Sunday Sampler: Ceiling height, pulling shadow IT into the light, John Hagel on strategy

File this factoid from Laura Entis under workspace physics. She relates this observation from Scott Wyatt, a managing partner at NBBJ, a global architectural firm:

“There’s a lot of research coming out that higher ceilings promote higher performance in conceptual thinking, while lower ceilings are better for mathematical thinking,” says Wyatt. Intuitively, it makes sense that higher ceilings would encourage expansive work such as making overarching connections while lower ceilings are optimal for focused, contained tasks.
Wyatt has anecdotal evidence that supports the research. Recently, he was walking through the offices of a software company operating out of a loft like space. When he got to the area where the programmers sat, he noticed that many of them had built tent like structures over their desks, effectively lowering the ceiling height. “When you become aware of some of these things,” he says, “you start to see how people adapt to spaces accordingly.”

A recent IBM survey supports the notion that a close partnership between IT and line-of-business leaders — and a solid cloud strategy — will make for a better outcome in SaaS initiatives than the usual ‘rogue’ narrative, where line-of-business leaders endrun IT with shadow IT projects:

The IBM survey found that the majority of businesses initially approach SaaS for cost control, but that once they gain experience with using the services they cite increased competitive advantage and faster time-to-market as the main business benefits gained. The companies that reported realizing the greatest business advantage from SaaS consider cost savings as an extra, not a main reason to use SaaS.
“One of the key narratives in the marketplace … is this whole concept of shadow IT and rogue buying and business leaders sort of going behind the backs of the IT leader and consuming software-as-a-service applications,” said Armen Najarian, program director for SaaS marketing at IBM. “That behavior certainly exists…. But one of the really counter-intuitive points that we took from this research when we looked at leading organizations that are winning with SaaS is that there’s a high degree of collaboration between lines-of-business and IT leadership. There’s a mutual respect… in the most evolved companies.”

An important finding is that cost became secondary to the benefits of collaboration within the company and across the value chain.

John Hagel has written a deep and thoughtful post about The Big Shift In Business Strategy. I don’t have the time this week to respond in depth, but I wnted to share it with others, and pull a few points from it.
John makes the case that we are in a new environment for business (his Big Shift, my Postnormal), and the rules change. Increased competitive intensity, accelerating change, and increased complexity/uncertainty/ambiguity/volatility are forcing us to up our pace, but

In that kind of environment, movement quickly becomes a treadmill that moves faster and faster and, when you least expect it, lurches to a stop and throws you against the wall.
Don’t get me wrong. Execution, hustle and adaptation are all necessary for survival. But movement alone, no matter how efficiently executed, may no longer be enough for us to escape the dark side of technology. Instead, it may just suck us deeper and deeper into the abyss of the dark side.
So, what is to be done? Perhaps it’s time to execute yet another shift in business strategy. One that helps us to harness the capabilities of the Big Shift to accomplish things that weren’t even possible before.

John goes on to make that case, which I will reflect on, and likely respond to later in the week. He seems to be recasting the idea of ‘preparatory exploratory’ that top performers use in building social connections with experts prior to needing them (see What top performers do, and how to do it), and proposing that ‘positioning’ as a new imperative for business strategy.
Go read the whole thing.

What do schools and the typical open office have in common? They are creative deserts.

In general, the organization and decor of offices is managed by considerations of costs, company branding, and interior decorating trends than psychological considerations of how our surroundings influence our behavior and performance. But it appears that having a measure of control over your environment is linked to increased productivity.

Craig Knight and Alexander Haslam ran an experiment in 2010 where some office workers in London were allowed to arrange an office with plants and pictures, and others weren’t. The result was startling: those given the flexibility to tinker with their offices were up to 32 percent more productive than those in the stark and inflexible settings.

In particular, the presence of office plants or a view of natural landscapes with plants has a large impact on people’s attention when doing demanding work, and in reducing stress levels.

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source Flickr via pinkmoose

I have a problem with plants — although I would like to have one in my office — because I keep my office fairly dim, and plants need more light that I let in. The reason? Darkness and dim illumination promote creativity, as show in a recent study by Anna Steidle and Lioba Werth, while turning the lights up makes people more logical, which is why I often pull up the blinds when engaged in phone calls (see Turn the light up or down to shift thinking styles). This is an argument for allowing people the ability to tweak their lighting pretty seriously, which is impossible in many offices and difficult in the rest. It seems that offices should be darker in general, and people should have controllable lighting on their desks or workspaces to amp up into logical thinking when sensible.

And the colors of our surroundings has an impact as well. It seems I should paint my office blue or green if I want to stick with the creativity side of things, since a recent study suggests that blue primes us to a more exploratory mindset, while red leads to more attention to detail. Green has been likewise linked to creativity in another study.  This is a case for companies providing a spectrum of spaces with different colors and lighting options, so that people can fine tune their surroundings to help them create or grind.

The worst version of today’s open office model — stereotypically brightly lit, with white walls, and little possibility for adjusting lighting — are absolutely the opposite of what would actually stimulate people to be more creative. Perhaps this is related to the fact that we are living in a time of great uncertainty in almost all businesses, and in times of uncertainty people have a bias against creativity and favor the traditional. Even — or especially — in the classroom, students who show the characteristics of creative people were judged least favorably by teachers, and the least creative, most favorably.

When you step back and think about, the stark, white, brightly lit open offices of today’s second way businesses are a great deal like public schools, and perhaps have included the hidden biases against creativity, as well.

Roadmapping the forces stressing the enterprise, one more time: the 3F model

The GigaOM Research Roadmap technique is a way of capturing the dynamics at work in a particular market niche, such as work media tools (enterprise social networks). The technique involves a few moving parts. First, we try to capture the smallest possible set of disruptive forces that characterize the environment companies need to survive in, forces that are impinging on businesses and pushing them to change their practices (and perhaps their organization and culture). The consequences of those changes lead to new requirements for tools and techniques, and if those new requirements are different enough from more established practices it may prove necessary to adopt totally new tools and techniques. As a result, tool vendors are in a process of improving their products, coevolving along with their customers to meet these new requirements.

In my discussions with clients, I have been working to come up with the most succinct description of what I believe are those environmental forces pushing on the enterprise. In the past few weeks, I have consolidated earlier descriptions into what I call the 3F model.

The forces on business include these:

  • The Fast and Loose, Postnormal World — The tempo of competition and complexity has risen to a new ‘beyond chaotic’ pace, and it is increasing, pushing the economy over a threshold into a new era, the postnormal, in which the primary response of business will be the adoption of a fast-and-loose style of business operations. Fast-and-loose is not meant to suggest shadiness or sloppiness, but instead agility, resilience, and a predisposition toward experimentation, innovation, and action, as well as a seemingly paradoxical loosening and increase of the social connections between people. (Note: I have detailed this shift in a number of earlier posts, including The Future Of Work In A Social World: Part 1 and Part 2, and in particular, in the characterization of a more cooperative model of work, culminating in the 3C model.)
  • The Paradox of a Connected, but Decentralized, Discontinuous, and Distributed Workforce — People are connected by both open and enterprise social tools to an unprecedented degree, leading to the paradox of a connected ‘workspace’ — the sanctioned and unsanctioned social tools and other workplace affordances —  supporting a decentralized, discontinuous, and distributed (3D) workforce. (By discontinuous I mean two things: people shift across many projects during the course of a day or week, and that includes ‘lifeslicing’ — shifting in and out of work and personal contexts — eroding the boundaries between the two.) The term workspace is meant to encompass the corporate workplace, home office, coworking spaces, and so on, as well as the virtual, online ‘spaces’ where people communicate synchronously and asynchronously. Our workspaces have very large impacts on productivity and group identity, and are one of the primary influences on satisfaction in the workforce.
  • The Explosive Scaling of Foreground and Background Computing — Companies are being accelerated and destabilized by the rise of wide scale ubiquitous foreground computing (what is mistakenly called ‘mobile’), and high and broad scale background computing (cloud, SAAS, big data, etc.). Ubiquitous computing, for short, means that people are in effect always on and always online. This is the means for the unprecedented level of connection that animates business today. This is wide scale, meaning the great majority of business people are personally invested in this horizontal trend, modifying their behavior to leverage its benefits for personal advantage. The trends in background computing are more high scale, more vertical — meaning that the enterprise is making corporate-level adjustments in operations to accommodate cloud computing, big data, and so on, as well as transitioning away from conventional on-premise server-based enterprise application suites. But individuals are also shifting their personal patterns of use with the wide scale adoption of background infrastructure, like Dropbox, that connects them to a high scale cloud service, and which supports an additional sort of foreground sharing, too.

So, at this point I have 3 models that tie everything up:

  • the 3F model — the three primary forces impinging on the business
  • the 3C model — the transition in business from the modern era’s competitive, to the postmodern collaborative, to the postnormal cooperative business culture, organization, and operations
  • the 3D model — the decentralized, discontinuous, and distributed workforce.

Well, all models are lies, in that they oversimplify in order to emphasize the most important, and suppress details under the presumption that they are less so. But we must judge models on whether they are useful, and not condemn them simply for being imperfect. I hope these models help shed some light on what would otherwise seem like a swirling mess of inchoate activities, where everything is tied to everything else, and so pathologically interconnected that we might not see the forest for the trees.

Two devices to help unclutter your work space

If you are trying to reduce workspace clutter and hide the mess of cables that accompanies modern phones and computers, then here are two devices that might actually help you simplify.

Coworking spaces get creative to raise awareness

Coworking is a well-established trend in some areas, yet as coworking spaces expand into new cities, the owners need to educate people about the benefits and engage in some creative marketing to lure entrepreneurs in.

Designing office space for a world of web workers

As more and more people use the internet to make their work mobile and free themselves from being shackled to the office, it’s not just workers’ lifestyles that are going to change – our physical work spaces are bound to as well.

As we’ve covered before, when more workers spend more time away from company headquarters, the size of offices may shrink. But will campuses change in any other ways?

It’s a question that the MIT Technology Review tackled recently via a photo gallery of innovative offices built to serve a more mobile and collaborative workforce. The photos are worth checking out at the magazine’s site, but what general lessons can be gleaned from taking a look?

Giant conference rooms give way to smaller collaboration spaces. MIT cites Microsoft’s (s MSFT) newly renovated offices in Redmond, Washington as an example of this trend. “Pods” helps small teams there come together for short bursts of creative collaboration. “In these temporary work spaces, teams of two to five employees can collaborate on projects for weeks at a time.” MIT writes.

Small but not cramped. With more workers out of the office, companies may need less space but that doesn’t mean they want things to feel cramped – or for team members to worry about finding space to work at the office when they need it. To solve these issues, “Steelcase, an office design company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is designed to use minimal space but create an open feeling through strategic placement of drawers and privacy panels.”

Privacy amidst collaboration. People may now be coming to the office more for collaboration than to buckle down on individual tasks, but even in the midst of group work, team members still occasionally need privacy to make a call or hammer out a conflict. A “pod-like installation with adjustable privacy screens allows for semi-private meetings in communal areas,” is the answer at Steelcase.

Bringing the outside in. Research shows simply seeing nature is good for your brain and your productivity. Some offices, like Rackspace, an IT hosting company, are taking advantage by bringing the outside in, with spaces that “mimic a garden, complete with decking, swings, and fake grass.”

Is your physical office space ready for the workstyle of the future?

Image courtesy of Flickr user :mrMark:.

Taking a Fresh Look at Glasscubes for Virtual Collaboration

Glasscubes, a virtual collaborative workspace provider, seems to be flying under the radar, but not for a lack of innovation. The company recently announced some new features and a shift in overall direction. I spoke with its founder to get some insight into what’s happening.

Transforming a Workspace From Desktop to Laptop Computing

MacBookLast spring, I bought my first Mac laptop (s aapl) to replace my aging Windows laptop (s msft). Mac fans may say the result was predictable: My shiny new MacBook quickly became my primary computer while my desktop PC gathered dust.
That change left me with one problem I hadn’t anticipated, though. My office wouldn’t function as well with a laptop as my primary computer. I had to rethink the whole layout. How did just changing from a desktop PC to a smaller MacBook manage to make my office totally dysfunctional? Read More about Transforming a Workspace From Desktop to Laptop Computing