There seems to be this point in every project about strategic transformation –
New concepts are thoughtfully generated to respond to the strategic vision and to enhance the success of the organizational transformation. They then meet resistance. This resistance is a fear of the unknown and is expressed in operational terms that assert the unique value of the current lexicon of “how things are done around here.”
We’re in the midst of this reaction in a project intended to transform the way that biomedical research is done at a state university. The reaction arises primarily from a facilities planning team who provide the buildings and spaces to the research institute. They have been joined by the user community who are reacting to their tagging questions – “You guys wouldn’t want to work in that open of an environment, would you?”
The response is, of course, “Well, no!” It is followed then by the claims of the need for a conventional office with opaque walls and a door. “I have 25 years of research records that I have to keep in my office,” says one. “We spend 80% of our time in our offices writing the grants that support our work and this institution, and we can’t do that work out in the open,” says another.
The research lab leaders, the Principal Investigators, are then happily assigned 120 square foot managerial offices appropriate for a state bureaucracy – a desk, a manager’s chair, a credenza, a sideboard, two guest chairs, a lay-in ceiling, an overhead fluorescent light, paint and carpet, a window, a door.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, for one thing it’s sad. We’ve made so much progress in designing working spaces that are so much more experientially rewarding, environmentally sustainable, resource appropriate, and performance enhancing.
For another thing, the result is probably the wrong answer to the wrong questions.
Finally, the result probably means that the intended purpose of the building – to advance the speed and success of benefits to patients – will not be fulfilled. We know this, because we know that innovation is driven by social factors – awareness, interactions, informality, egality, etc. – but the provided design solution is about other stuff – hierarchy, entitlement, privacy, etc.
What’s really missing is careful and thoughtful observation of the way that work is really done and where. What’s also missing is awareness of the big shift that has already taken place and is accelerating in so many other quarters– the shift from knowledge stocks to knowledge flows, the shift from things to people, the shift from static metrics to flow metrics.
We’ll get to more of this about stocks and flows in a subsequent post. But for a primer, let’s go back to the Principal Investigator’s claim that 80% of what he does and where he delivers value is in the office.
In a series of interviews we did in developing an understanding of the project, not one of those was conducted in a PI’s office. In the lab tours we attended to observe working conditions, we never saw a PI in her office.
We did capture a number of other data points (informally) that might be represented like this:
If this is anywhere close to typical and accurate, then it is clear that very little of the PI’s work is done in his office. More importantly, the work that is done outside of the office, the real 80% of the PI’s time, is where his value truly is developed and delivered.
If the PI’s office is “stock” and his activities are the “flow,” it is easy to visualize that the real value, and the real focus of our design attention should be in the flow – in the “white space” of the plan, the places in-between, the places and spaces that accelerate flow.