Worktech11 NYC: Designing Knowledge Spaces

Worktech11 NYC: Designing Knowledge Spaces

After many hours sitting around the Newark, NJ airport, I finally arrived back in Seattle late last night from my overnight trip to New York, and my keynote at Worktech 11 NYC. I gave the opening talk. I bridged scenario planning with Management by Design

I want to thank Philip Ross and his team (especially Isabel for her excellent coordination) at unwork for creating and executing a really strong event in New York at the Time-Life Building yesterday. Always good when the room needs extra seats and people stay, participate and actively listen.

Here are a few general reactions to what I heard yesterday:

  • We still have a long way to go in order to see problems holistically, and understand the forces at work that reinforce success, or undermine, creating failure. From the design of cities to coworking, we need to discover and document relationships, challenge assumptions, and move beyond industrial concepts to spur on our creativity and drive innovation. Most people remain tightly bound to a set of assumptions that aren’t often articulated, so we end up muddling through rather than explosively evolving ideas because we are open and transparent with ourselves and others about the constraints we see, both real and perceived.
  • We are experiencing cognitive dissonance between a world of capitalist-driven consumption and sustainability. Saying we can have both is dishonest. Some resources aren’t sustainable, and those that are, need to be designed into the fabric of our development models now. And sustainability is not just a call, as it appears to be in some markets, to just buy other stuff with less of something, but perhaps more of something else? Rare-earth elements are a finite resource and 95% of the mining is in China. Factor that into sustainability equations. Are their more sustainable ways, as we are doing with Indium-Tin Oxide, a key component of touch screens (see Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) Replacement Market Booming)
  • Physical space is very important to some businesses, especially businesses where people engage with each other directly, such as a fast-food service – or where they need to tinker with physical objects, like engineers– but in businesses where the good is virtual, such as advertising and social media, an over-emphasis on space may be a detriment because it takes people out of the actual environment in which people are intended to interact or buy. Thus companies dealing in virtual goods and services may be doing themselves a disserve by asking people to come to a physical location, as the very act of meeting together breaks the customer delivery metaphor. Something to think about.
  • When it comes to urban planning, I think we need to, again, deindustrialize the initial design phases, thinking about sustainability all the way to preserving the local habitat. I was reading in the May 2011 Alaska Airline’s Magazine on the way home about the plight of the Monarch Butterfly losing both its overwintering grounds and the plants that nourish its young (page 54). Rather than making butterfly farms a sideshow, for instance (as I experienced in Stratford Upon Avon) perhaps city planners could create Monarch zones that allowed for milkweed growth and fostered education programs about Monarch lifecycles and migration paths, and cities with these could become sister cities to the overwintering ground communities in Mexico. Again, one small thought, but one that changes us from thinking about how we claim the land and shape it and them minimize the impact of our living there, to designing in our living and co-creating the design with the current residents before we even break ground.
  • New relationships and models of work are emerging. I very much enjoyed Herman Miller’s Jennifer Magnolfi’s presentation on coworking which looked at how start-ups and other firms can densely share space, yet still nurture innovative ideas – in fact, the dense packing may lead to more, as I call them, purposeful accidents. Coworking is but one example of how technology and space together transform the work experience. Coworking would not be possible if technology, especially software, or services, was a primary growth industry, because the idea of bringing together large equipment or agriculture may be a bit absurd given the size of some of these spaces. However, it might be worth discussing how coworking scales to “larger” industries. Coworking also works because in these industries the individuals own their means of production: their brains and devices. And connectivity has become a commodity. Coworking works because we have a synergy between business models and execution capabilities that allows it to work. For more on coworking see or loosecubes or deskwanted.  I especially like the idea of large companies renting out unused space, not only as a cost recovery method for excess space but also as a great way to bring in new ideas and connections without paying the talent directly.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for Chrstopher Honts talk or for David Firth’s, though I did enjoy reading through David’s book (From Making a Living to Creating a Life) during my multi-hour delay in Newark (and thank you for the signature David!).

Again, great work by the unwork team. I look forward to working with you again. It was great spending time with the attendees, who asked wonderful questions that will keep me thinking for weeks.


A few tweets from the Worktech 11 Conference

Photo credit: Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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