Design for Innovation


01 June 2016 - TIM HAWK

Time is fleeting. The more you live, the less you have. And the older I become, the more important time seems to become. As Shakespeare said “Men shut their doors against a setting sun.” My interpretation: as we grow old, we simply stop doing that which is not important. With age, we recognize that time is slipping past us, and we do what we can to focus on those activities which are most important to each of us individually. It’s true. We really let some things simply fall off of the table as we grow old. I can tell you that I certainly have focused my sphere of activities. I do what I believe to be valuable. Shakespeare makes sense to me since I am over the hill and looking at that sunset in the distance. Granted, I am only in my early 50’s, but simple math leads one to recognize that I am at least halfway towards my demise.

My time is valuable, and so, in many of my interactions with colleagues, I press for speed. We want to be done first. We want to have the edge. We want to be the first to bat. We all want to win, and speed is often that tool that we can use to get an edge. Frankly, I believe that it is an attitude that is very Midwestern in its inclination. Those on the east coast may want to be smarter than the others. On the west coast, they want to be more unique or creative. In the Midwest, hard work rules. Maybe it is the Germanic roots in our culture, but for some reason, hard work is always a strategy here in Ohio. So, how can we work harder? How can we design the collective workplace to provide that edge for the institutions that we serve? When we begin to translate this need for speed to the modern workplace, we begin to recognize that we have many barriers to speed in place, that are often in place to promote civility, stability, and consistency. The industrial revolution focused on workers implementing processes based upon a methodology that was tested and proven. Quality was often the driver. Today’s market place is not always driven by quality. Often, the first one to enter the game wins. Sure, continuous improvements will sustain success over the long run. But, in the short term, we simply need to win at speed.

Impediments to speed are buried deep within the traditional corporate workplace model. They often manifest through rewards for great service, or nested in our understanding of essential tools necessary to complete our jobs well. I am referencing the private office, the large individual workstation, and the formal conference room. All of these spaces were designed to support control, quality review, and efficiency. So, when we take the private office away from that executive who has “earned” this corner office through a lifetime of service to an organization, that executive naturally takes great exception to this act. Similarly, if you are an administrator, and you believe that your strongest contribution is to help maintain the status quo, you need specific tools to support that function.

The future work environment will provide greater reward through technology, access to natural light for all, and ample opportunities to quickly share knowledge. The future reward is driven by a different rewards system, and the design of tomorrow’s workplace will be rife with new initiatives intended to drive speed. These rewards may manifest in differing forms driven by regional or industry preference, but I can assure you that the era of the large corner office, the individual workstation full of age old files and comfortable protection, is long gone. As one of my friends from Texas stated on a telephone conversation today… “That dog won’t hunt.”