Futures Rambling # 87
By Laurie Aznavoorian

Unless you are a poetry buff you’ve probably never heard of Phillip Levine who died in February at the age of 87, he was a Pulitzer Prize winner, the US Poet laureate 2011 – 2012 and he won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1980 for the collection What Work Is. In his poetry, Levine paints vivid portraits of characters and their jobs, made richer by glimpses he offers us of inner lives, dreams, and the manner in which his characters ponder the world.

When What Work Is was first released world events fuelled Levine’s imagination: unemployment in the US hit a seven year high and America started and ended The Persian Gulf War. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait sent oil prices from $17 a barrel to $36, resulting in a recession that impacted countries around the globe. Having an appreciation of the damaged conditions of American labour provides a context to Levine’s work, which adds an important layer of appreciation.

Few would deny that provides meaning. It offers us just a little more to grasp on to when we understand the motivations behind an action. It’s an argument we frequently make to clients, although, most fortunately now recognise greater transparency of the goals behind planning and design of a new workplace leads to higher employee acceptance and less snarky behaviour during the process.

Recently I was asked to make predictions about future directions in workplace design. For me, the only way to do this was to nestle my crystal ball in context: world events, popular culture, retailing and fashion trends. These are the things that influence us. They have the ability to jump species becoming a catalyst for new initiatives in unrelated areas. The following are five themes which I believe we will see manifested in future workplace designs.

Why wouldn’t we expect and demand highly personalised, curated work experiences in the future? This trend is already evident in other areas, for example the approach Deil tours in Amsterdam takes to writing tour guides has evolved from the traditional city guide, that in the past focused on the author, to highlighting the traveller. Interests are captured using a short personality test about lifestyle, entertainment and culture preferences to create customised tours.

Another example is The Obama’s administration’s proposal for ‘precision medicine’ that moves medical treatment from a one size fits all approach to account for individual differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyle. Finally there is our own Australian based Youi Insurance that claims it tailors policies beyond the typical demographic information all companies request. From the online reviews the jury is still out on them.

The opportunity for curated workplace experiences will go beyond what has already been started in ABW and co-working spaces. The potential for developers, property owners and landlords to come to the party by offering new models of space acquisition and new kinds of spaces is significant.

Genuine innovation begins when entrepreneurs take existing concepts and reinvent them as something new, or go against the trend and create a whole new experience. We’re well down the path of redefining what work means having killed sacred cows relating to where and when we work, but there could, and should, be more to come.

We can take notes about reinvention from the three M’s: Madonna, Miley and McConaughey. Madge has been reinventing herself for a quarter of a century, Miley Cyrus’s went from Hannah Montana to wearing Band-Aid nipple pasties and Mathew McConaughey’s Mcconniassance took him from “Fool’s Gold” to “Dallas Buyers Club.” All three prove change is possible with guts and clever marketing.

Speaking of marketing, James Patterson’s self destructing limited edition book is a good example of reimagining the ordinary and Toyota’s Calling All the Heroes advertisement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYTX_gq54p4 shows how men have evolved in an era where women are apparently their equal, the ad of course does not mention wages. Finally the The New York Times Upshot’s shows us how news can be communicated using infographics, appealing to a new generation of consumers that can’t, or won’t read a whole paragraph.

“Have a nice day – would like fries with that” is fortunately a phrase that is rapidly becoming extinct, we don’t believe fake rote sales pitches anymore and are drawn to the more authentic approach companies like Aesop have taken. They train employees to personally engage with customers and forbid them to discuss mundane topics like the weather.

We’re drawn to messaging that is highly revealing and exposes the warts and all in us, a good example is the Sport England ads ‘I jiggle therefore I am’ and ‘Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN7It0CYwHg. These are brutally honest campaigns designed to convince women to exercise, even if they’re uncoordinated oafs whose body parts continue to move well after the main part of them has stopped.

CEO’s of large hotel chains argue upstarts like airbnb are not legitimate threats to their business, but interestingly admit these companies offer travellers authentic experiences by giving access to neighbourhoods where people live, rather than the tourist areas. It is also interesting to note Marriot’s new brand Moxy designed with IKEA is geared to provide authentic, affordable and communal experiences consistent with millennial traveller’s desires.

When it comes to the manifestation of this theme in the workplace there is no greater communicator of brand values and culture than space. For businesses wanting to be authentic, this is often translated into a use of materials that don’t look as polished as those we’ve used in the past and appear to be handmade, where human imperfections is a part and parcel of the appeal.

There is plenty of room to go beyond this tokenism and push for greater authenticity, perhaps by pushing the blend of what is public and private. Companies who really want to be transparent and serve their community should explore this in depth.

One of the greater unknowns in predicting what the next generation of workplace will be comes from our limited understanding of how digital environments will impact physical space. There is no doubt we have barely explored ways the Internet of Things will steer both experience and space.

For a glimpse look at the HEXO+ drone which is the world’s first flying camera that follows and films its owner autonomously as they snowboard, motorbike or run a marathon. The HEXO+ hexacopter communicates with its user’s iOS or Android smart phone, this company raised over 1.3 million USD on Kickstarter and drones are currently retailing for under $500USD.

Starbucks, Taco Bell, Hyatt and Hilton hotel are all fine examples of using technology to improve customer’s experiences. Guests enrolled in loyalty programs now check into hotel rooms via apps and use their mobiles phones as room keys. While avoiding queues is the primary purpose of many of these apps, the Liseberg Amusement park in Sweden has employed gamification by allowing those waiting for popular rides to activate a mobile app with games they can play while they wait in line.

Workplace experiences will continue to be enhanced with similar new technologies that go beyond programmed lifts, smart lights and thermostats that we are all familiar with. Technology gives us license to push the workplace into urban space and precinct design seamlessly; blurring what is outside and around the building with what is inside the work environment.

We have so much data available to us today that it begs the question, how much is too much and what’s it all for? Andrew Keen coined the term digital narcissism in his 2006 book “Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing and Disorienting Us.” He was using the term in the context of self-promotion and sharing on social networks, but it can also be applied to other types of data.

Is the data we are collecting providing real meaning or is it introspective? A trend is developing with millions of ‘post-status’ consumers who have rejected buying and having in favour of doing and creating. Perhaps data will go down the same path? As more objects are connected, clever people will imagine civic minded applications and novel approaches to deriving value from the vast amounts of data we have, coined ‘The Internet of Sharing Things’ the possibilities of using data for social good are endless.

An example is Easy Taxi, they’re one of the world’s largest taxi booking apps and they have recently partnered with Dettol to train cabbies in West Africa to diagnose and prevent the Ebola virus. Similarly the hashtag I’ll Ride With You used social media to combat Islamophobia after the Sydney siege and CrowdVoice, developed in Bahrain by civil rights activist, Es’ra Al-Shafei, relies on crowd sourced contributions to consolidate information about related social movements.

Alfa-Bank in Russia is addressing a community and personal concern when they suggest customers use fitness trackers linked to the banks services to track how much they exercise. For every step recorded by a wearable fitness tracker, funds from the customer’s existing account are transferred into a savings account, which pays a higher rate of interest than normally available.

It might be time to question whether the data we collect in the workplace from Space Utilisation Studies, surveys and sensors is as relevant as it once was; since it is mostly used to build cases for change when organizations generally already know they need change its questionable. This conundrum gives us another opportunity to raise the bar by considering how and why we collect data and creatively think about its application, hopefully devising output that is not just about proving points and is more geared to creating something meaningful to occupiers.

LSN Global Trend Tracker
Newman, Jared; Samsung’s $100 Million Internet of Things Bet Is Even Crazier Than You Think; Fast Company
Solomon, Micah; “Millennial Customers Hate Stuffy, Gilded Luxury (But Love Authenticity)”; Forbes on line; January 23, 2015
Rowley, Melissa Jun; “The Quest for Social Justice Goes Mobile” Co.Exist, Ideas + Impact, Fast Company, February 19, 2015

Futures Rambling #86

By Laure Aznavoorian

The political satirist Jon Stewart began a recent show saying “I think we’d all agree 2014 was not a great year for people.” He referenced the attacks on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, and then went on to say that he hoped 2015 would bring a respite, we can only hope.

The Daily Show’s goal was not to make sense of the events, because they said, there is no sense to be had. Most of us would agree, attempting to apply logic to the killing of people who draw cartoons, manage café’s in Sydney, or attend schools in Peshawar baffles most scholars, and they are significantly more educated than the rest of us.

Even if we eliminate terrorist’s motivation from the conversation, we’re still faced with a conundrum in the aftermath of shocking events and that is determining what it means to our rights and our lives. It used to be that in places like Australia, America and most of Europe we could say what we pleased, satirize and criticize to our hearts content, regardless of whether or not we knew what we were talking about.

Most people generally accepted that with these freedoms comes a responsibility to not gratuitously offend or compartmentalize, and it is this acknowledgement that creates the challenges we all face now. We know we must resist the urge to: throw out the baby with the bathwater, judge the entire group for the actions of one and beat our chests demanding responsibility. But it’s so damn hard.

It’s our natural tendency to turn hypocrite – we #jesuischarlie out of one side of our mouth and then demand tighter migration policy and the silencing of Islamic extremist out of the other. The reactions are understandable, particularly when you consider the role a powerful force like groupthink plays.

The term Groupthink was coined by the social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972, it occurs when a group makes faulty decisions due to group pressure. Group members are generally of a similar background, they insulate themselves from outside opinions and have no clear rules for decision making. The negative consequences are ignoring alternatives, taking irrational actions and dehumanizing other groups.

In his book Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes Janis documents eight symptoms of groupthink:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability – Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
  8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

This list reads like an al-Qaeda entry application. Of course we westerners would never make dumb decisions due to groupthink. What’s that, oh yeah – the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq before allies other than the ‘coalition of the willing’ could be convinced to participate. Never mind.

Collaboration is a veritable watchword for this era, we believe including others in decision making process generates better ideas and shelters us from mistakes, but that’s only if groupthink doesn’t stand in the way of honest analysis. A group of dumb people can be just as dangerous as one dumb individual; the worst part is groups can be made up of very smart individuals and they may still behave as a dumb group.

This was highlighted in 2010 study at M.I.T. that set out to define the characteristics of smart teams from those that weren’t. Each volunteer took an individual I.Q test, but the teams with higher average I.Q.s didn’t score any higher than those with members whose average was lower. And the teams with more extroverted and motivated people also fared no better when it came to the team’s success.

Therefore, you don’t need to have smart, extroverted or highly motivated people in your team for it to be good, so what do you need to be? The most important ingredients are to communicate a lot, allow members to participated equally and recruit people with good emotion-reading skills. That’s the ability to pick up complex emotional states from people’s eyes.

A surprising result the research delivered was the characteristics of smart teams were the same whether they worked face to face or on-line. Not surprising, the MIT researches learned teams with more women performed better than those with more men! This was attributed to women being better mind readers as opposed to men being inconsiderate dopes. It came down to what they call “Theory of Mind”, which is to consider and keep track of what others feel, know and believe.

Applying this new science of effective teamwork in organisations will help businesses immeasurably. In addition to enlisting people on your team who possess these characteristics, you can go one step further and actively avoid groupthink by applying the following tips, again from Irving Janus:

  • Assign each team member the role of critical evaluator.
  • Avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset.
  • Routinely discuss the groups’ deliberations with a trusted associate.
  • Invite one or more experts to each meeting.
  • Assign an articulate and knowledgeable member to the role of devil’s advocate.
  • Survey warning signals from rivals and construct alternative scenarios of their intentions.

One of the most important aspects or characteristics of an organization, or community, is to find balance. Even though different groups may develop their own subculture, they still need to function as a team and work toward a common goal. Leaders set those goals and create culture and it is up to them to manage and maintain an environment that supports it, and they need to do that without silencing the views of individuals who cut against the grain.

Imagine if we were smart enough to do this in our communities. We wouldn’t need initiatives that curtail free speech like Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that make it unlawful to: “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people because of their race or ethnicity”. Nor would we need to fire university professors for tweets or arrest dumb kids who post stupid things on Facebook.


Breakey, Hugh. Charlie Hebdo Attack: When Should we Hold a Group Responsible for a Member’s Evil? The Conversation, January 8, 2015

Janis, Irving L.  (1982).  Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes.  Second Edition.  New York: Houghton Mifflin

King, David R. PhD and Demarie Samuel M. PhD. Understanding Organizational Culture Using the Culture of Music. Graziadio Business Review, June 2014

Phiddian, Robert. Cartoonists are Defiant in Their Response to Charlie Hebdo Attack. The Conversation, January 8, 2015

Switzer, Tom and Hemmer Nichole. The Right Way to Tackle Offensive Speech. The Age, January 20, 2015

Woolley, Anita, Malone, Thomas W and Chabris Christoper. Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others. The New York Times, January 16, 2015

Futures Rambling #85

By Laurie Aznavoorian

The end of November marks my favourite American holiday, Thanksgiving. I prefer this celebration because it’s mostly secular and devoid of heavy commercial overtones unless you’re one of those idiots who rush off to Black Friday sales rather than take a sensible post turkey nap. The traditions of the holiday are many: watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, eating and drinking too much, fighting with relatives and if you’re the president pardoning a turkey.

This year when Obama chose the lucky bird his daughters Sasha and Malia behaved the way normal teenagers do when they think their father is a bit dorky, they made faces and declining to pet the bird. This was captured on national television inciting comments from a now unemployed communications director about the first daughters’ lack of respect, clothing choice and apparent absence of class.

Snarky comments for sure, but quite benign when you consider the nasty digs made about Chelsea Clinton and poor Amy Carter who was called “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” It was with knowledge of the media’s history of crossing the line when it comes to privacy that Obama suggested politicians’ families should be off limits. Clearly that has not happened for him, or for anyone else.

Consider the poor celebrities, privacy eludes them, in the last few weeks several had their confidential files hacked from Sony Entertainment. Now the world knows Tom Hank’s secret name when he checks into hotels and that Seth Rogen earned $8.4 million for co directing and acting in a film when his co-star James Franco only earned $6.5 million. I almost feel as bad for them as I felt for Kim Kardashian and Kanye when Franco and Rogen spoofed their “Bound2” video.

It takes a bigger person than I to generate empathy for those who believe posting photographs of themselves on motorcycles naked is not an invitation to satire and invasions of privacy. But what really annoys me is that despite never having gone near a motorcycle naked myself, I too was impacted by a hacking scandal on Thanksgiving of all days. Given my no celebrity status it was grossly incongruous!

My favourite go to websites for local news was hacked. Theconversation.com domain servers were down over the Thanksgiving weekend. Why? They were inundated with too many requests, the hacker’s attack was timed to coincide with Cyber Monday, a new US shopping holiday for those too lazy to get off the couch on Black Friday. The Conversation is of course not a retailer they were simply tarred with the same brush given their shared servers.

It’s an annoying conundrum. We are well aware the websites and online conveniences we use daily make us vulnerable and know we don’t have to use them. But that swims upstream from our basic human need to connect and know things. Some feel that so strongly they suffer FOMO, fear of missing out, when disconnected. For the rest of us who don’t have FOMO, are not offspring of the president or naked motorcyclist what are the real issues with privacy being invaded?

Many of us fortunate enough to attend the excellent presentation given by Gale Moutrey, Vice President of Global Communications for Steelcase were given a small snapshot into how serious a lack of privacy can be to our physical, emotional and cognative wellbeing. Sharing research conducted by Steelcase and others Moutrey suggested that many of today’s workplaces don’t support privacy because they contain insufficient space to concentrate and nowhere to recharge.

Their research indicates people’s thinking is interrupted every three minutes on average in the typical work environment and that impacts their ability to think which leads to mistakes; consequently, levels of stress rise. Sitting in a desk sandwiched between the Oce Printer and photocopier room on one side and the breakout and tea area on the other dis is not a koncept difcult for mee to magine.

Lack of privacy doesn’t just take a toll on us personally it’s also linked to lower employee engagement and that cost companies and countries a lot of money. The 2013 Gallup State of Global Workplace Report estimates actively disengaged workers outnumber engaged ones at a ratio of two to one. In Australian, Gallup estimates we lose $54.8 billion due to employee disengagement.

Steelcase’s research shows employees who are satisfied with the places they work are highly engaged. Before making the leap that engagement = privacy = a reversion to the built workplaces of the past, it’s worthwhile noting Steelcase and Susan Cain, who is now in collaboration with the furniture manufacturer and the author of “Quiet: The Power of introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, both suggest creating environments with work settings that support a variety of different interactions, including places to focus, as well as interact.

I’d venture to guess that there are few of us who would be willing to trade the flexibility and functionality of a well-designed contemporary workplace because of a lack of privacy, remember they’re not all well designed. The same cannot be said for the privacy lines crossed with technology and social media.

At the 2014 Institute for Information Management and Knowledge Management conference held in Canberra in October, Hong-Eng Koh suggested this type of technical privacy invasions were just what we needed to fear. Koh’s presentation titled The Bad Guys Are Using IT. Are You? made everyone in the audience understandably nervous, particularly when we asked whether consumers should be worried and Koh’s was an unequivocal – definitely.

This guy knows his stuff, his career began with the Singapore Police Force and he’s currently the global lead for the Justice & Public Safety industry business unit at Oracle. If those credentials are not enough, he’s the Vice President of the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace, a non-profit that promotes partnerships with international criminal justice and corporate agencies to combat cyberspace crimes.

While he acknowledges it’s a pain in the behind for typical a Joe Schmo law abiding citizen to have their online activities tracked, and suggests it’s a must for governments to establish policies and laws to protect our privacy, he is also an advocate of surveillance. Koh maintains it’s impossible to have privacy without security and this is where the lines blur.

Social media is a natural extension of community policing. Koh offered examples where social media, analytics, videos and photos were used to apprehend criminals; most notable the Boston Bombers I suspect in the days to come we will learn of the role of social media on the Sydney Siege too. Despite these successes the challenge law enforcement faces is that there is too much data, noise and “sarcasm” out there to be effective. Massive volumes of data make a simple data analysis process impossible, and that is where Oracle comes in.

They have created an advanced analytical tools used decipher codes that create actionable intelligence. Called ‘Intelligence Fusion’, it’s a vehicle for information and key data to flow and be shared across different layers and sectors of government to help law enforcement agencies prevent detect and recover from threats such as terrorism, organised crime, public disorder etc.

Koh provided a real time demonstration of how the internet gives and how it takes away. Prefacing with the statement, “the internet is used by as many bad guys as good guys” he showed us how they could track paedophiles using the same social media avenues the criminals use to groom children. In less than five keystrokes all known paedophiles online at that moment appeared on the screen at the conference. And then to reinforce the power of Intelligence Fusion, Koh provided their names and addresses.

Yikes! No joke, right there on a big screen, their names and addresses, it was as impressive and terrifying. It continues to terrify me today, because in researching this article I repeatedly googled the words: paedophile, sex, internet, sex on the internet and then I got a message from the help desk reminding me of the company’s rules for using the internet.


Glance David; I Don’t Like Cyber Mondays: Cyber Attack Takes Down Hundreds of Sites; The Conversation; December 2, 2014

Howard, Adam; GOP Staffer to Resign after Slamming Obama Girls; www.msnbc.com; November 30 2014

Koh, Hong-Eng; Presentation The Bad Guys Are Using IT. Are You? ; 2014 Institute for Information Management and Knowledge Management conference

Sony Pictures Entertainment Hacked – USA Today, November 24, 2014

Steelcase.com; The Privacy Crisis Taking a Toll on Employee Engagement, 360 Magazine Issue 68

Futures Rambling # 84

By Laurie Aznavoorian

On the day of the Melbourne Cup I did not teeter around on stilettos, drink copious amounts of champagne or wear a foolish contraption on my head. Instead I retreated to a friend’s country house where I reclined on a cosy couch and watched a movie about time travel. It’s a concept I have a challenge embracing, I was never a fan of Dr. Who and know that even when people fly at high altitudes it messes with their brains.

Pilots that enter the upper atmosphere experience strange mental occurrences: some feel euphoric or peaceful, but others undergo emotional extremes that lead them to feel not only separated from Earth, but detached from reality. Medical psychologist studied this pilot anomaly and coined it ‘break-off effect’, but after the 70’s it disappeared because pilots stopped talking about what was happening to them and how they felt for fear of being labelled soft. At any rate, you can imagine what might happen to our brain if we travelled through time!

But supposing we could. Naturally, we’d visit the workplace of the past and find ourselves unable to ignore bad behaviours that were common back in the day, but today, considered repugnant: racism, sexism and homophobia. Any viewer of Mad Men knows what I mean, and is also familiar with the license one adopts when reflecting backward. A smug, holier than thou, attitude and claim of superiority because they believe we’ve eradicated such cringe worthy behaviours from our lives.

It’s a delusion – plenty of today’s workplace behaviours are equally vile.

Starting with sexism, workplaces of the past demonstrated a very cordial acceptance of women, but at the same time men were unashamed sexists. Prior to the 60’s feminist movement when the term male chauvinist pig came to the fore, this was commonplace. It’s a shock to know sexism is still around today; it’s just not as polite. If you mistakenly believed we’d worked sexism out of our system google Shoshana Roberts. She’s the woman who was recently cat called 108 times as she walked through New York City.

The really sad part about that story was none of the goons heckling her had a good line. If Don Draper, the main character from Mad Men, had been doing the harassing he’d have engaged Shoshana with eloquent one liner not something as insipid as “You don’t wanna talk? Because I’m ugly.” The appropriate reply to that uninspired taunt is – no, I’m not taking to because you’re a moron it’s got nothing to do with your beer belly.

We’d love to believe this is an extreme case and can attempt to convince ourselves that Australians are beyond sexism and rank in the top when it comes to equality. Sadly this is not true. The Australian Bureau of Statistics calculates the national gender pay gap is currently 17.1%, below countries like: Slovenia, Bulgaria and Lithuania. Putting a positive spin on the statistic we should take pride in ranking above South Korea at 38.9%.

A workplace behaviour we have managed to eliminate is smoking, again take pride, it only took a little over 400 years. Travelling back in time to 1575 we would experience the first ban on smoking that occurred in the Roman Catholic Church. They put a stop to the use of tobacco in churches in Mexico then but for the remainder of workplaces it took significantly longer. Smoking bans in public places and offices only cropped up in the US in the late 90s and in Australia around 2007. We’ve moved fast though, making up for lost time by considering total smoking bans across whole cities in some gutsy places.

This slow and steady evolution of behaviours is what makes workplace strategist and designers like me believe it’s only be a matter of time until all the belly aching and misbehaviour born of ABW has run its course. But that day is not today and if Don Draper might still be alive and has not succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver, he’d be the one to act smug and could legitimately accuse us of the pot calling the kettle black logic.

He’d wave his hand like he was swatting a fly, toss his head back and laugh at executive’s concerns for company engagement scores, employees demands for flexible work schedules and the term ‘wellness’. He wouldn’t know what OH&S was as anyone viewing season 3, episode 6 of Mad Men can attest, that’s the one where office hijinks goes awry and Guy MacKendrick’s career is ruined after another employee runs over his foot with a John Deere riding lawnmower. Afterward the partners of firm make their feelings about the disabled clear when they lament ‘any employee with a missing foot can’t work with clients.’

If Don Draper went into one of today’s ABW environments and observed the behaviours we’ve seen taking place he’d be screaming to return to the safe sixties: employees arriving early to capture the best desks, juniors or EAs assigned to mark the team’s turf and senior people telling juniors to vacate because they want the desk. And then there is the frightening propensity for groups of employees to exhibit gang like behaviour and steer unsuspecting interlopers from their turf with steely glances and rude comments.

The Inability to follow or abide by the rules in today’s ABW environments is one of the more audacious negative behaviours apparent. From talking in focus areas, eating in no food zones to leaving belongings on desks meant to be vacated each night; employees dig in their heels and refuse to participate and follow rules. They act like petulant two-year olds with the added gall of becoming snarky about noise in collaborative areas, when it is they who refuse to move delegated quiet spots.

Wait – I’m not done yet – those were the nice behaviours. They also nick the cables, chargers, key-boards and mice and pretend to have OH& S concerns to get special desks assigned. They deliberately hide from team members and managers and refuse to check in as agreed. Some have developed formidable counterfeiting skills and fashion ‘anchor’ stickers allowing them to retain the same desk every day.

There are whole populations of ABW workers out there today who are convinced rules are for others and not them. Finally, the most egregious behaviour of all, tantamount to parking in a handicapped spot – occupying a sit stand desk and never once using the standing function!

That’s what a time traveller coming to our workplace today might find. It would be emotionally draining, they would have a tough time discerning whether the woozy feeling in their head was the result of “a spiritual epiphany that changes one’s perspective on humanity forever”, which is how pilots describe break-off effect, or whether they had just observed a bunch of people who need someone to give them a good swift kick in the behind.


Friedman, Ann; The New Workplace Sexism; The American Prospect, July30, 2010

Kokemuller, Neil; Male Chauvinism in the Workplace; Chron.com

Mitchell, PL; the Challenge of Changing Workplace Behaviour, plmitchell.com blog

The Break-Off Effect – Fast Company Co.Exist Daily

Futures Rambling #83

By Laurie Aznavoorian

In the past few months I’ve participated in an activity that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never engaged in before and given what I do for a living it’s somewhat pathetic. What is it? Watching people in the workplace, I am not talking about a quick ‘sticky beak’ to see how space is used, but an extensive study of how workers performed their jobs and interacted over the course of two months. As a workplace strategist, not having done this is tantamount to an actor never seeing a film.

These observations have been a part of a yearlong research initiative I’ve been involved in that seeks to learn more about what many organizations consider the panacea for all business woes – collaboration. Titled Designing for Collaboration, Delegation and Cooperation the objective of the research is to unravel the mystery of how physical environment supports, or doesn’t support collaboration. We learned plenty about the topic, but the real ‘ah ha’ came from paying close attention to people.

Physical environments have the ability to impact human behavior, both positively and negatively. This was very apparent in our research observations, but there was one very annoying and disruptive practice that we noticed that couldn’t be directly linked to the environment like many others – or so we thought. What is this unsettling trait? The propensity for senior people to interrupt people in the workplace regardless of they’re doing.

It’s a practice that sends a strong and clear message: A. your time is unimportant, B. I am really important – in fact hugely important and C. Interrupting is quite acceptable, even when you’re in a room engaged in a meeting with the door closed. Having experienced this troublesome drill myself over the years, I always assumed it was more a manifestation of the person being an inconsiderate sod than environmentally driven, but now I’m not so sure.

You could argue interruption is a necessary part of business, after all senior people bill at higher rates, and it is some people’s jobs to serve others. All of that is true. However, for most of us, we’re not brain surgeons whose time and decisions impact life and death. A ten minute delay for someone to finish a meeting isn’t going to sabotage the endeavor and everyone’s productivity impacts bottom line, not just those at the top.

As mentioned, prior to engaging in this research, I’d reached the conclusion these people were just jerks, plain and simple. I’m still convinced they’re jerks, but the lens has widened and I’ve even begun to question whether we’ve instigated this rude behavour by taking away offices, parking spaces, personal assistants, waiting areas and now, in the era of Activity Based Work, removed the last vestige of status and power – the desk.

I’ll admit, I’ve supported the evolution of the workplace arguing businesses must wake up and smell the coffee. The world is a highly competitive place and to survive companies must evolve, including their workplaces. I’ve rolled my eyes at the boo hooing of employees who’ve lost their desks and personal garbage cans, suggesting workplaces are pretty darn good around here; heck we could be American journalists in Syria.

That being said, there are documented challenges with new workplaces that stem from the absence of a physical spot to call one’s own. While these are mainly psychological, our research provided an awareness of another challenge involving the difficulty companies have in blowing a horn for employees the way they used to when they could allocate big offices and parking spots to special people. As a result employees are left to their own devices and some adopt disturbing tactics for blowing their own horn.

Dr. Justine Humphry highlights a few in her research into the impact of new media technologies on social, cultural and environmental implications. She suggests a change in perception of space and time has taken place that’s driven new forms of inclusion and exclusion. One of these is ‘nesting, a form of personally shaping one’s work environment, others are more elaborate strategies for claiming space.

Unfortunately, she notes some people don’t bother to personalize, they just get really snarky and are dissatisfied or frustrated; hence, the adoption of the bad behaviours. It should come as no surprise, early findings from the whole Chiat/Day experience described employee behaviours in free address environments as: turf wars, kindergarten-variety subterfuge, incessant griping, management bullying, employee insurrection and internal chaos.

Whether we like it or not, there is a hierarchy in almost every organisation and that creates a class system. In Somebodies and Nobodies author Robert Fuller suggests rank divides us more than we care to admit and that we treat others based on our relative rank. He says the key to feeling like a somebody is being recognized, because without it we feel discounted, disconnected, marginal and invisible.

Surprisingly, all of this has made me less critical of the tossers who interrupt in the workplace. I suspect they feel they’ve gotten a raw deal, stripped of all monikers of success and offered no replacement. I can imagine them thinking – “I did an undergraduate degree, a masters, then a PhD and am well known in my field – I’ll interrupt whoever I damn well please.”

On the other hand there is the business to consider, they’re naturally gaining from all that interrupting, I mean collaborating, but are they? Since we’ve stripped all outward signs that a person is special, more experienced, educated or connected in the industry from the physical workplace surroundings, it’s darn hard to pick them out of the crowd.

Having started a new job I’m acutely aware of how tough it is to not know who’s who. All week I’ve been struggling to operate the photocopier and complete a time sheet, if I’d only known the guy sitting next to me is timesheet guru! Of course I’m just messing with you, he’s not a timesheet guru, he’s been here ten years and still can’t do his. Applying this analogy to other tasks though, you can see the inherent dangers this poses to productivity and knowledge transfer.

What can we do? Here’s my idea – I’ve just completed a consulting project where I suggested there be a place in an Activity Based Workplaces called the ‘guru enclaves’. This is where specialists will go to profess. Of course problems might arise with people becoming self-declared experts, or the enclave turning into a soapbox, but it’s a start.

Alternatively, we could just continue on the current ABW trajectory and keep everything on our person as we move throughout the workplace. Specialist would wear hats like the fire wardens or long robes and mortarboard hats with appropriate tassels.


Holz, Robert Lee; Why Power in the Workplace Makes People Feel They Control Time – Positions of Authority Create a Sense of Control Over the Clock; The Wall Street Journal; July 22, 2014

Humphry, Justine; Mess or Nest: Do Clean Desk Policies Really Help Us Work Better?; The Conversation August 30, 2011

Ingram, Patreese D; The Ups and Downs of the Workplace; Journal of Extension, June 2006, Volume 44, number 3

Meyerson, Debra E; Radical Change, the Quiet Way; Harvard Business Review 2001

Futures Rambling #82
By Laurie Aznavoorian

Earlier this week I was travelling on a plane from America to Australia, unfortunately it wasn’t with British Airways and therefore I was not offered a hi-tech ‘happiness blanket’ woven with fibre optics connected to neuro-sensors to measure my brainwaves. If I’d had one, the blanket would have morphed from a bright red to blue as I binge watched all nine episodes of True Detective and sipped scotch indicating an increased level of relaxation.

Blankets that read brainwaves are just one example of how things in the world are beginning to interact with people to improve experiences, when those things bypass us all together and talk directly to each other, it’s referred to as ‘the internet of things’, The IoT. The term was coined back in 1999 by technologist Kevin Ashton, but is still a relatively new idea for many of us. It describes a world in which everything, from a person to the inanimate objects that surround them, has a digital identity enabling computers to organize and manage them.

Having the word internet in this phrase misleads small minded people like me; The IoT is not about the internet at all, but a major departure from it. It’s often described as the next generation of the internet – a global system of interconnected networks, sensors, actuators, and devices all using internet protocol to talk to one another. The big change is connections have moved beyond computing devices alone to include billions of everyday items like blankets, parking meters, home thermostats and light fixtures.

If you believe The IoT is going to simply fade away like other failed tech trends e.g. Second Life and QR Codes, think again. A new report by Business Intelligence suggests 1.9 billion devices are connected to each other today and by 2018 this will increase to 9 billion. To put this in perspective, it’s about equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers and PCs we have today combined.

As you’d expect, The IoT has taken off in the tech industry as evidenced by Google’s acquisition of Nest, a smart thermostat and smoke alarm company for $3.2 Billion. Most of us have already experienced The IoT through wearable devices like Fitbit and the Nike FuelBand that track activity and store it in the cloud reminding us of what lazy arses we are. Even in Seattle, where people are far from fashion conscious and would more likely wear a device to drip feed Starbucks, I saw a guy wearing Google Glass just last week, and yes he did look like a tosser.

The greatest potential for The IoT lies in industries that are not yet digitized, unlike information industries like communications and entertainment, the prospect of remaking traditional products into new smart and connected ones is a larger challenge for ‘old economy’ industries that will require many more sensors and big data to take full advantage of things talking to things.

Never the less, companies like Dell, Intel and Samsung are already joining forces to ensure their smart devices work together and Cisco’s “Internet of Everything” is testing sensors for applications in old fashioned places like prisons and hospitals. GE’s “Industrial Internet” applies The IoT to the dusty old public sector, as well as, mechanical and plant engineering services.

The potential to connect large-scale agriculture, transportations systems and highways is enormous, imagine a future where highway lanes adapt to traffic flow or roads are designed to serve speeding autonomous vehicles. Business and government application for The IoT is equally compelling. Advertising will connect to marketing via billboards, smart factories and telecommuting support systems and there is great hope The IoT will improve traffic management, collect tolls, apply congestion penalties and establish smart parking space management.

But wait, it also does julienne fries! Just kidding, moving beyond the Popell Chop-O-Matic jokes; there will be no turning back on The Internet of Things for three reasons:

1. COST: Connecting to the internet used to be very expensive, now it’s cheaper and easier and this enables more things to be intelligent. A parking meter can now be part of an intelligent city for just a few dollars
2. BIG DATA AND ANALYTICS: Dumb devices from the past have finally found their voice and they’re telling us things we need to know to make smarter decisions.
3. FINANCIAL: The industrial Internet of Things has the potential to fundamentally move society in a very good direction by developing connected systems that only work when they need to

The applications for The IoT in the architectural and design industries is staggering, a point driven home when I relived my early days as an architect and visited floor 3 of The Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Floor 3 is office furniture stomping grounds and after a quick stroll and peruse of the major American manufacturers it was clear they are all over this. Chairs were chatting to worksettings and furniture enclosures talked to lights.

The obvious question that comes to mind when contemplating The IoT is how this new dialogue between things is going to make us feel? Will we be left out and isolated like we’re in a foreign country and can’t understand the language, or worse like we’re back in grammar school being snubbed by the popular kids? More importantly, when everything around us is smart will it force us to acknowledge how dumb and lacking in purpose some of us are, the Kardashians spring to mind?

Having worked with many organisations struggling with the complex emotional issues of transforming work styles, I can imagine The IoT will wreak absolute havoc in the corporate realm where control freaks and micro managers abound. If middle managers had a tough go at mobile working and felt inconsequential as a result, imagine how The IoT will make them feel. First we take away their ability to manage by wandering around and now they won’t be required to control other aspects of work experience.

Once again technology is forcing us to envision a new world where the physical and the virtual merge and objects have the ability to be intelligent and networked. Creating organisational dynamics and business models that transform these visions into reality and capitalize on their potential will be one of the future’s key challenges and with that comes an even greater need for workplace designers to appreciate and be conversant in the complex interactions and dependencies of space, people and technology.

Alder, Emily 2013, ‘Here’s Why ‘The Internet Of Things’ Will Be Huge, And Drive Tremendous Value For People And Businesses’, accessed 17 July 2014

Bell, Donald 2013; ‘Failed Tech Fads’. accessed 21 August 2014.
‘British Airways Begins Testing ‘Happiness Blankets’ 2014, accessed 20 August 2014
Ferber, Stefan 2013; ‘How the Internet of Things Changes Everything ’ accessed 17 July 2014
Nusca, Andrew 2013, for Between the Lines, ‘The Internet of Things is ‘fundamentally about economic value’ accessed 17 July 2014,
Watson, Carlos 2014, ‘The New New Thing: The Internet of Things’, accessed 17 July 2014,

Futures Rambling #81
By Laurie Aznavoorian

After ten and a half years, I have left my job at Geyer. In planning the next chapter of my career journey I have paused to research new cool jobs I might aspire to, this is of course solely as a back-up position in the event my next chosen career as a romance novelist does not take off at an acceptable pace to keep me in beer and skittles. My confidence has been seriously shaken after missing the evident trend, I wrote about Activity Based Work in my article Shades of Gray article when E. L. James made a fortune writing about Fifty Shades of Gray. Go figure.

Apparently we’ll make seven career changes in our lifetimes, how job researchers came up with this number is unclear. It is no surprise changes are more common in younger workers and it is probably younger cohorts that muddy the statistics. As a teen my son worked at: Hoyts, McDonalds, GoLo and Bagel House, all in a two year period, but that could hardly be considered job hopping; never the less, the 15 – 19 age bracket does contribute to statistical results.

My children, both Millennials (born between 1977- 1997) believe I’m insane for staying at a job for ten and a half years. If they are like others in their age group, they will not stay at a job for longer than three years, which equate to 15 – 20 changes in a lifetime. The reason, identified in the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey is Millennials are looking for job fulfilment; which is apparently more important to younger workers than we older ones who are still paying off said Millennial’s college tuition.

Personally I beg to differ and know more than a few old coots out there who also care about fulfilment, of course what fulfils a 25 year old may not do the same for someone 45, 55 or 65. Age, family situation and life circumstances all play a role in what will make us happy at work, but what we can be assured of, is the necessity to make tradeoffs between the other dimensions of our lives and work e.g. family, social and community, spiritual, physical, material, and hobbies.

We live in an era when employee engagement is a concern for most organisations, as opposed to the days when the prevailing attitude was to be shown the door if you didn’t like your job. Despite this shift in focus, we haven’t got a great track record of making workers happy, a 2013 Gallup report that found 70% of workers are not engaged!

Perhaps you are one of them and like me are thinking of your next gig, if so you may be interested in one of the following new ‘rad jobs’ I’ve been considering:

1. Urban Farmer – This involves farming on rooftops and in underground bunkers. I am going to rule this out as a future career option for me based on the dismal performance of the avocado plant on my deck and the fact that I did nothing – nada – to help with the office rooftop garden.

2. Alternative Reality Architect – Not a bad option given my training in architecture, research, writing and design. Applying this to virtual augmentations, or environments that ‘glassholes’ (people wearing google glass) might inhabit could be very exhilarating.

3. Personality Programmer – Experts suggest well grow tired of Siri’s voice, aren’t we already, which will create a demand for people to program and test different personalities for inanimate objects that talk to us. Options for moonlighting as a new voice abound with this choice you never know when an American accent that sounds like Marge Simpson’s will be all the rage.

4. Organ Agent – As advancements in science make organ donation more common, we’ll require specialist to seek out organ donors. Given past poor performance in convincing co-workers to purchase raffle tickets I believe this option is far from optimal for me.

5. Remote Drone Pilot – New industries will be developing around drone dispatching; people with multi tasking ability might be in high demand! This might be the career for me, multi tasking is my middle name and while I’ve not personally applied myself, the ability to run a game controller is clearly in my genetic makeup if my kids are any indication. The way things are going in Iraq, this could be a sought after skill too providing job protection.

6. Garbage Miner – I though this is what small children did in third world countries? I just thrown out the contents of three containers from the rear of my refrigerator and the miasma nearly made me vomit so I’m disregarding this option.

7. Weather Coordinator – They predict we’ll have the ability to influence and control the weather on Earth, to me is a bit overly futuristic. Despite the amazing advancements in health I don’t see this happening in my lifetime.

8. Organ Farmer – When we begin growing human organs from scratch we will need skilled workers to monitor sterile environment to propagate: hearts, lungs and eyes. Again the failure of my past gardening forays suggests this career might not be working to my strengths.

9. Memory Manipulator – Instead of travelling we will opt to have memories implanted in our brains in the future, saving the planet and avoiding long lines at the airport. This is another future career I am dubious of, why would anyone want to compete with a good old scotch and dry?

You see, there are plenty of options out there all you will need is an open mind and a willingness to consider the advice of experts who suggest the following:

_Forget about security, compensation and location, fulfilment doesn’t come from extrinsic, but intrinsic qualities of the work.
_Visualise your dream job, identify what makes your pulse race.
_Forget about status, it will kill you. A 2002 study of monkeys found those higher in the pecking order died first.
_Don’t think your job will fix something that is wrong with you, the best reason to do something is for the difference you make through it, not because of what it does to you.
_Find a job that’s not a struggle, of course work isn’t easy, but it also doesn’t need to be hard. Play to your natural strengths and talents which will allow you to do your best work.
Finally they urge you make time for exploration and make a choice, take a stand and even though that might be scary or uncomfortable; if it doesn’t work out there’s always a new choice to be made.

Kaplan Robert Steven; Reaching Your Potential; HBR Articles July 1, 2008
Moran, Gwen; 4 Reasons Why You Hate Your Job and How To Fix It; Fast Company.com; June 17, 2014
Meister, Jeanne; Job Hopping Is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials: Three Ways to Prevent a Human Resource Nightmare; Forbes August 14, 2002
The Muse; The Foolproof Guide To Finding True Career Fulfilment; Forbes; August 1, 2013
Woods, David; Top Jobs of the Future; Manolith; June 24, 2013

Futures Rambling #80
By Laurie Aznavoorian

Next week I will be giving a presentation at the Illumni Future of Lighting Summit in Sydney. I’m playing the role of ‘Workplace Contextualiser’ tasked with providing delegates a view of what’s happening in the world of workplace and relating that to a broader context. Then I am going to suggest roles lighting might play.

I’m aware that jumping from world events to light bulbs represents a significant leap, but as obtuse as it may be, there is a link and acknowledging and incorporating social, economic, cultural and business context is a critical first step in creating powerful workplaces. I’ve grown very weary of briefs that ignore this and read like the posters on the wall at my yoga studio. You know the ones, with rainbows and unicorns espousing aspirations and hopes with no mention of the big mean world. Those briefs will deliver a space, but will it be a space that makes a difference to a business?

One benefit of exploring context is the greater likelihood that the problems we are solving will be the right ones. In addition, our understanding of both problem and solution becomes the subtext to the narrative we’ll use to describe why we’ve done what we’ve done. This is critical for getting people on board. When we only provide a small part of the picture, it’s difficult to eliminate subjectivity, we run the risk of people following their natural tendency to fill in gaps and that could result in a very different story than what we intended.

Every night I watch the American news back to back with the Australian news, it’s a bit depressing, but provides a snapshot of rotten things happening on both sides of the globe that we must consider. There are a number of trending topics, three of which I plan to address. Coincidentally, these three topics often emerge when talking to organisations about their workplaces. Each demands unique actions and those actions can be supported, encouraged and enhanced through the physical environment and the environments can be enhanced through lighting.

Abstruse Problems
Watching the news it is impossible to ignore catastrophic natural disasters happening around the world: floods in the Balkans, mudslide to the Northwest of Seattle and fires in Valparaiso Chile to name a few. There’s an environmental story, but the focus here will be on the fact that these represent abstruse problems: enigmatic, difficult to understand and impossible for a single country to solve on their own.

Similarly, organisations face increasingly complex problems that force them to draw on expertise from a wider group of problem solvers including external partners. In both cases the action demanded is to be enterprising, like Bill Gates applying his knowledge (and considerable wealth) to the problems of vaccinations and malaria.

Workplace designs have response to the need to enterprise; this is most clearly evidenced in the rise of co-working spaces that allow people from multiple organisations to interact in a club type atmosphere. Within organisation’s workplaces we will continue to see investment in architectural elements like stairs and atriums, transparent workplaces and spaces dedicated to socialising and learning that encourage mixing, blending and inviting ‘outsiders in.

The challenge with these workplaces, and where lighting can help, is in the critical issue of way-finding. Unfortunately, this has been all but ignored in many of today’s contemporary workplaces that resemble furniture showrooms with little sense of direction or zoning. Employing lighting to define main circulation paths, passive and active work zones and signifying key destinations would improve our workplaces dramatically.

Polarisation is evident in the numerous schisms we see from the redshirt movement in Thailand, Boko Haram kidnapping school girls in Nigeria and in politics in just about any country. In organisations we see a similar disconnects, but fortunately not nearly as dangerous. Businesses generally referred to this as being ‘siloed’ and list ‘breaking down silos’ as a key objective when there is conflict in the organisation.

The action required to bridge the gaps is negotiation, which demands dialogue, knowledge transfer and an opportunity to share points of view and values. Negotiation is an easier pill to swallow when we aren’t forced to abandon our individuality and beliefs, and are given choice. Today’s workplaces have recognised this and many have responded by providing a far greater variety of places to go within the workplace.

By offering choice, we don’t need to close gaps, just bridge them through understanding and accepting that there is more than one way to skin a cat. However, it’s important to remember that once choice is offered, it will be exercised; therefore, workplaces must be compelling and have a sense of character and meaning that will attract and hold worker’s attention. Calling on our skills as architects we must make full use of colour, volume, texture and pattern and use lighting to create drama.

The environment also plays a role in knowledge transfer and here lighting can partner with the symbolism of a space to tell stories, overt or through subtler symbolic means. There is no greater communicator of brand and culture than the buildings we occupy and the workplaces within them, those messages must be carefully considered.

Economic Uncertainty
The final theme, economic uncertainty is familiar to us all. We concern ourselves with a possible downturn in the Chinese economy, the US sliding back into recession, not to mention worries about the new budget Tony and Joe have proposed. Organisations naturally worry about this uncertainty and volatility and many have responded in the same way as nations, with austerity measures and an aversion to risk.

Organisations carefully review their environments today, and are right sizing them by aligning their space to contemporary work practices and eliminating waste. If a job function does not require a large space, it is no longer automatically provided. There is recognition and acceptance that one size does not fit all. Another popular tactic is the use of clever design to squeeze the most out of space by dual, triple or quadruple purposing.

The action being demand is innovation. We must encourage people to think differently about their environments, change their mindset and help them develop new approaches to using space. This is not unlike what Pope Francis has done to the Catholic Church, or ABW’s redefinition of the workstyle many practiced in university.

As we move into the future the most significant innovations in workplaces will come from emerging technologies that promise to change the way we use and experience space. While technology is not technically space, it is part of the ‘workplace ecology’ and cannot be separated from people and space. Together they create what we think of as workplace, and have a co-dependent relationship on each other making it impossible to isolate one.

Lighting is the aggregate of the workplace ecology. It is the glue that binds the parts together and through its careful consideration, makes spaces function efficiently. But lighting does much more than that, it makes space come alive and provides the drama and punctuation we crave. Without light we wouldn’t be hard pressed to see the rainbows and unicorns we all dream about.

Futures Rambling # 79
by Laurie Aznavoorian

The Human Research and Ethic committee overlooking a current research endeavour has once again not disappointed in making our research team jump through hoops to gain ethics approval for the upcoming data collection phase of our next research initiative. Historically, I’ve poked fun at the committee for holding projects like ours to the same standards as those that could have far more serious consequences than determining whether a desk is occupied or not.

In this case it’s warranted, our research participants will be wearing Sociometric badges and there is an understandable concern the electrical pulse from the sensor might mess with pacemakers. However, that was not the question that flummoxed us it was another, which I am embarrassed to admit we hadn’t even considered. It was about the benefit of involvement in the research to the participant.

Pretty lame given we tout ourselves as professionals who care about occupant’s experiences in the workplace! Surprisingly, or perhaps no so much, we had only articulate the benefits of the research to our clients and ourselves and hadn’t given two minutes thought to what might be in it for the guinea pig. Surely there would be something.

Fortunately a compelling answer surfaced without too much mental duress. When you think about it, it’s quite simple, who wouldn’t want to know more about the effectiveness of interactions they have with co-workers? After all, information is power, and understanding the nuances of how we interact with one another will help lay the foundation for more meaningful and productive collaborations.

The Sociometric readers we are using will provide a great amount of valuable data, but unfortunately, it will not lead to knowledge that will break the back of many serious maladies that plague the typical workplace. To be more specific, to some extent they will measure variables that will allow us to monitor behaviour, since they do not record speech, we will never really know when a colleague is being a jerk and talking behind another’s back or trashing someone in the corridor.

Shocked? That doesn’t happen in your office, not true if you subscribe to Robert Kegan’s ideas about being yourself in the workplace, he’s a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of education who believes most interactions in a ‘normal job’ have nothing to do with the real work we perform and have much more to do with a second job we have that is arse covering, looking good and hiding shortcomings.

I concur. I’ve met several people who’ve spent their entire career dedicated to this exact endeavour! Kegan maintains that even though we know covering our weaknesses, inadequacies and uncertainties is counter productive; we do it anyway and it is typical in the ‘normal’ organisation where people feel compelled to hide their less developed parts, or true self.

It makes no sense if you think about it logically, our employers hire us not because we’re perfect, but to realise the potential they see in us. After all we are human and therefore imperfect. In reality, we are not logical, so we spend enormous amounts of time everyday trying to be something, or someone were not, by putting on airs and covering our shortcomings and errors. Unfortunately, this makes us more likely to continue making the same kinds of mistakes hampering growth for each of us personally and for the companies we work for.

Patrick Lencioni lists these same exact attributes in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, suggesting that hiding weaknesses and covering mistakes, amongst a number of others, are indicative of organisations that lack trust, not to mention one that is standing still because it’s too timid to evolve. Lencioni supports what our Trust Research, and many others, concludes and that is a lack of trust in an organisation impacts productivity and profit, and it makes people feel downright miserable.

Our sociometric readers are not going to remedy this completely; they will record signals that will provide insight into the authenticity, honesty or sincerity of co-workers interactions. But they can’t really tell us when one employee behaves like a complete tool, in an unproductive or unprofessional manner. What they will tell us is how people interact with one another during various phases of the collaborative process and from this we can bridge the gap to infer how the environment helps or hinders it.

We will most definitely succeed in capturing insights that will inform designers and clients on the spatial attributes that support phases of the collaborative process, but going back to the Ethics Committee question, what’s is this research doing for the people? How do we help them achieve richer interactions and encourage them to be their complete self in the workplace by boldly exhibiting their passions, enthusiasm, wacky ideas and warts? How can we create a company culture, because this is not about a workplace, where employees are not ashamed to be who they are?

That is the $60,000 question, and one that is important to understanding, what Keagan describes as, our ‘new economy’. In the new economy employees seek benefits beyond a paycheck, of the old economy of salary and benefits will continue to be important, but in the ‘new economy’ employees will seek incomes that address “the psychological person”. These incomes support happiness, not in smiley face kind of way, but rather a state of happiness as an evolutionary process that comes from the Aristotelian concept of unfolding, growing and developing as a person.

This probably sounds familiar to many I’ve spoken to recently who are searching for fulfilment and happiness and not finding it at work. Undoubtedly there are a host of reasons for worker dissatisfaction, but one could be not working for a DDO, a deliberately developmental organisation. These are companies that walk the talk and go out of their way to draw employees into a process that helps them grow and become better versions of themselves.

Sign you up to work in a DDO you say? Well maybe think twice, because for most the level of openness required to promote personal growth is a little too scary a proposition. It is true, being in a workplace where there are no secrets and every conversation is an open one can lead to discomfort. Kegan gives an example of an organisation in Connecticut that records every meeting. An extreme example, but one it gives a taste of what true transparency is.

You might rightly surmise, it is not everyone’s idea of fun, but for those that do preserve, working in a DDO can be exhilarating. Some see it as an illustration of the organisation’s generosity with time and a willingness to make an investment in their future. They believe the organisation really cares about them as a person and do not see them as just a means to an end. They thrive in the organisation, would not consider working for ‘normal organisation and the company benefits from excellent results.

For others it’s too confronting and this is why many DDO’s have high turnover rates, and face it not everyone wants their co-workers to know who they really are, you never know they may be in the witness protection program or they want everyone to think they are better than what they are. Those that feel that way have many organisations to choose from that are ‘normal’

I imagine if we had wanted to record this type of information in our research we would not have been given ethics approval, because we could easily delve into people’s psychological well being, and find ourselves outside of our pay grades. Both researcher and participants could find out things they prefer not to know. Like that famous line from A Few Good Men, we think we want the truth but we can’t handle it.

Are You the “Real You” in the Office? HBR IdeaCast 5:45 PM March 27, 2014

Russell, Joyce E.A., The importance of trusting co-workers; Australian Financial Review, April 17, 2014

Futures Rambling #78
By Laurie Aznavoorian

At a writing workshop I attended a few weeks ago the facilitator made a surprising statement; ‘Everyone thinks they are a writer’. Her comment was not directed at the ten people in the room who had toiled for years producing manuscripts, some published and others not, but to countless others who make absurd statements over glasses of Zinfandel about how they were thinking about maybe someday writing a book. The point being, there is a difference between intentions and actually doing the hard yards.

Participants of the workshop came from a number of industries: architecture, IT, public service, gambling and the sex trade (no kidding) and could relate to the comment. Because they knew watching episodes of ER or House does not qualify one to diagnoses illness, viewing CSI NY, Miami and Las Vegas provides no real knowledge of how to solve crime, and my personal favourite, selecting a paint colour or living through a kitchen remodel does not make you an architect.

There is a difference between the professional and hobbyist, that difference is that design professionals: architects, interior designers, communications, graphics and experience designers etc. do not just create something that looks good, they create designs that provide value to the end user and that is a very different outcome. Unfortunately, design professionals do a poor job of articulating what that value is in a language that is meaningful to their client and therefore deal with the negative ramifications of this shortcoming on a daily basis.

Add to this the influence of new technologies and procurement models for design services: open source, crowdsourcing, contests and competitions that take the best ideas and only pay the winner or no one at all. For most designers this is far from a sustainable business model because the time spent on the work has nothing to do with compensation. Winning or succeeding is more a factor of luck, whim of judges, or the personal preferences of people who may have questionable qualifications, or lack the experience and know how to identify a superior design solution.

Crowdsourcing is not something we come up against in architecture and interior design; never the less assuming it won’t creep into our lexicon would be at our own peril. Speak to a graphic designer and mention crowdsourced logo competitions and you’ll receive a litany of reasons why this is bad. Crowdsourcing should not be confused with outsourcing, where jobs are moved from higher to lower paying regions; the practice guarantees an equal quality of work for lower cost. Crowdsourcing combines ideas from people all over the world, qualified or not, and follows a pay on satisfaction model. It does not guarantee a similar quality of outcome.

Most industries would consider such a situation ludicrous, whether or not you like what your doctor, lawyer or accountant did, they would still be expected compensation. However, the question of payment is the least of the problems with these models, the real issues arise from the inability for the designer to capture a competent brief, interact and educate the client about the pros and cons of one solution over another. Since the average person does not really understand graphics, digital communications, interior design or the technicalities of architecture, having a professional navigate the decision making process is critical.

All good relationships are built on trust and those between client and designer are no different. Ideally, communication would be constant throughout the project and in the end the outcome would be the result of discourse and collaboration. Forgoing this opportunity for interaction is the main problem with many of the new methods for procuring design services popular today.

When we whine about the insurgence of design competitions being used to award commissions we are singing an old tune. 140 years ago The Royal Institute of British Architects began a debate on the value of design contests, and as far as I am aware, it continues to this day. On one hand it can be argued design competitions devalue the work and create a host of problems for the profession as a whole.

A number of these were identified in a 2013 exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York that addressed the hidden stories and politics behind architectural competitions. Noted were tricky ways architects broke anonymity rules and the unlikely chance of a poorly named entry proposal being a successful winner. They labelled competitions as ‘breeding grounds for clichés in architectural representation, and finally identified the real quandary, hours and hours of unpaid work generally done by interns barely earning the minimum wage if they earn a wage at all. For years the profession turned a blind eye to interns providing services for free for the opportunity to work with an internationally famous architect. Unfortunately, Obama’s executive order on the minimum wage will not change that situation in America if it still exists; it only applies to the public sector.

Considering the other side of the coin, competitions alter the course of design by bringing new movements to the fore. International competitions, in particular have broadened our notions of what is possible by calling on the creativity of architects around the globe. We would not have our own Sydney Opera House if it wasn’t for an international competition won by an outsider, and relatively unknown architect, Jorn Utzon. And moore recently if it hadn’t been for an international competition Thomas Noakes from Australia would have never won the Doritos ad competition and millions of Americans would have been denied a taste of Aussie sophistication. See for yourself it will make you proud, particularly if you’re an Aussie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugo7Y2lRsxc

This highlights another benefit of the competition process, it allows new players to compete regardless of their prior experience in the region or project type. We saw this in the recent Flinders Street Station competition where the people’s choice award went to a team of Melbourne Uni grads: Eduardo Velasquez, Manuel Pineda and Santiago Medina. Although they didn’t win the competition, their entry got us all thinking and talking.

Of course thinking and talking does not pay the mortgage. In researching this piece I read one blog that suggested the last thing you wanted to do was win a competition, because it would signify the end of self-indulgent fantasies and force the architect to listen to clients, local politicians, health & safety certifiers and fire regulators.

The blogger was having a go at Zaha Hadid, who didn’t get a paying commission for 25 years, he claimed her reputation was “based on images, not real-life.” While it may be true that it took a long time for Hadid to warm up, something she could only have done with rich parents or some kind of supporter behind her, it’s hard to see how her work did not become more refined, some might say palatable, from the many international competitions she entered.

Hadid is the recipient of, and only woman to win The Pritzker Prize; her life’s work has been on display in the Guggenheim and she runs a practice of 350 people in London. She is 69th on the Forbes list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” and was named by Time as an influential thinker in the 2010 TIME 100 issue. If that is not enough, she was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by the Guardian in 2013! Architectural competitions have been very, very, good for Zaha, and prove that when it comes to architects it’s all about flash, not cash.

Doyle, John; “Did We Just Overlook the Next Opera House?”; The Age; January 24, 2014
Dunn, Zach; “The Real Problem With Design Contests”; The Blog of One Mighty Roar; posted January 16, 2009
Kubey, Karen; “The Competitive Hypothesis” Domusweb; posted February 13, 2013
Stevens, Gary; “How to Become a Famous Architect Without Building Anything”; Dr. Garry’s Place http://www.archsoc.com
http://www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org; Contests—who wins?; Posted on Jan 23, 2013
McKiernan, Patricia; Creative Professionals and Ethics; Graphic Artists Guild; August 7, 201