Archive for July, 2013
Courtesy The Independent Newspaper – full story here
From California to London, companies are reimagining their office spaces – are they insufferably smug or do they make us more productive?
It is commonly assumed that the critical moment in Google’s ascent to global search hegemony came in October 2000, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin first deployed the AdWords system that made their innovation worth an absolute fortune. And this, certainly, was an important step along the way. But there’s another persuasive analysis that suggests that in fact, the most significant foundation for the company’s success was laid about a month later, when a dilapidated Del Monte canning factory in California was bought by one Steve Jobs.
Jobs spent $5.8m on the building when he needed a new home for Pixar, which he had acquired in 1986 when it was primarily known for its work producing commercials. He said he thought the place was “haunted and creepy,” but it didn’t really matter. Initially, the plan had been to house computer scientists, animators, and managers in separate facilities, but its new owner had other ideas. He configured the old factory as one enormous space, centred on an atrium, which you couldn’t traverse the building without crossing. He put the mailboxes in the atrium. He put the café there. He put the gift shop there. He put the only set of toilets there. And that was about it. All in all, it didn’t seem like the sort of masterplan that would still be making waves more than a decade later.
But – although some were more than a little annoyed to have to traipse to the lobby every time they needed the loo – something remarkable started to happen. Instead of working closely with their immediate neighbours and never getting beyond a nodding relationship with anyone else, Pixar’s employees started to bump into each other. They shot the breeze. Sometimes, the chatter would yield something useful, and one of the participants would head back to her desk with a new idea.
“We wanted to find a way to force people to come together,” Jobs said in 2001, “to create a lot of arbitrary collisions of people.” It worked. “The bathrooms in the centre initially drove us crazy,” Brad Bird, the director of Ratatouille and others, told McKinsey Quarterly later. “But [Steve] realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.” In 2006, Jobs sold the company he had bought for $10m to Disney for $7.4bn. Over the course of the studio’s history, Pixar films have won 27 Oscars.
It would, of course, be too simple to suggest that a simple trick of building design – a gentle behavioral nudge – was responsible for that extraordinary success. But it wouldn’t be much too simple. For Steve Jobs’ insight about what makes for an effective workplace – which is, basically, the polar opposite of the traditional office – has since been backed up by cold, hard, and remarkably compelling data that ingeniously processes the minutiae of human behaviour and spits out seating plans and break schedules. And now everyone else, from Google downwards and on this side of the Atlantic as well, is playing the same game.
The application of that data is cementing companies like Google at the top of the hi-tech tree. As smartphones and tablets make us all able to truly work from anywhere, other kinds of technology are also playing a part in finally making straightforward what people like Jobs understood all along. In turn, more traditional businesses are being forced to follow Silicon Valley’s lead. And all of this is posing remarkable – and sometimes troubling – questions about how we will work in the future. “There is now a perfect storm,” says Philip Ross, a consultant and author on the future of workplace design who has worked with many major corporations. “We’re seeing the application of these ideas in almost any industry, anywhere. We are just at the inflection point.”
Complete Story here