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    1999 Foresight Gathering Leaping the Abyss - Contents

Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend

Leaping the Abyss:

Putting Group Genius to Work

Chapter Six

Using the Power of Space and Place


Louisville, Kentucky, October 1991, Agency Group: Everyone is packed into the same old lecture room. Standard rows of tables, standard chairs, styrofoam cups of cooling coffee, pads of paper, and a pen can be found at each place. Jon Foley, the trainer, starts taking roll.

At least Jon has let everyone dress casually-even though Jon himself is wearing a suit and tie.

Jon is droning on about how the course is going to be from 8 to 8 today, and 8 to 5 tomorrow. Rifling his stack of lecture papers, he says this has been a successful lecture before in the organization and you should like it. He says you can't afford to know just your job, so we are going to spend the next two days here understanding the marketing plan and what other parts of the company are doing. The overhead projector starts whirring. Up goes the first transparency accompanied by the silent moans and groans.

Five minutes into this, people's eyes are glazing over. Everyone thinks this is normal. After all, this is what a training class is like.

Then, a hand goes up. It's Bob Grannan, vice president in charge of transformation for the organization. Bob says, "Could I ask a couple of questions? I thought we were going to become a learning organization, but I'm not learning anything." So it's question, answer, question, answer, and then Foley starts reading from the overhead transparencies again.

Bob Grannan's hand goes up again, "I don't mean to be obnoxious, but I don't understand why we're doing this. You're talking about a marketing plan that was developed five years ago." So it's question, answer, question, answer, and Foley starts reading again.

Suddenly Grannan's hand is back up there. "But what is the point of this?" he wants to know. "What has this got to do with my work? Is the whole day going to be like this? We're just going to sit and listen to you talk?"

Everyone in the room is now extremely nervous. No one is saying a word, but everyone is very wide awake. After all, it's a senior vice president asking these pointed questions.

Finally, Jon says to Bob, "You clearly have a different idea of what is going to happen these next two days than I do. Why don't you come up here and tell us what your expectations are?"

Bob says politely, "I don't want to step on your toes."

Jon says, "Bob, why don't you come up front and teach this?"

No one says a word. Some people want to defend the lecture format, and some people want to defend Jon, but a senior vice president iswell, a senior vice president. Silence. A few people even start crying at the idea of confrontation.

Bob Grannan walks up to the front of the room. Jon Foley steps aside, walks down the aisle and out the door.

"Look," Bob says "I don't expect to sit here and listen to them talk about a marketing plan that was developed five years ago. What's that got to do with my work? And what about you?" he asks the people in the classroom. "Why did you come here today?"

"Because I wanted to learn about teams." "I wanted to know more about how the company worked." "Well, my boss said I had to." Bob writes down all these concerns, mainly future-oriented issues.

Bob says, "Great. I think we now know why we're here. Perhaps Jon can help us with these things we came to learn."

Jon Foley is back in the room and dressed in jeans like everyone else.

Jon looks at the list of future-oriented concerns that Bob has written up on the wall and shakes his head. "We can't learn that. Not the way we have everything set up. We cannot learn about the future from the past. We can't even learn about it from the present. We have to go into the future in order to learn about this, so pick up everything you've got and follow me. We're going to do some time traveling."

By now, people are ready for something new and different. OK-we'll go time traveling. The whole group walks out of the classroom, and Jon leads them out onto the street, into another building, and then into the Time Warp Machine.

The tunnel of the Time Warp Machine has flashing lights, blasts of turbulent air, silver streamers floating in the wind, and music from Star Wars pulsating in the background. "The Time Warp Machine," Jon tells everyone, "is a travel tunnel into a new world-into the future. On the other side of the tunnel is a Design Center which exists five years in the future. In walking through the Time Warp, the group is traveling into the future to see how the company's problems were successfully solved. When you return to the present, you'll return with a plan that tells us how to get back to the future and what our assignments are." And with that, Jon steps into the Time Warp Machine and walks into the future.

The group is about to move themselves conceptually into a future where they have already solved their problems. They also made a physical move: from a standard classroom environment, through a tunnel that signaled "this is a different kind of experience," and into a DesignShop environment.

The DesignShop process, in addition to its emphasis on rich information content and processes designed to enhance learning and creativity, is also a supportive physical environment. Just walking into the DesignShop setting makes us realize that of all aspects of our working life, the physical environment is perhaps the most ignored. (Most of us can make this evaluation by comparing our work environments to our home environments, and noting what elements we tolerate at work, but would never allow at home.)

The nature of the physical space people inhabit and their ability to move, see, breathe, and hear in that space are critical to their full mental and physiological function. Kinesthetic movement-positions and actions-are strongly linked to the mind's ability to perceive, function, and respond. You can induce or change a mood by how you move your body. If you are sad, make yourself dance, sing, or smile, and you will feel happier. The act of positioning facial muscles into a smile prompts a hard-wired endocrine response that floods you with chemicals which make you feel better. So, it's not just "I'm happy, so I smile." It is also "I smile, and so I become happy." It's not just "I am humble, so I kneel." It's also "I kneel, and so I become humble." These effects work internationally, universally for humans, with only minor cultural variations.

Architecture is often used intentionally to force people into patterns of movements, with the aim of instilling moods or attitudes, or coaxing us into taking certain kinds of action. The tsukubai, or water basin, in a Japanese garden is deliberately low: only 20-30 cm tall or even placed flush with the ground. Bending low to wash your hands before beginning the tea ceremony, like kneeling in church or bowing before a monarch, helps to induce humility.

Important government buildings and impressive cathedrals share the architecture of front steps: many steps with very short risers and very long treads. The architecture of the steps shapes your body movements, and through the body movements-your attitude. Next time you walk up steps like these, notice your mood. Unless you run or take the steps two or three at a time, you'll find the steps force you to move in a cadence of reverence. Watch other people going up the steps. By the time they have reached the top, there's a mood of reverence, respect, solemnity. When they walk into the high space of the cathedral itself, the architecture tells them to stop talking, and they fall silent.

The most infamous architectural team of all time was Adolph Hitler (the failed painter and architect) and Adolph Speer. They built with deliberate attention to the psychological consequences. Here is one of the more benign architectural statements from Speer's Inside the Third Reich: "Our happiest concept, comparatively speaking, was the central railroad station... The idea was that as soon as they (state visitors), as well as ordinary travelers, stepped out of the station they would be overwhelmed, or rather stunned by the urban scene and thus the power of the Reich."



Here's an example of how something as minor as not quite enough ability to move, to engage in kinesthetic action, can make the difference. In the Taylor's first permanent facility for holding DesignShop sessions, one little breakout room was always the low productivity area. There didn't seem to be any reason why the spot should cause low productivity-10' x 10' space back in the corner, a couple of stationary work walls, two moving work panels, a little round table, chairs, and just enough room to get four or five people in there. But because of this correlation with low productivity, it was the last place that they chose to put people for breakouts.

One day they happened to substitute four tall captain's chairs and a tall table in the low productivity corner. From then on every team working there produced fabulous results.

What was the difference? Because the space was tight and people had been sitting down low, it was too much trouble getting up to write on the walls. The Taylors had learned if people don't write on the walls, they don't share the information. If people don't write on the walls, learning doesn't become kinesthetic and neurally integrated.

Even though they were teaching the importance of moving, no one ever noticed that people using that space had not been moving. When the environment was changed, the behavior of those using the space changed. Now, because they were already almost standing in those tall captain's chairs, it was easy to pop up and down and write on the walls. Productivity soared.

Of the many elements that make a difference, one of the simplest is size-the volume of the physical space, how high or low the ceiling, and our proximity to other people in the space.

Dick Tuck, the political trickster who had Richard Nixon in his satiric sights, used the effect of physical space as the mechanism for one of his pranks. During a presidential campaign, Tuck had the responsibility for booking a hall for a Nixon speech. Nixon's folks expected around 250 people to attend. Tuck cunningly booked a hall which would accommodate three times that number. When the 250 expected attendees did show up, they were rattling around in a huge, empty room. The message conveyed by the wide spacing of bodies: no one showed up. The message that would have been conveyed by a crowded room of densely-packed bodies: wow! this is exciting and successful! In each case, the number of attendees is the same, only their proximity is different.

The architecture of imposing size and distance confers status, for example, in a CEO's office. When you walk in, it's a long way-sometimes 30 feet-to the desk. The desk is 52" deep, well outside of North Americans' interpersonal space-remote and distant. The CEO's chair is high; your chair is so low, your chin is sitting on the desk. If the CEO graciously comes around and says, "Come sit over here at a little round table for a cup of coffee," you think, what a nice person.

Structure wins. In her classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs showed incisively how the physical structure of buildings and layout of the street determined the destiny of the neighborhood and the city. It didn't matter if the district was designed as "poor" or "upper class"; ultimately, the destiny of the neighborhood was driven by the physical structure. The environment actually caused people to function a certain way.

Perversely, when people try to squeeze better functioning from themselves and others, they turn automatically to self-modification, trying to change themselves through an act of will rather than changing a constraining environment. Perhaps there is difficulty taking seriously the notion that the details of architecture, lighting, or furnishings can significantly impact human performance. Perhaps it feels like an abandonment of the principles of self-reliance, responsibility, strength of will or purpose: an admission of weakness or submission to biology, biochemistry, or the influence of environment.

If it's sometimes hard to accept that the environment affects your own performance, let's acknowledge that the environment can powerfully affect other people-your customers, coworkers, and employees-and deal appropriately with it for that reason alone.

If physical surroundings influence mood and behavior, surely everyone carefully designs offices, schools, and homes to help people focus attention and release their powers of productivity and cooperation. Surely the bottom line has already been driving everyone in this direction.

Evidently not strongly enough. Office layout, industrial plant interiors, and schools are generally not designed to generate maximum productivity. Architecture has been occasionally used well, often abused, but mostly ignored. People are accustomed to poor work environments. They even think of them as "practical" or "economic," because of the inability to capture the information about true costs and put a dollar figure on loss of productivity into an accounting system. While there has been more recent attention to "ergonomics," this has almost exclusively focused on physical, not mental or even sensual aspects of the environment.

The bad designs that are easiest to identify come from misplaced incentives. Matt Taylor points out that, ironically, janitors and lawyers control the design of schools and office buildings more than educational or business theory ever imagined possible. Much of school and office design revolves around the logistics of allowing the janitors to easily keep the rooms clean. Administrative worries about insurance and lawsuits further drive the creation of a low-variety, attenuated space environment, which is not ideal for the official business of schools-producing learning-or of offices-producing value.


Defining a Good Space

A space designed for enhancing human productivity would be a high-variety space. People thrive in high variety spaces, which is why they select high-variety environments for vacations as this is their opportunity to renew. Mountains, forests, or beaches-"simple" environments-are actually high in acoustic, kinesthetic, and visual variety. Leaves have multiple hues of blue, green, and yellow. Shade and shadow cause colors to change. Over the course of the day, the angle of the sun and the nature of the cloud cover modifies colors. An artist would blend more than fifteen shades of green, blue, and yellow to start approximating the color complexity you see in a single moment in the leaves of a tree.

Think about both tactile feel and acoustical quality of surfaces in different forests-an aspen grove in the mountains, a redwood forest in a cool valley, a cluster of palm trees at the ocean's edge. Each has unique and rich acoustic and tactile qualities. You experience variation everywhere in nature.

Usually the natural environment also causes you to engage in physical activity, and we find movement invigorating and restorative. Even sitting on the beach, your eye is continually changing focus: looking far away, then close up, then into the distance again, dealing with shifting light and shadow. Your skin senses the changing temperature, shifts in the direction and mood of the wind. Your ear notes the variations in the noise of the surf and sea birds calling.

But when you go to work, you find all of those qualities removed from your environment. In this artificial environment, colors and variations are designed out until it mimics a low-quality rendering of a space, eliminating all the qualities of a real environment. It is as if the complexity of a forest had been replaced by a crude drawing of trees as brown sticks supporting balloons colored one constant, unremitting shade of green.

The simplistic argument for utility says that all parts of a person's workstation should be together. But it is not healthy to sit at one place for eight hours. Doesn't it make more sense to create a situation in which you have to move as part of the work? This is not inefficient-on the contrary, it is more efficient, because if you can't move as part of the work, you will manufacture other excuses to move, or take a hidden reduction in productivity.

People often work in a space where they sit for hours in a glaring, highlighted environment. What often makes business spaces feel so sick-and gives 17% of the workforce headaches-is the lighting. Technicians say that, for "utility's sake," the entire room should have uniform lighting. But uniform lights produce glare. You lose the resting points the eye finds amid the variety of high and low light levels found outdoors in nature. People use tools that keep their eyes riveted on a single point of focus. Opthalmologists remind them to look up from work frequently and focus on a distant object, but they succumb to the structural combination of tools and environment.

Architecture should help the building fulfill its mission. But based on the appearance of most buildings, you'd say the purpose of the corporate environment is to enable manufacturing and to project "corporate identity" by looking prettily uniform to visiting outsiders. What about supporting the mission to be productive and create value?


Innovation in Group Work Environments

One of the most powerfully effective innovations is the mobile DesignShop environment: custom-designed walls, furniture, lighting, and equipment. It's analogous to the way that emergency crews bring equipment, personnel, structures, and supplies to set up a self-contained field hospital and deliver appropriate medical services near a battlefield or in an earthquake-ravaged city. Over the course of three days before the arrival of participants, the facilitation team rapidly deploys an entire, traveling DesignShop environment, setting up a portable, creative workplace in any type of setting: warehouses, auditoriums, hotel ballrooms.

They start with the same disadvantages that everyone else routinely deals with-carpeting over a cement slab, flat overhead fluorescent lighting, wonky air-conditioning, the sound of repairs on the roof. They replace it, to the greatest extent possible, with fresh air, natural light, variable and complex lighting, controlled temperature, a good sound system, artwork, and plants. As much as possible, every distraction and discomfort is done away with, and every environmental support needed for your mind to function at its best is provided.

Walking into the DesignShop environment, you are immediately flooded with the message that this place is for action, for rolling up your sleeves-not a sit-around-and-talk-about-the-same-old-stuff space. Rather than a formal, "is my suit right?" environment, it is an environment of tools, of stimulation. This is a place to store, retrieve, compare, create, and recreate knowledge and information. The environment tells you this as a unified message that comes on all levels: visual, intellectual, visceral, the way you are led-and allowed-to move.


Designing for the Knowledge Worker

In a Knowledge Economy, organize the environment around the work, don't force the work or the worker into accommodating the environment.

A knowledge worker or executive has approximately twenty distinct activities or sets of functions. A typical office design is either optimized for one or two tasks, or is a compromise to support four or five of those functions. The rest of the functions are just not recognized. The office does not adjust itself to the work. Far from supporting the range of the work of a knowledge worker, the environment actually introduces blocks.

The creative process is complex. It involves multiple stages, multiple modes of work, multiple tooling setups, and multiple engagements with different sizes of groups of people. At times, what is wanted is a quiet niche in which to concentrate. At other times, you may have to be engaged with twenty other people in a highly-interactive relationship.

Ideally, you would create a space for standing, sitting, and working that enables people to see each other. Make it informal, relaxed, adaptable, tactile, and resizable. Make it possible for people to move around and share common experiences-which may be drawing on work walls together or building models. Enable people to easily get up and down and move. Don't put physical barriers in their way. Create work walls, writing spaces, and furniture that are easy to move so people will start to grab walls and resize the rooms, or pull in light, adaptable furniture and tools and use things the way they want. Let the whole environment say that this is adaptable and collaborative where people can see one another and engage with one another.

This is exactly what has been implemented in the MG Taylor working environment. All the custom-designed furniture and structures areunusual. None of it is recognizable from a standard office supply catalogue. Furniture colors are light, soft-soft gray for the wallboards instead of the harsh, reflective glare of whiteboards. There are natural wood surfaces, textiles with texture. Everything carries the faint echo of Frank Lloyd Wright's design aesthetic.

Everything is fluid, alterable. You can move walls, increase or decrease the size of displays, or juxtapose overlapping displays, as you fit the environment to the work instead of the absolute tyranny of fitting the work to the environment.

Walls are all on wheels and easily moved. Their surfaces are writable, postable. "Hypertiles"-11" X 17" writable panels that stick on and peel off the gray writing walls-allow you to peel off your ideas and stick them up in new locations or in new combinations. Complete work setups-including easel, drafting board, grayboard, desktop, and file cabinet-are on wheels and can be brought along behind you-like a dog on a leash.

Throughout the environment, walls, tables, and chairs move easily to transform spaces from eating areas to conversation areas to writing or model-building areas. Spaces are enlarged or pulled to intimate compactness, depending on the size of the group.

All around this central work space, movable walls form a simple maze-a warren of differently-sized spaces where individual groups can work. Some of the spaces are set up for use as workgroup breakout spaces; others have interesting things in them inviting exploration: computers displaying the World Wide Web, online search capabilities, changing art. Varying background lighting within the spaces adds tone and visual variety, making each space unique and enriching the flat, even overhead lighting of the hotel convention center. The layout is complex enough to stimulate curiosity about what is around the next corner, but not so complex as to confuse.

It's an environment that easily stimulates the imagination. The design is simple, but full of variety. It is rich in the architectural qualities of prospect and refuge: Prospect is the introduction of visual uncertainty, of possibility. Looking over there, you can see there is something around the corner: it goes up over here, around over there; there's a background, a foreground, a tremendous amount of prospect in this DesignShop environment. It also has a lot of refuge-places for the eye to dwell, little nooks and niches, varying textures. The environment participates in the deliberate creation of an information-enriched situation.

Prospect, refuge, and visual ambiguity are physical qualities in the environment. Our eyes respond by wandering, looking, seeking, resting. As the eye moves, the mind is asking questions, being curious, moving into a mode of exploration and creativity.

Sources of information, inspiration, perspective, and practical advice are placed in inviting locations. At one junction between breakout areas is a tall, triangular information kiosk offering custom compendiums of articles found in online computer searches on relevant topics. In a niche on a popular pathway into the largest space, a sticky wall-a wall with a surface like Post-it Note adhesive - is covered with individual articles of the most immediate value. Fluorescent yellow, green, and orange highlighting makes relevant words jump out for easy scan. The keywords are tantalizing, provocative, urging "You've just got to take a quick peek and see what this says." And when you decide that it's great information that you really need, you can take the article with you.

As you walk along the outside rim of the big semicircle wall, an ever-changing display of articles, photos, comic strips, and book jackets clings to its adhesive surface-capturing your eye. The information on this wall and in all display areas constantly evolves. On the Scan day, the articles on display are thought-provoking ideas from outside the DesignShop session. Over the Focus and Act days, the work, models, and key concepts used or created by participants start augmenting the display. It is a direct reflection of the changing thinking of the participants. Every day the information becomes more structured. The most important themes emerge more clearly. Somewhere on that wall is the pattern which will become the answer to the problem. This is a Knowledge Wall.

The physical environment should be a tool for the creation, display, storage, retrieval, re-display, and mixing of information and knowledge or pieces of knowledge-lots of knowledge all needing to be simultaneously accessible at a glance. You just can't do that adequately in traditional office arrangements. The amount of information you need to be able to work with at one time is greater than you can provide with slide projectors, a bulletin board, some networking software, and a few software packages sharing a 17" display. So your information is segmented, fragmented, displayed only in very small glimpses of the whole picture. You almost never see information juxtaposed to itself.

Notice that creativity often comes when you juxtapose unexpected or different pieces of information and are able to combine them in new, interesting, and exciting ways that spark you. Unfortunately, there's usually not a big enough wall with enough information displayed to enable this to happen. But here there is a lot of room for real perspective. Hundreds of concepts can be easily accommodated, and this is only the start of the information-supporting aspects of this furniture and environment.

Books help make it a very rich environment. The portable DesignShop environment includes a portable library. Out of MG Taylor's 5,000-book collection, a selection of the 350 most useful and provocative titles for this DesignShop event fills four mobile bookcases. If inspiration is needed, you walk over and scan titles, pick up a book and forage for ideas.

The books are in constant motion as people browse and replace them in new locations. The new location calls a book to your attention that you'd missed when you were looking at the shelf before. It's next to a new set of titles-a new juxtaposition of information to consider.

As part of a "cognitively expanded" environment, there are tables filled with every kind of 3D modeling equipment-from Legos, to miniature models, modeling clay, chemistry modeling kits-all of which come into play for designing a model, explaining a solution, depicting an interaction or a business relationship. Arrays of colored markers, pastel crayons, paints, brushes, colored pencils, computer drawing packages, colored paper-anything you might need to spark your creativity and express your idea-invite their use.

These tools provide the ability for all sensory and cognitive types to learn and express ideas beyond the normal confines of time, materials, or venues allotted in the standard office. There are times and places where the requirement is to summarize in a one-page, bulleted memo or a five-minute verbal summary. This is not one of them.

The 3D models allow kinetic learning and expression and different modes of visual learning. Using the models lets you apply other areas of knowledge to solving your problem. Perhaps it's been defined as a "finance" problem, but now that it's been modeled out in 3D, you suddenly start seeing connections from your physics background, chemistry training, or mechanical engineering experience that suggest solutions.

Throughout the entire DesignShop environment are scattered toys, games, stuffed animals, balloons. As we first looked at the environment for the Wharton DesignShop we thought: "OK, we can see how a business person might use the 3D modeling equipment to capture a complex issue, but no serious executive is ever going to pick up the toys, the stuffed animals, or any of this other stuff!" Wrong.

Over the hours and days of the DesignShop, the mood and behavior of participants change. Someone begins toying with a Slinky as he works on a problem. Someone else assembles a quick 3-D model to bring home her point about a business relationship.

A stuffed dinosaur, rabbit, and giraffe appear at a table. When you walk by some hours later, they've started playing cards. Now a pile of coins forms a pot in the center of the table. Over the days, a little poker drama plays out, with the giraffe proving to be a foolish player, the rabbit a card cheat. No one had "responsibility" for the dinosaur-poker diorama, it just evolved, just happened, done by-whom? The Air Force brass? The hard-driving management consultants? The intense business school professors? Yes.

By this point in the event, the focus on learning, creativity, inventing, and problem-solving has taken firm hold. Many DesignShop activities are deliberately designed to put people into a playful mode. Play, the psychology of play, humor and its closeness to creativity are known to theoretical psychologists, but ignored in our society as a whole-especially business. DesignShop events have as an axiom: "If you can't have fun with the problem, you'll never solve it."

The DesignShop environment has succeeded in transmitting its message. The power of architecture and environment to shape a way of life, help or hinder you in fulfilling your mission, was something Matt Taylor learned from Frank Lloyd Wright. Matt was an apprentice to Wright and worked in the heady, creative Taliesin community that was home, workplace, and playground for Wright, his team, and a visiting stream of artistic, musical, and literary talent. Matt explains:

Architecture expresses and facilitates a life style, a way of life, a concept of life. When you are in that architecture, the architecture facilitates you down that path and actually will fight you down other paths.

The power of Wright's work was that he built architecture around a unique way of life for a particular family. The life lived in the house was the artistic expression. Wright was creating a way of life based on what he thought was their potential.

Despite the legends to the contrary, Wright never ruled a client. But he would redesign and redesign until he and the client together arrived at a fit. It was a beautiful and effective synthesis of his view and that of his clients.

Ten years after Wright's death, a book on his existing buildings showed that over 60% built during an almost 100-year span were still in the hands of the original owners or their descendants. You couldn't blast those people out of there. There is no other domestic architect in the history of the world who can claim such a successful record with his customers.

I've driven around the country interviewing families who lived in Wright houses for 30 to 50 years and the story is always consistent-like Mrs. John C. Pew. She was living in a minimalist and extremely simple house: beautiful and variegated, but simple. The first four or five years she fought the house. She thought the house was totally foreign to her life style. I suspect that if she was able to build a conventional house in the early '30s or '40s, it would have been a very solidly middle-class house, something a little more opulent. She came to the conclusion that before she sold it she would spend a year being totally non-combative, stop trying to make the house work in the way she thought she ought to live, and let it instruct her in her life style. When she stopped fighting, she discovered that Wright had designed the house to her future, not to her past. After she had been in the house 20 years and raised her family, she said she could not imagine being without the house.

A client commissioning a Wright house would ask for an arrangement of space and utilities, but it also had to be an expression of human values-explicitly an expression of knowledge work. If you refuse to accept traditional separation of function-this element is for structure; this element is for utility; this element is for beauty-but instead say each element has to serve all those purposes, then your decorative elements become the tools of your work. This is the rule that has been applied to the DesignShop environment.

Wright's designs worked to support the potential of a particular family. The DesignShop environment works to support the potential-the future-of organizations.

Back during his architect days, Matt tells of designing new offices for a family business that was moving from the old building that had housed them for decades. In their old building, the family members' offices were side by side, running down a long, narrow shotgun hallway in a grim, echoing warehouse. Matt observed that they'd stand out in this hallway and argue for hours each day. This was how they communicated.

In the new building, Matt designed custom office arrangements and furniture to suit the personalities of each family member. The shy, reserved son got an office layout that built his confidence and power.

Behind that individual fine-tuning lay an overall architecture combined with details to help change the family dynamics. Finish details were designed to promote harmony: several hundred gradations and shades of colors, banks of plants, and proper acoustic design created a high-variety, low-stress environment. The family members' offices were all on one floor, but on different sides of the building. Paths led from the offices and all met in a central, plant-surrounded gazebo.

"The gazebo," Matt said, "is where they were supposed to come to meet and talk."

One very forceful brother objected to the layout: there was a pillar and plants-obstacles-between his doorway and that of the more reticent brother. "I can't go directly to his office, I've got to go to the gazebo and then to his office," complained Mr. Big.

"Exactly," said Matt, "that's why it's there. To stop you from running right into his office."

After they'd been in the building a month, the shy brother said to Matt, "We haven't had a fight in a month. We're working well together-better than ever. Does the building have something to do with it?"

"The building," said Matt, "has everything to do with it. That's why I designed it the way I did."

The power of the environment to shape behavior can be seen by observing people who are infamous in their organizations as "uncooperative," "unmotivated," "uncreative," or "difficult." Gail Taylor describes the phenomenon:

We have sponsors warn us, "Wait until Mr. Difficult gets to the DesignShop session, he will drive you nuts, he will never participate in this exercise, he is going to be horrid, there is no way to motivate this person." And then Mr. Difficult comes to the DesignShop, cruises through it, has a fabulous time, loves the interaction, contributes, cooperates, loves the results. And the sponsor says, "I don't understand this!"

What happens in the DesignShop environment? People become spontaneously creative, productive, and cooperative.

And then Mr. Difficult goes back to the company's standard environment with its built-in structure and consequences, and he returns to his old, horrid pattern of behavior.

Why is the behavior so different? Because in the DesignShop, says Matt, "We are paying attention to the complete environment. What is the message? Manage the total environment. Have you ever thought about putting Mr. Difficult in a DesignShop-like environment back in the office? Try that."

It is amazing how something that seems so "small" as environment could make such a huge difference in how people interact. But even a small change in environment can make a large difference in creativity, cooperation, and the bottom line of productivity.

Buckminster Fuller said, "Change the environment, not the person." The Taylors' thesis is "properly manage the environment, and people will spontaneously become creative, productive, and cooperative."

Design and implement an environment that systematically and thoroughly supports creativity and cooperation, and you have created a structure-a pathway- that leads to this very complex behavior. What is going to happen? Gail Taylor says, "People come in there and behave, act, function, think, feel in ways that are a total mystery to them." They become more creative, cooperative, intelligent, and productive. They solve problems that have bedeviled them for years. They have energy and enthusiasm that they may not have felt for decades. The source of their tranformation remains a mystery to them because-after all-environment can't possibly make that much of a difference, can it?



You've already addressed your environment in the assignment following Chapter 2. Now, with new information from Chapter 6, it's time to iterate your design. Iteration is one of the keys to success in the application of the creative process. Seven iterations of a design improves it 1000%.

1. What did you pick up from Chapter 6 that was new or intriguing? Summarize these items as general principles that could be applied to make any environment a more healthy, stimulating, and supportive place to work and live in. Also list any new questions you have concerning environment.

2. Take a few days or weeks to really observe how environment affects behavior. You'll have to watch for things you're not used to noticing. Keep a journal of your findings. Draw your workspace as a living organism. What organs, limbs, size, mobility, functionality will it have? What kind of organism is it: a tree, an amoeba, a tiger, a dog, a coral reef, a genie, what?

3. Living systems need be flexible to respond to changes in their environment. How flexible are the environments you live and work in? How quickly can you adapt them to a change of use? What are the changes you could make to radically increase the flexibility? Chances are some of these changes will be prohibitive but others will involve only a shift in thinking: "Oh, we could use that room for such-and-such." Watch out for culturally-burdened words related to environments. Why think of a house in terms of living room, bedroom, family room, den? Think instead of how a house should support what you want to do in life. This also goes for corporate terms: reception, board room, bullpen, cubicle (who on earth really wants to work in something called a cubicle?), conference room (is "conferring" the only essential part of the creative process, and does a big table really facilitate it?).

4. Compose a new iteration of your vision for various environments that takes into account the design of high-variety spaces having both prospect and refuge, and the performance specifications you uncovered in question 1. Be sure to include the tools necessary to promote collaboration and creativity.

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Leaping the Abyss - Table of Contents


1999 Foresight Gathering

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