstyles and productivity triggers, if there is nothing they can change in the environment to remedy the issues they discover. Challenging the status quo and exploring new notions of how environment might support uncovered issues will require greater accountability and environmental awareness. By thinking differently individuals can take responsibility and contribute to an expanded set of workplace options to address how a problem might be solved. This is where real innovation will begin – the kind that has given birth to ideas like Co-working that critically analyse whether the way we currently do things is the only or best way they should be done.

Unfortunately, workplace design is one of the few areas where an individual, or company, frequently revert to their own experiences over the council or advice of a professional. This can be very limiting because there’s a tendency is to envision the future based on the existing and a propensity to approach new workplace design with preconceived notions based on what is known and familiar.

One obvious flaw is many offices are outdated, leaving occupants few experiences and examples to draw from, they don’t know what they don’t know. Additional problems arise from ignoring what is new: the changing needs and expectations of an emergent workforce, the impact of new technologies and changing economic pressures. All are critical considerations.

Combining greater self-awareness with expanded environmental awareness will produce a larger number of choices for people to customise their work experience for greater effectiveness. Encouraging people, who are a key ingredient in the workplace ecology equation, empowers the individual to take responsibility for examining their own internal issues and creatively engage with the environment for support, effectively shifting responsibility.

Finally, it isn’t enough to for us to suggest workers become more self-aware and expand their environmental awareness, to take advantage of the rewards a physical environment can offer they must have the ability to perform like the military personnel on the train, they must intuitively think and act quickly and have the permission from their organisations to do so.

Futures Rambling #96

By Laurie Aznavoorian

One of my favourite questions to ask at the onset of a workplace strategy is – What keeps you up at night? The intention is to gain an appreciation of disruptive changes in an industry that could significantly impact the type of workplace design they should have. Not voyeurism. As I always say, if we were debating the brief for a new film processing plant for Kodak and no one had the brains to ask about digital photography we’d be real buffoons.

The point of completing a workplace strategy is a quest for meaning. By considering a broader range of issues and imperatives when articulating the problem we are solving, we can get beyond the easy picking, rainbows and unicorns items that float on the surface when a brief is being compiled to leverage the physical environment to do more. Consequently, it came as no surprise when the sticky topic of automation rose to the surface when I asking architects this question. It appears they’re scared sleepless by automation.

It’s said technology has created more jobs and industries than it’s destroyed, but recent research from the US suggests mechanized robots, both humanoid or drone types, along with Artificial Intelligence may eliminate 6% of jobs in America in the next five years and it won’t just be low-wage work on the chopping board. Industries that rely heavily on data are at particular risk including: radiology, law and accounting. Some estimate 95% of accountants may lose their job in the next ten years.

According to some creative fields will be safer and therefore one could surmise the fear architects have of being replaced by robots anytime soon is unfounded. When you think about it one could attire a robot in black and give it a groovy haircut, but can a robot bring the passion and common sense architecture requires? I doubt it, but on the other hand, we too work in an industry that is heavily reliant on data which is what radiology, law and accounting have in common.

The challenge we breathers have is a computer outfitted with the right algorithms thinks faster and more accurately than a person, and that is why start-ups like The San Francisco’s Enlitic are doing so well applying deep learning to the analysis of X-rays and CT scans. They’re giving doctors a real run for their money in tests against human radiologists. The Enlitic system was 50% more accurate in detecting malignant tumours and had a 0% false negative rate, humans generally miss 7% of cancers.

They’re trialling another new technology here in Australia which will detect wrist fractures and sadly the early trials are not looking good for humans who are once again being outperformed by computers. I’m not sure why they’re testing that here, perhaps it has something to do with Mr Trump bullying the company into leveraging the skills of unemployed factory workers in the Midwest to read scans? Could be okay as long as they don’t blur their vision by drinking too much Wild Turkey, but then does it matter? Who’ll be able to afford to get a wrist set without health care?

Fellow architects might take comfort in the findings of a 2013 study that found the half of the workforce at high risk of losing their job due to automation were less likely to be in creative fields. The study highlighted architecture as being at a lower risk because it’s non-routine and highly paid, ha ha ha ha, this is of course in comparison to cleaners or burger flippers, not other fields that require a university degree, internship and nasty exam to get a license.

That study was done in 2013, clearly they hadn’t heard of Magenta. This is a project launched by the Google’s Brain team and inspired by DeepDream. Magenta uses machine learning to explore content creation and creativity. Yep, creativity. They’re currently using it to compile music and art. What makes Magenta possible is deep learning or deep neural networks which mimic how the human brain works. Prior to that machine translations were based on algorithms that used statistical methods to guess possible outcomes.

Go ahead, be smug, argue there’s no way a computer could possibly be as creative as a human. Tell that to Android Lloyd Webber the computer that wrote the musical Beyond the Fence, while the reviews weren’t rave: “this show is as bland, inoffensive, and pleasant as a warm milky drink”, it played in London’s West End which is more than many composers can claim. Similarly, Nick Montfort, a professor of digital media at MIT who wrote the novel “World Clock” using a computer and algorithms that outlined characters, locations and actions produced a smash hit.

I guess this means we architects should be scared and pay close attention to the words of Sebastian Thrun, an AI professor at Stanford, who says “we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. No office job is safe.” Heck computers are already being used to create floor plans for housing projects and any robot worth its metal could probably draw a banquette detail faster than a junior and get the back angle and foam density correct to boot.

This is not great news for those of us trying to put shitty 2016 behind us and doing our darndest to diffuse negativity. By the way, experts say the first thing you need to do to diffuse negativity is to stop worrying and obsessing about things that have happened because it launches a cycle that is very difficult to extract yourself from – a slippery slope. They suggest acknowledging and accepting – that’s what I’m practicing when I repeat to myself ‘the new head of the EPA is a climate change denier – fantastic.’

Another method for forgetting is to be in a worse situation. We are so fortunate to live in a time where there are crackpot companies that do this! Of course it cost more than what the typical architectural practice is prepared to pay per person for an offsite, $950 US, but if you want you can go to Survival Systems and have a worse situation simulated. They’ll stick you under water in a mock plane crash with your co-workers. Imagining drowning with colleagues, that’s one way to forget about the nasty things that keep us up at night.



Aldermanjan, Leslie; “The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking”; The New York Times; January 3, 2017

Barrie, Joshua; “Computers Are Writing Novels: Read A Few Samples Here”; Business Insider Australia; November 28, 2014

Griffiths, Sarah; “Musicals Written by Computer is Heading for the West End… and Based on the Machine’s Calculations, it Should be a Guaranteed Hit” MailOnline; February 5, 2016

Grothaus, Michael; “Bet You Didn’t See This Coming: 10 Jobs That Will Be Replaced By Robots” Fast Company; January 19, 2017

Hyde, Rory; “Architecture in the Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence” Architecture AU

Kelleyjan, Tyler J; “Need Better Morale in the Workplace? Simulate a Plane Crash”; The New York Times; January 7, 2017

Morgenstern, Michael; “The Impact on Jobs – Automation and Anxiety”; The Economist; June 25, 2016

Shani, Or; “Is Artificial Intelligence Going To Take Your Job?” Forbes; August 29, 2016





Futures Rambling #95

By Laurie Aznavoorian


In late October I spoke at a workplace conference in Sydney (I’ve written three posts that you can read at ( if you’re interested in knowing more about The Digital Revolution which was my missive for the day. As is often the case with these types of industry gatherings, an unofficial theme emerges, it establishes itself quickly like a light switch flicking to the on position in the collective conscious.

The Work 2.0 conference was no different in this regard, the hot topic that was repeated like a mantra from presentation to presentation was gig economy, gig economy, gig economy. In the event you reside on Mars, this term describes a group of people who have loose arrangements with companies that resemble employment, but aren’t really.

The easiest way to think about the gig economy is to consider the Uber driver who chauffeured you home from the office Christmas party, that guy doesn’t work for Uber. Similarly, the Deliveroo bikie who miraculously made a pizza appear when you got home does not work for your local Italian joint. Both are freelancers and part of an emerging economy defined by loose employment relations coined the gig economy.

The Intuit 2020 report that predicts trends shaping the next decade estimates 40% of the U.S. workforce will be made up of freelancers (or giggers) by 2020. This report provocatively asks us to imagine a world where companies motivate and manage employees who never set a foot in the corporate office.

Wow, I can imagine it, but to my workplace designer pals this is their worst nightmare. But they need not worry – now that America is going to be great again employees will once again be chained to their desks paving the way for designers to remain gainful employed thinking up new ways to arrange desks.

I’d first heard about the gig economy in August while I was in Seattle, the big news around town was a local employer, a tiny outfit called Amazon, announced a new 30- hour a week program that employees could opt into. The program would have a few technical teams and would be made up entirely of part-time workers.

These 30-hour a week employees will be salaried and receive the same benefits as traditional 40-hour workers, but they’ll receive only 75 percent of the pay . To overcome one common pitfalls many experience with part time work, Amazon plans to create teams entirely of part-timers, including managers. Interestingly, my brother’s company has done the same, what is noteworthy about this is he’s not in tech, but a lawyer. Consequently, this must be hot, we all know how progressive lawyers are!

One reason many are choosing to work part time, contract or to gig is noneconomic; employees have gone blue in the face waiting for their employers to do something about work-life balance and have elected to take matters into their own hands. It is not a surprise that analysis by LinkedIn indicates younger professionals, in particularly millennial men, find gigging particularly attractive. It appears to be paying off too, evidence suggests they’re happier, healthier, more loyal and innovative.

And this is why gigging was the hot topic at the conference. One after another HR professional ascended the stage to wring their hands and deliver emotional, heart felt confessions relating to their companies’ ability to attract this new generation of freelance worker. Clearly they lie awake at night concerned their organisation doesn’t have the right stuff to attract those crazy, freewheeling giggers.

In a worried tones they described the tables turning, positioning freelance employees in the driver’s seat and this new order absolutely terrified them. Understandably so, in certain industries it does appear to be the case, technology in particular relies heavily on contract workers. Flexjobs recently ranked areas crucial to Amazon’s business and all of them fell within the top five industries for freelancers: computer and IT, Administrative, Accounting and Finance, Customer Service and Software Development.

Admittedly, hearing this beguiled me, for I’ve been a part of this gig economy for the past two years and have experienced the exact opposite. The word I’d use to describe the way I’ve been treated is worse than appalling. Clearly our industry hasn’t heard about the gig economy, or the importance of creating an environment that is attractive to freelancers, because in architecture and design we still believe it’s acceptable to treat people like they are expendable doormats.

This is manifested by refusing to return phone calls or emails, expecting unrealistic turnaround times and behaving as if the basics of civilized decorum such as saying please and thank you, I’m sorry or you’re welcome were ever a part of their lexicon. To top it off, there is an abhorrent absence of truth that is far more pernicious than the typical ‘emperor’s new clothes’ delusion so common in offices today. This is where hands go to hearts and platitudes on caring, support, fairness and safety come forth, when the opposite is true, but no one has the guts to call bullshit.

I welcome the prospect of tables turning in our industry to favour the gig worker and would love to see the many architectural and design contractors rise up and demand better of employers, not in the way of perks like beer and pool tables, but a very little, simple thing – honesty. I would love to see companies that treat people badly fail miserably. Alas, I acknowledge my dream is unlikely to be realised in this post-truth era where people in power decide what is true and what isn’t, and lying is not only acceptable but rewarded.



Intuit, 2020 Report, October 2010

Turner, Karen; Amazon is Piloting Teams with a 30-hour Workweek; Forbes, August 26, 2016

Walker, Michael and Kaine Sarah; Deliveroo Strike Win Shows Gig Workers Can Subvert the Rules Too; The Conversation; August 19, 2016

Zimmerman, Kaytie; What Amazon’s New 30-Hour Work Week Means for Millennials; Forbes; September 11, 2016

Futures Rambling #94

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Last month I gave a presentation in Australia to a group of architects who invited me in to share my thoughts on the societal developments we should pay attention to that might impact our future. These are ideas to engage in, formulate opinions on and if we’re smart act on to best sustain ourselves and our industry moving forward. Identifying key drivers or influences that will impact the business of design is a daunting task, I began by exploring societal forces, popular movements, economics and technology that might translate to the practice of architecture.

Several rose to the surface that are highly relevant to our industry. Movements like the sharing economy – that spawned ABW and co-working environments, and the increased influence of digital on physical environments – whose impact must be explored further given its relative newness, have been well documented. Another that has been talked about less in the context of architecture and design, but should be due to the profound impact that it has, is the rampant rise of anti-intellectualism in society.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon. The American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer and author – who many would know for smoking dope daily and being an advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants – Terence Mckenna, suggested ‘the great evil that haunts our enterprise is an inability to distinguish shit from Shinola.’ Granted, he was speaking in a different time and context, never the less, these words begin to touch on the challenge we face.

Mckenna was talking about relativism, which he defined as an absence of logic and mathematical understanding that results in all ideas being placed on equal footing, therefore making it impossible to distinguish a good idea from a bad one. In his mind the problem was growing worse all the time “Just pick up a copy of Magical Blend or Shaman’s Drum and you’ll discover an appeal to the level of intellect that makes what’s going on with television advertising look like a meeting of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study.”

McKenna was attacking the rise of political correctness when he made his comment which is not anti-intellectualism per se; however, it’s not a big stretch to draw a parallel between this and the steady march we are currently on from dumb to dumber. In our society today being an intellect or academic is no longer valued, in fact in many ways it is pejorative. One need look no further than the political landscape to see evidence of this.

We live in a time when people’s main source of news and insights is Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, all are vehicles that dumb down messages and offer one sided approaches. The conundrum is that in creating a situation where one position is defined by opposition to another, rather than creatively articulating a point of connection, the results are generally not very good: racism, sexism, homophobia and religious hate all harken back to preferring one’s own perspective over another’s to the point of being unable to engage or cope with difference.

We have transported this type of divisiveness and an ‘us and them’ mindset into architectural practices which has caused both individuals and organisations to shy away from having debates about things that matter. Criticism is no longer valued, in fact these days when one engages in either criticism or debate they are likely to be labelled rogue, a cultural mismatch, or not a team player. The ‘crit’, the cornerstone to establishing good arguments that lead to better designs, has nearly been eliminated.

If inability to deal with differences is one side of the coin, the flip side and a position equally damaging for us, is having everything the same. In Australia we have something referred to as the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome, it is a deep sense of equality that Deakin University anthropologist Rohan Bastin suggests confuses equality with sameness. It proves damaging when we attempt to assimilate all by flattening out and making everything equal, identity is lost and value is hard to recognise.

Architects and designers have taken this route for an understandable reasons. Individuals and organisations that strive to be different struggle because it’s impossible to be successful in tender situations where evaluators use procurement matrices created to rank apples against apples. Clients too are risk adverse, with few willing to stick out their neck to choose the firm with a different approach. This of course assumes the design practice has the skill to articulate what is different about approach, despite all the rhetoric, jargon and chest pumping that proliferates, it all sounds pretty much the same.

Some say creativity and innovation are today’s hot currency. If this is indeed true the rise of anti-intellectualism is an even greater concern for architects and designers. It is impossible to be innovative and anti-intellectual at the same time. By shunning intellect, reason is also cast out, without reason and logic there is no problem solving, and that takes us back to shit and Shinola, because you get the former when you take the dumb route.

Mckenna said we shouldn’t be afraid to denounce pernicious forms of foolishness, he was referring to Chaos Theorist, followers of the revelations of this or that New Age guru or someone channelling information from the Pleiades. In our industry this could be translated as we can’t be afraid to bring back intellect and restore our position as experts. The form of safe, everything is the same, don’t rock the boat design so prevalent today is equally pernicious, as is organisations too afraid to challenge a status quo not working.

So as not end on a sour note, perhaps we take comfort from designers in other industries who believe the future will require us to be smarter and demand we make use of research and strategic skills. Harry West from the global design and strategy firm Frog believes design research will be a fundamental skill for all types of designers and John Rousseau from Artefact a technology product design company in Seattle says design strategist, people who have the ability to understand and model complex systems, will be indispensable. I really hope they’re right.


Adonis, James; We Love Being Dumb and Dumber; Sydney Morning Herald; January 8, 2015

Elder, John; Is Anti-intellectualism Killing the National Conversation? The Age; August 16, 2015

Niose, David; Anti-intellectualism Is Killing America – Social Dysfunction Can be Traced to the Abandonment of Reason; Psychology Today; June 23, 2015

Terence Mckenna denounces Relativism; Uploaded by MckennaCounterCulture May 2, 2013