Saturday, January 23, 2010

On reading Dan Pink "a Whole New Mind" as a precursor to "Drive"

Last summer at NeoCon 2009 Dan Pink lectured to a standing room only crowd in Chicago on ‘Motivation’ which I attended. There Pink expanded our thinking about what drives motivation and creativity. This is the subject of his new book "Drive", just released. Because Drive wasn't available then, I picked up his 2005 book a the conference, "A Whole New Mind", a New York Times and Business Week Bestseller to form a clearer context while reading Drive which I just now purchased. Here's an overview from his site:

"The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of “left brain” dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate. That’s the argument at the center of this provocative and original book, which uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding the contours of our times. " (from

Pink illustrates work through the ages in an apt visual metaphor of a Neanderthal hunter-gathering, to a farmer in agrarian based society of cultivation and production, leading to the factory, then to knowledge workers, a trend coined by Peter Drucker a generation ago, to today's stage showing a cultural creative wielding a paint brush and palette. (p.50). The cultural creative wields the paintbrush like a conductor of a symphony. In fact he calls it a “150 year three act drama” beginning with the Industrial Age, leading into the Information Age and shifting yet again now into the so called “Conceptual Age”. It’s a time where “high touch and high concept” form the armature around the core of information age type skills and work. In short, we need to move beyond reliance on old patterns of work and production borne from the Information Age.

Today, the distribution of left-brain dominated work overseas leaves an uncertain future for today's workers like accountants, bankers, computer programmers, engineers of all kinds, customer service professionals in call centers etc. As a work culture we saw great success honing these skills and developing new information technologies. In a sense we’ve put ourselves in a developmental box which we must figure out how to leap over by shifting to new behaviors.

He asks us to ask ourselves three basic questions; "Can someone overseas do it cheaper? Can a computer do it faster? Am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age?" If you answer yes to any you might continue reading on to the second part of his book.

Working with the Right brain or R-directed thinking as Pink describes in the Part two of the book may lead us into an more empowered future. Pink identifies six creative forces to help our collective transition - Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. Hearing Pink emphasize the importance of Design at NeoCon as a driver of business and value creation immediately peaked the audience's interest as a lead into his thoughts on what motivates us. He used this as a lead-in to how the “carrot and the stick” incentives based approach is broken and needs to be replaced by more effective strategies.

He worked us up by describing the power of design to transform brands, organizations, our built environment and eco-cultural realities. Successful design integrates functional, cultural, financial and environmental concerns together in a sometimes less than rational manner. The power of story, the ability to orchestrate complex parts in symphonic manners, to build empathy and significance, to be playful and most of all find and bring meaning to our work and the value it produces can shift the world of work firmly into the “Conceptual Age”. Using creative value adding R-directed thinking can help companies differentiate themselves in the global as well as local marketplace.

Five years after publication I see only further transformation of our nascent social media present where so many of us text, tweet, facebook and update our status on Linked-In. Nouns are now verbs in the topsy turvy world of R-directed value creation Pink foresaw five or so years ago. Shaping experience and perceptions alongside the information stream so vitally sustaining our world now tends to take precedence over the L-directed skills so relevant to the information age.

Over the last five years did Pinks book inspire companies and individuals to see their situation anew and shift their behaviors modeling on what they learned in the book and others like it? I know I’ve read other books written around that time by Tom Friedman (The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded) and IDEO’s Tom Kelly’s “Ten Faces of Innovation" sharing similar factors and trends. Taken together they must have shaped businesses and thinking around innovation. I will be looking for examples of companies and thinkers who used these ideas and see what happened. Did they find success? Did they build great brands and innovative products?

With last year’s economic disasters I wonder now how valid is Pink’s premise is that we’re in the “Conceptual Age” and success lies in R-directed creative oriented thinking? The Conceptual Age as Pink described was based on a time of abundance and prosperity. That evaporated over the last year and a half. When it’s not so easy to do business is this kind of thinking essential or expendable? Times like now require rapid adaptation, invention and a flexibility and willingness to try new ideas and strategies. In short, it demands a desire and passion to innovate and motivate, to make moves outside of the box.

I’ll be looking for answers to these questions both near and far and hope to report back over the next few months about what I find. I’m looking for companies and entrepreneurial types who read Pink’s book and for better or worse worked with “A Whole New Mind’s ideas”? Contact me with your suggestions. As an architect and designer I hope they proved useful and I’d like to learn more about the realities of working with them.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Net Zero Low-Income Modular Homes in Colorado

I wanted to spread word of a model net-zero affordable housing project located in Lafayette, Colorado, a city located in Boulder Country about 40 miles from Denver and 10 miles from Boulder.
(image courtesy of BCHA)
The Paradigm Pilot Project, a single family home and a duplex showcase a mix of super-insulated building envelopes, smart site orientation and use renewable energy sources, combined with passive solar design strategies. The building design use a fairly straightforward modernistic vocabulary of 13 rectilinear boxes easy to manufacture in a factory setting. What's hopeful is this is an experiment of sorts to be studied and leveraged into a much larger 153 Unit housing project in the planning stages in Lafayette. It uses geothermal

The project was designed by HB&A Architects,and built by All-American Homes for the Boulder County Housing Authority. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory / Department of Energy were also partners on the project.

You can find out more about the project on the Green Building Advisor and later covered at Jetson Green. You can see helpful information about it at the Housing Authority's Website.

Here's a link to a powerpoint about the project from the BCHA site. The site also shows the construction process with highlights being the installation of the modular factory built units and solar system installation. One interesting note is the project used both evacuated tube type solar hot water and solar electric panels as part of the system. The jury's out here on the efficacy the evacuated tubes but it's interesting this technology was used on the project.

All in all, this project is an inspiration to those of us in cold-climate regions and of use to others close to home here in Vermont. Perhaps some of the lessons learned from this project can be used here on our affordable housing projects. I know Efficiency Vermont is doing it's best to partner with other non-profit and for profit developers and housing authority's to continually upgrade our housing stock, whether new construction or renovation. It's Multi-family Housing Design Checklist is a very thourogh guide helping with efficiency measures and low-energy usage. They also provide financial incentives and technical assistance to clients and project teams to extend the value of the check-list.

Perhaps with the far-away inspiration of the Colorado example and the close to home specifics of the Efficiency Vermont's checklist this will help move us forward!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Workplace Matters"...a design and organizational process resource

I ran into Kevin Kelley from the GSA public building service at NEOCON East in Baltimore last fall.

He mentioned Workplace Matters, a GSA applied research design book published in 2006 as a great resource for those interested in the design of the high performance and sustainable workplace. Kevin was a principal author along with Kevin Kampschroer, Kevin M. Powell, Judith Heerwagen and Intern: Patricia Cheng. Though it's a few years old now it offers an in-depth overview and explanation of the GSA's design process along with a variety of case studies illuminating best practices in application in the field at GSA projects around the country.

The book explains why the workplace matters in Government (or private settings). It identifies on page 8, "The emphasis of workplace design should be on the people and the work they accomplish. The cost of people in a building is typically 10 to 12 times the cost of the building’s infrastructure." So often, in designing, conceiving and constructing workplaces, the focus is on first costs rather than long-term operational costs and the soft-costs of human capital. This is unfortunate as much can be done in the design and implementation of workspace positively affecting long-term organizational effectiveness, while serving the public good. This is the heart of the message of this book and it's case studies.

Some Key GSA processes which emerged from the book:
  • Using a Balanced Scorecard in the design process: The system is a mission driven measurement and management tool developed by two Harvard professors. Specifically it analyzes key financial, business process, human capital, and customer outcomes and creates a “balanced” perspective on how well the organization is performing and helps guide improvements.
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Discovery Toolkit. GSA’s WorkPlace program develops design concepts and proposed solutions by seeking to understand how organizations tick, their mission, goals anFeedback Loop. GSA’s WorkPlace program uses a modified version of Deming’s “Plan, Do, Check, Act” continuous feedback loop. The hallmarks of this process are clearly identifying connections between business/workplace goals (plan), designing solutions (do), measuring organizational outcomes (check), and improving upon the originally identified business/workplace goals (act). objectives, the make-up of the people, their clients etc. The GSA uses quantitative analysis of space use, turnover rates, absenteeism, and costs. The complement this by using qualitative tools such as a Web-based workplace satisfaction survey. They also conduct visioning sessions focused on seeking out organizational goals, behavioral norms and workplace expectations.
  • Change Management: The GSA cast a wide net involving as many employees in the process with surveys, workshop and targeted focus groups. They gather information to influence thinking and build consensus about new ways of working and organizational behavior. This helps shift the organization from a entitlement to needs based space- allocation culture.
  • Feedback Loop: Their program modified Peter Deming’s “Plan, Do, Check, Act” continuous feedback loop process which identifies links between business/workplace goals (plan), designing solutions (do), measuring organizational outcomes (check), and improving upon the originally identified business/workplace goals (act). (paraphrased from p.14)
Workplace Matters also tackles other issue such as dealing with "Generations at Work" where Millennials, Generation Y, Generation X and Baby Boomers all work together in the topsy turvy world of the blended workplace. Each generation has its own work /life expectations and proclivities in the workplace. It's part of the story and any considered design process. Steelcase provides an interesting white paper on this subject as well entitled Millenials at Work.

For those interested in specifics on their process check out the chapter/ section on "Deep Dives", the workshop driven, data collection, brainstorming process so important to involving key stakeholders and deriving key design constraints.

All in all the book provides a very helpful complement to other Workplace Design resources written about on prior blog posts. It's a great find and better yet it's freely available online!

Give me your feedback on how valuable or informative resources such as Workplace Matters are to you in your work developing the high performance workplace!