Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Growing Self Awareness of Technology Overload

Wordle: Too Much Information
A Word Cloud  Explaining How I feel
     This holiday season I am really overloaded by technology, so much so it's making my head hurt and I feel both annoyed, confused and conflicted by the media messaging coming at me from all directions.  I see and feel all the beautiful images and implied lifestyle of ultmate media experience.  I see families sitting in contemporary styled living rooms watching large flatscreens, heads bent down looking at tablets, laptops.  All together they appear it seems, but in actuality so far apart from one another.  I don't buy what I'm seeing in the advertising because I'm living in a media overload nightmare.  I think it's a tip of a proverbial socio-cultural iceberg. 
     I'm surrounded by screens of various sizes and shapes.  I'm uncomfortable seeing so many friends and family uncontrollably it seems bent over tablets, itouches, laptops vaguely interacting with one another, not making clear eye, mumbling answers to questions down to the screen but not across the room to the person asking the question.  If this is togetherness and family time why does my skin crawl ever so little sometimes when I look across to see a loved one head down on a screen, body in place, mind and focus elsewhere.
     I can't be the only one feeling a little weird about this can I?  I know all of this great cool tech at least in the commercials, web and multi-media advertising has us all living in a super happy fantasy world of better lives etc.  But is it really making us better people?  Do we know how to do things like basic communication, like....talking to one another?  I know that after a long day working on my architectural work surrounded by screens at my desk, where I frequently post strategic updates to my LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, flitting around doing work related research I feel a bit scattered. 
     In the last year or so, have you tried reading a newspaper article or picked up a magazine and tried reading an indepth piece, quickly realizing you can't because you're still scanning the pages like they were on a screen and you can't settle down to actually read like you used to.  I have.  Often.  I feel all of this tech and my unwitting behavior with it has led me to a self-created attention deficit disorder.   
     Backing up a little, let's set some context. In our home bookshelves we have an old children's book from the 1950's or so espousing the glamourous miracles of the technology then called television.  Looking at its simple colored illustrations showing how the technology worked, explaining the complex and mysterious ideas of programs of various kinds being beamed over airwaves into people's living rooms seems quaint today.  Often books like this or Norman Rockwell paintings depict entire family's sitting around a living room, a barber shop, restuarant or bar looking at a single TV or listening to a radio.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Seven Secrets of Exceptional Customer Service

While at VtSBDC training with Carrie Gendreau, seminar leader.
(This is just a series of cryptic notes...not a long form post fyi....)

Treat everyone as a guest, seek to connect, pay attention, listen hard

Be ready to help your guest, be ready, be prepared the moment the walk in the door.

It is important to keep and clarify expectations in the process of serving them.

Every single time, how we look, our first impression matters most. However take care not to pre judge or not to be preconceived.

The details matter. It is always about the details. Caring for details show we see the big picture and get it.

4 Ways we have contact with our guests

1. How we look
2, What we do
3. What we say
4. How we say it

Have immediate rapor and connection with your guests.

Say please and thank you at all times.

Develop an attitude of gratitude.

Never put down the competition.

Catch people doing things right and celebrate success.

It's all about what I can do for you, not what I can't.

Engage directly with guests somehow with your interactions. "Welcome to Moe's".

Show genuine interest by listening and show you're listening. Do so by possibly repeating back what you thought you heard. It shows you care and you are focused on them.

Say their name back to them. Of course we need to know their name.

Exceed our guests' expectations, (quotes on walls of restrooms stalls)

Rules of Customer Service:
1. Customer is always right. 2. Go back to number 1.

How can I exceed my customer's expectations?

See our guest's complaints as gifts and learning oppourtunities.

- Handle the challenge first, then the solution or reason.
- Show empathy
- Find a solution
- Offer a gift , coupon

Does your organization have a customer service mission statement and process which all buy-in to and follow? Whether a small services based business like mine, Arocordis Design, a larger retail or manufacturing entity, having a playbook and service ethos is critical.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Design Thinking is Infectious

Design thinking is a state of mindfulness. Why? This is because so many issues or layers come together when considered during the act of seeking solution. It is a complex one involving synthesis and Ideation.

Ideation? This is the doing of design. Ideation involves making and devising possible solutions, alternatives satisfying the design challenges faced. Picture a big bright blue funnel. You empty the ideas into it and they swirl together forming a new unknown solution. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reviewing "A Foreign Country" by Charles Cumming

     I usually write about design, innovation and many things green but I'd like a timeout for this short post about a spy thriller I read recently.  It's named Foreign Country by Charles Cumming, a youngish UK author with a reputation comparing him to a John LeCarre or Grahmn Greene. My advance copy came to me via Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont as a thank you for helping them consider some design options for their children's area help desk.  They shared a thank you book in the spy thriller genre with me from their advance copy stack and Foreign Country the one I selected from it didn't disappoint.
     The fast pacing, twisted filled plot, middle age ennui of Kell, the protagonist and ultimately the design of the book with its flashbacks and disconnected happenings at first all added up at the end to a superlative redemptive finish.  Visually the books design and structure echoed spiraling strands at the outer ends of happenings to the major characters intertwining tighter and tighter closer to the heart of story and its heart-pumping ending.

     Here's an excerpt from Cumming's book website which sets the stage:

.....from Chapter 4, A Foreign Country

"Six weeks before she is due to take up her position as the first female head of MI6, Amelia Levene vanishes without a trace. "

 "Her disappearance is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced for more than a decade. There has been no ransom demand, no word from foreign intelligence services, no hint of a defection.

Should news of Levene’s disappearance leak out, the consequences would be catastrophic.  But for disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell, the crisis offers a chance for redemption.  He is approached by his former employers and ordered to find her.

Kell’s search takes him first to France, then North Africa, where he discovers an extraordinary secret hidden deep in Levene's past.  It is a secret that could fatally compromise Britain’s national security – and for which Kell himself could pay with his life."

      The first chapter opens with a vicious double murder in Tunis of a vacationing just retired French couple.     It moves on to establish the situation of Thomas Kell, how he was ousted from the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) better known as the British M16, taking the fall for a joint intelligence operation with the Americans gone bad eight months earlier.  Adding to Kell's middle aged angst was his crumbling sexless marriage.  This sets the tone for the lonely double life of a spy who knows no true identity, only cynical allegiance to long ago ideals and long time friends in the service who at any moment are capable of turning on him.  But in the end, Kell misses the action of a life of spy craft and would do anything to return to it while seeking to redeem himself in the eyes of his peers and get back in the 'game'. 
     A Foreign Country is about Kell's journey searching for his friend Amelia Levene the new soon to be first ever female Chief of M16, while ultimately leading to him rediscovering his courage, faithfulness and true character.  My advance copy said it was going onsale August 2012 but apparently it's already for sale in the UK.  If you're looking for summer read to take to the beach or on a plane do be careful.  Once you pick it up you won't want to put it down.  Look for it in August in US booksellers near you! 
     Let me know what you think?  I think this story could easily be made into film.  James Bond watch out! Thomas Kell is the seasoned hero of our age for readers like me to identify with and champion.  I know I always wanted to be a spy down deep inside and with A Foreign Country I find myself a little closer. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Small Steps to an Energy Independent World, Montpelier's Electric Vehicle Charging Station

All-Electric Vehicle Charging Station in Montpelier, VT
     Yesterday while downtown in Montpelier, I walked behind City Hall and literally ran into something I've never seen before and which given April 22nd and Earth Day is just around the corner it's definitely worth sharing. It's also just another reason why I think Montpelier is the best place to live in Vermont. We do stuff.  Seriously good stuff.  
     In February, the City and Green Mountain Power teamed up to install a free solar powered electric vehicle charging station behind city hall.  It's the third one for GMP so far, with one installed in South Burlington and Colchester.  Last week I pumped over $4.00/ gallon gas into my cars for the second time in my life, the last being in 2008.  I read yesterday how hybrids and all electric vehicles had there best month ever in the Burlington Free Press and here as described in the March 2012 Hybrid Dashboard.  I believe it.  While the current percentage of the total vehicle sales pie is small at 3.5% or so it's a rapidly growing segment of the market fed by high prices at the gas pumps.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sound and Light Sketch, Biophilia and Birds Calling

     This morning walking our five month old puppy I stopped for a minute or two recording the sounds and images of beautiful pond which is part of Montpelier, Vermont's North Branch Nature Center preserve area.  While I'm not a birder and a wildlife ecologist I do appreciate the sounds and sights of nature.   This is another part of bringing nature near to you who are far away from it.  And for those of you viewing this from other parts of the world, climates etc., this might just be a treat!

Biophilia and Nature Near, The Sounds and Sight of a Stream

     I share this video made recently while walking the hills around Montpelier with our new puppy and family members.  This is for those of you near and far who appreciate the sounds of nature and especially this one of spring time in Vermont.  I believe in the importance of embracing nature in design, especially well defined by the word biophilia. 
     Championed by noted biologist E.O. Wilson, it means "an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world." Oxford Online Dictionary.  Too often natural elements such as the sounds of water, the oxygenated aroma's of plant and the texture of river stones, other natural materials are absent from our daily experience inside our homes, workplaces, where we shop and worship.  
     Much of my work as an architect and workplace designer involves bringing the natural back into the everyday experience inside.  What better antidote to the cacophony of cell phones, sirens, sounds of everyday cosmopolitan life than soothing sounds of water, smells of plants and textures of materials. Where possible I believe it intrinsically valuable to creating a sense of well being to include water features and ample  plantings into interior environments.  So many of us spend the majority of our lives inside these days working long weeks whether at the office or as mobile untethered workers at home, coworking spaces, libraries, coffee houses etc.  
     Smart business people who want to create welcoming environments for work, play, shopping, learning, worship would do well to bring nature near. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Open Letter to Google's Project Glass and Google [x]

Prototype Headwear via Google's Project Glass

Dear Project Glass and Google [x];

     This is very interesting but be prepared for unintended consequences in regards to our day to day experience with the glass wear computing technology.  It's already difficult to talk with people gazing into their smart phones, tablets, iPads etc. and carry on a focused conversation of any kind.  With such heads up glass displays imagine talking with someone who has one?  I would only think this would be more distracting.  Even if they're there in front of you are they really "There"? Maybe halfway there?  Or just kinda "There".
     I can imagine someone asking a question in the live and the answer popping up on the screen in front of someone's eyes.  Or they ask it out loud to the "device" they're wearing in mid conversation and then they "know it" with out really "thinking" and using their own experience any more or for that matter "understanding" the content.
     We're  just stepping that much closer to being intelligent machines rather and moving away from our humanness.  Our intrinsic value at that point lies in the questions we can ask and be able to critically think and reflect about and use the information before us on the heads up screen. It's a slippery slope where being clear about why and how this technology can better humankind trumps developing the cool next killer intelligent eye wear.
     Project Glass please take care and focus on answering these larger questions and show us by your field research how these glasses can help further our abilities to communicate and understand one another, solve tough world problems such war, poverty, famine, climate change etc...
     A next step is implanting chips into our heads where we just "think" our questions, answers and impulses with our minds. And then at that point we have truly crossed a line into being adaptive human machines.  Talking could become more optional.
     That said, with all of these caveats your developments are exciting but please take care and think this through completely as you can before releasing it on to our world.  If you need help tackling these difficult questions feel free to seek me out.  It's really important stuff.

Thanks, Steve

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Leverage Point, An Overflowing Park & Ride

     A few weeks ago I happened upon an overflowing Park & Ride lot just off of Exit 11 into Richmond, Vermont.  I haven't seen this ever in Vermont.  Perhaps it's a sign of the times.  Everywhere in the US costs at the pump distress drivers and as indicated here  at the Park & Ride dramatically shifting behaviors.
     We are at another leverage point where economic pressures are shifting consumers and businesses to  action towards more energy efficient and conserving practices.  Given the turbulence in the energy market, unpredictable prices at the pump can and fuel truck aren't we better off seeking more predictability in operating our homes, offices, schools, public buildings and the buildings where we shop?  We can't afford not to.  
     As an architect I know how helpful to homeowner's bottom line it is to consider weatherizing existing homes with better air-sealing, additional insulation and retrofitting windows with higher performing ones while updating heating and cooling systems and appliances to more energy efficient models.  There are numerous federal  and state tax incentives renewables and efficiency homeowners and businesses can apply for to soften the costs of taking these steps.  There's also incentives to moving to renewable energy sources for homes and businesses, you can learn more here by clicking on this link to Renewable Energy Vermont's website.
     Living in Vermont you can't miss the impact of Efficiency Vermont and its many programs assisting Vermonter's in large and small ways.  Whether it's helping subsidize the cost of purchasing compact florescent light bulbs at local hardware stores, providing information on weatherization contractors or best practices on green building and energy efficiency this statewide organization is an invaluable resource.  Vermonter's through the assistance of this program and others around the state, have lowered overall electrical usage and demand as compared to ten years ago.  Vermonter's by our nature are early adopters in green and sustainability strategies.  We're known for it.
     Over the last ten or so years Vermont building and general contractors along with architects and engineers have developed expertise in best practices in green and sustainable building from the very small scale home renovation to campus wide construction.  Green design is mainstream design now.  To soften the blow to your monthly finances and ensure greater predictability in managing your household and business in the coming years it pays to consider taking steps now.  You can find architects through AIA Vermont's online Architect directory.  Check out Efficiency Vermont's link to it's Better Buildings by Design Conference Website award winners by year.  It's a great way to find building professionals who are practicing state of the art energy efficient design whether residential or commercial scale.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Notable Workplace Trends

   The high performing workplace, like the complicated world we live, work and play in is isn’t necessarily simple to achieve.  Such a workplace reflects the need to soundly integrate work processes, physical settings and furniture along with technology in service to the overall business needs of the organization and its larger mission.  It’s also hard work and demands constant organizational engagement over time.
     Rather than talk about the workplace of the future, a term routinely used over the last forty years, we believe it’s important to focus on creating and cultivating workplaces which promote collaboration, innovation and a sense of entrepreneurship aligning with an organization’s mission, brand and values.
     The following trends are vital to consider in the coming years in the design of the enduring high performing workplace.   They are adapted from a number of sources as well as our own experience.
  1. Integrated workplace solutions:  Integration of architecture, interiors, operational processes, branding, information technology, furniture and office systems.  Bring a comprehensive and collaborative approach to the design challenge.
  2. Sustainability Action: More direct integration of sustainability concerns in workplace design, ongoing operations reinforces employee engagement and brand strength.  Also supports lower operational costs through energy efficiency, resource conservation.
  3. Branding & Storytelling: Tell the bigger story! Work to reflect organization wide core values, history and brand promise in physical design of your building, your work space, furniture, finish and color selection along with media and wall graphics.  Create a seamless experience from bricks and mortar to online.
  4. Motivation, Opportunity, Inclusiveness: It’s not about carrots and sticks, but motivating employee’s sense of purpose, desire for advancement and organizational engagement, all helping in attracting and retaining quality staff. Workplace design echoes and amplifies the strengths of a diverse workforce in reinforcing employee engagement.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Advanced Social Media Workshop Tips and Tricks from the VTSBDC and e-commerce vermont

Pat Ripley, presenter from e-commerce VT
     This morning I'm at an advanced social media workshop presented by Pat Ripley, State Broadband Adviser and e-commerce liason to the VtSBDC.  He provides workshops like this around the state to large and small communities helping Vermont businesses with their web presence, social media and media marketing efforts.
      We're located in the beautiful TW Wood Gallery at the VCFA on the Vermont College campus.  Pat's sharing both basics and best practices for small and large businesses to work with sites such as facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIN, Hootsuite, Google + among many.
      Sitting in the audience are business people running retail businesses, service firms, small and large non-profits all seeking to learn and energize their social media activity.  I'm here because I'm a self-admitted social media explorer.  I tend to try out new services, be an early adopter and spread myself thin with less focus than maybe is helpful.  I'm here to find more coherence in my business strategy.
     So in the space of the first 45 mins we've done an overview of the social media universe, how old style "Push style" advertising where businesses push out via traditional media with advertising where you're telling people about your business versus "Pull Style" interactions where relationships matter.  Pat's mantra is it's all about building and maintaining relationships whatever the media source.  He shared data people trust advertising 14% of the time while personal recommendations and referrals garner something like 90% or more of the time.  People trust other people's opinions.
     For me this resonates with my belief of how I try to work with various social media sites.  Rather than blindly voice updates about how cool and great your business is it's a lot more engaging, fun and real if you share information you actually find compelling which other's might enjoy or find useful.  It's the cosmic bank, where sharing and giving is intrinsic to success.
So it's all about relationships and creating quality interactions.  Not quantity.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Workplace, Innovation and Technology; A Trio of New York Times Articles

Two different friends (Thanks Dave and Chris!) involved in creating and cultivating work communities and workplaces here in VT mentioned I would enjoy reading some articles from last Sunday's New York Times. 

Sunday's Business section had a big spread on workplace, innovation and grappling with a technology overloaded world.  I suggest you find 20 mins of quality away time to peruse them. It'll be well worth your while. You'll learn how Google, DreamWorks and General Electric innovate with their workplaces.  

Whether you're considering renovating, adding or building out your workplace, unifying your brand messaging while building a stronger work community or all three and more, this is a must read moment! 

Creating choices of workspace and amplifying engagement was a key takeaway for me among many. It'a about providing your work community a wide range of choices of work spaces, moving beyond the 8x8 cube into a range of formal meeting rooms of various sizes, smaller 1-3 person away spaces such as phone booths or just in time rooms, then on to more informal "backyard" areas with a collection of easy chairs or sofas, mobile white boards and places to put coffee cups and snacks the fuel seeding innovation and collaboration. 

As these articles so eloquently share and our experiences working with clients show, plan on a lot more informal meeting area, collaboration spaces, away spaces while allocating less square footage for dedicated or non dedicated workstations. Perhaps 50/50 or 60/40 ratios accordingly. 15 years ago it was more like 20/80 or 30/70, but not any more. The new normal is to provide more choices in the workspace, there by cultivating innovation, collaboration and creativity. 

Today's tactical everyday business needs shift with evolution of mobile technology, collaborative surfaces, tele-phresence and cloud computing. Adaptive, flexible workspace along with quiet high focus large and small spaces are essential to building effective high performing, engaged work communities. The NBBJ designed Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Campus in Seattle directly related to the specifics of the business needs of their team and supporting getting the work done as effectively as possible while also supporting vastly different work style and collaboration needs.

Design for flexibility and plan for change from the get go. It means considering using movable architectural wall products which like workstation furniture can adapt to fast changing business and organizational needs where sizes, numbers and types of spaces may rapidly shift over the course of 3-5 years. Investing in metal stud, drywall and glass side lites may be more affordable at move-in but severely diminishes future flexibility for rapid adaption to organizational change.

And that workstation may not need to be as big as it used to be. With digital technologies and paperless transactions more normal than ever workstation storage demands are much less than five or ten years ago. And the sizes of stations are shrinking to fit the reduced paper needs while providing desk space for 1 to 2 additional monitors to facilitate paperless work. 

Anyway, I digress away from the big picture the New York Times presents in their suite of Sunday Business articles. Focus on providing choice and flexibility to enhance work community engagement coupled with three dimensional branding which resonates with core company mission, values and messaging.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Light Snowfall

Early Morning Sun - Dec 2011
Last December I captured a nearby neighbor's tree in early morning light.  The sun was coming in and out of the clouds highlighting, then dimming on the spindly branches.  A visual treat against the blue sky. 

Backyard Sunset

Backyard Sunset - December 2011
Winter in Vermont brings sunsets such as this bringing our many trees to life.  I especially appreciate the subtle gradation of the fiery orange to purplish blue of the twilight sky.

As you know, or don't, I spend a lot of time admiring tree branches and their unplanned figure ground interactions with each other.  It continues to fascinate me and inform my design thinking.  

What nature gives us I share with you.