Monday, July 25, 2011

All the World's a Stage for Work

Before movies, there was only theater. And for a long time the theatrical set of the theater, with a stage, lighting above and in front, sets off to the side and actors moving to and from the stage defined how stories were told. Most of the activity occured behind what is called the proscenium, or an archway in front of the curtain. This opening separates the audience from the performance. Anything that happens behind the proscenium can become any place imaginable, as long at the actors make it believable.

When film was first invented, early movies were conceived to behave like a theatrical stage, with a "still" camera and actors moving back and forth. The fact that moving pictures existed at all was very exciting, and just aiming a camera at a stage was acceptable. However, at some point, filmmakers decided to "splice" the film and shoot one scene, and then cut to a completely different scene. There was concern that this would be very confusing to the audience, but once filmakers tried it there was no going back. Filmmakers also realized that you could change the point of view that the audience might see... close ups and worm's eye view shots were now possible. The results of these changes in perspective was transformative. Here's a wonderful example of this from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.

Now of course we have movies conceived from the start in 3D like James Cameron's Avatar.

I got to thinking last night... We have technology that allows us to truly work anywhere, and just about any way we want. Why are we still shooting the proscenium and working in cube-like environments all day? And what are we missing in terms of a rich, collaborative, meaningful and innovative work experience by defining our "office" as a single place? Let's break out of dilbert-ville, turn our idea of the workplace upside down and break a paradigm or two.

If all the world's a stage now, WHY ARE WE NOT USING IT?

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 5)

This is the fifth of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Optimize the system rather than maximizing components. Creatures always have to balance multiple cost/benefit dimensions, there are no single-minded goals (like being bigger, faster, etc.)
- Perform as many functions with as few components as possible
- Think Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome

Examples from nature:
- The spider web is a nest, a means for catching prey, infinitely flexible and made from the minimum amount of material.
- The Native American tipi is made of sticks and stretched animal skins. It is infinitely flexible and easily transportable with minimal material required.

Workplace implications:
- Consider the many variables involved, like life-cycle cost, culture change, training needed, space, technology or policy implications
- Use technology, policies, space, and materials as wisely as possible

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 4)

This is the fourth of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts – design for swarm. Design lots of little, simple things that together can do sophisticated things. Design for “swarm” (individual bee has a small brain and simple behavior, but a swarm of bee is like an organism all it’s own).

Examples from nature:
Bees, bats, birds and fish all move in fluid groups designed to move over, under and around objects over thousands of miles. They form infinite patterns to be flexible and accommodate movement.

Workplace Implications:
- Organizations change constantly in the workplace. Any assumptions made early on the design process are out of date by the time space is ready for occupancy. One way to avoid this, and design for the organice movement of people, is to use a simple kit of parts that can easily be assembled and reassembled (space types, furniture, etc.)
- Don’t make large financial investments in a single specialized space

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 3)

This is the third of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Organize fractally. Nature creates beautiful and functional elements that occur over and over again. Self-similarity is a way of planning for several different scales at once.

Examples from nature:
Fibonacci spirals don't occur all over the place in nature because they're pretty, they occur all over because they're an algorithm that allows perpetual growth to any size without having to readjust or plan ahead. They appear in shells, the solar system, weather patterns and pine cones.

Workplace Implications:
- Consider designing at the individual, group and community level simultaneously
- Consider building with smaller, more flexible modules

Monday, July 18, 2011

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 2)

This is the second of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles to be exact) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Don’t foul your nest. What do we mean by that exactly? Don't use or build with harmful materials or effluents, design with healthy environment in mind and consider Biophilia – human’s preference to be in nature.

Examples from nature:
Throughout nature, there are examples of how animals create “productive”, effective and efficient environments that support life. The unique needs of each species determine what the right environment should be.

Workplace implications:
- Consider air quality and thermal comfort
- Maximize access to natural light
- Maximize views to windows and nature
- Consider green plants, natural materials in the desig
- Provide furniture, technology, task lighting and equipment that support ergonomics

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 1)

I'm working with a client on some new ideas for creating a workplace to support them over the coming years. As we started thinking about concepts for creating the right environment moving forward, we looked to Biomimicry.

What is Biomimicry?
Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a relatively new science that studies the models, systems, processes, and elements of nature, and then imitates, or takes creative inspiration from, them to solve human problems sustainably. In her 1997 book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine M. Benyus introduces the concept: “Our planet mates (plants, animals and microbes) have been patiently perfecting their wares for more than 3.8 billion years . . . turning rock and sea into a life friendly home. What better models could there be?”

This is the first of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles to be exact) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Evolve solutions, don’t plan them. As Kevin Kelly put it, "letting go, with dignity." This means, design without authorship – not the traditional process of artists and their works, but creating the right context for possibilities to emerge from. Iterative design is making multiple prototypes, user-testing them to find the favorites, then mixing and matching elements to create another generation of prototypes which are in turn user-tested, ad infinitum.

Examples from nature (and man-made structures inspired from nature):
- As the hermit crab grows, and becomes too big for it’s shell, it is susceptible to being eaten by predators. It will leave it’s shell and either find a new larger one or create a new one of it’s own. - In African villages, a young couple will build a single one-room mud hut when they marry. As they have children and money to expand their home, they build it, one room at a time. They don’t try and solve for everything at once. The village evolves naturally. Workplace implications:
- Don’t design for a particular person or particular group (they will change!)
- Think of workplace as opportunity for rapid prototyping (or rapid piloting)
- Learn from each project to create the next generation of prototypes

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