Connecting the Dots

I came across two posts while reading Contact Furnishings News that seemed to be connected; although, no parallels were drawn by the publication.

The first was called, “A New Breed of Project Manager Emerges“. Its premise was this:

Today’s workplace often contains five generations working together, including Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z—all of whom have different mindsets and skillsets. Baby Boomers and senior managers in particular often find it hard to adjust to new technology and environments that don’t cater to entitlement and privacy issues … This shift has caused project managers (PMs), facility managers, brokers, and architects to think differently about their roles.

The second was called, “For The Office Of 2050, Think Adaptation, Not Revolution“, the premise of which was this:

As tools like augmented reality, ultra-high-speed internet and video conferencing continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in office design, more office designers and leasing decision-makers have started to envision what the office of 2050 might look like.

If today’s workplace already contains five generations working together — and if tomorrow’s workplace (to say nothing of 2050’s) is likely to contain multiple generations, plus existing and yet-to-be-developed technological tools — we probably should have gotten busy a while ago. But it’s not too late.

The Future is Now

Since the pace of change seems always to be accelerating, the present seems less and less material (or maybe there’s just less time to dwell in it or on it). By the time we’ve thought about now, it’s already then. So, we might as well make thinking ahead our modus operandi. While we might not be able to predict the precise nature of change with any specificity, we can anticipate and embrace it. As it pertains to workplaces and office designs, that means we can and should connect dots, apply common sense, and design for flexibility.

Rather than going all in on open office spaces, we might leave room for privacy and concentration, should they be desired. Rather than attempting to accommodate the ostensible preferences of any particular generation, perhaps we could design for the consistent needs of human nature. And rather than having our attention diverted by the peculiarities of any one group, regardless of how it identifies or defines itself, we could design for the commonalities that exist between all groups, of all people, all the time.

If we can get there, we will have connected the dots that unify all of us.

See you at work.

Be Careful What You Wish For

You probably already know about corporations like Google, Microsoft, Bain & Company, American Express, and Facebook that have ostensibly amazing employee perks. There are myriad others, too. Two things are true of all of them:

  1. They’re obscuring the fact that most of us prefer substance to frills.
  2. They’re selling a wave that crested quite some time ago.

Once the open-office craze bit the dust — you can find evidence of its demise here, here, here, here, here, here, and here — you had to have the feeling office perks would be the next bucket of steam to evaporate. Sure enough, courtesy of Fast Company: “It’s official: No one cares about your ‘cool’ office perks“:

A new LinkedIn survey of over 3,000 full-time U.S. workers confirms what many of us have suspected for years: Those funky perks employers tout as supposed emblems of a great work culture are actually empty totems that employees don’t really care about.

So, what’s going on here? In fact, it’s a wonderful contradiction, perfectly indicative of our human nature, manifested by the juxtaposition of marketing (the art of creating the perception of need) and reality (the search for the fulfillment of actual need). Like all juxtapositions, all it takes to see to the heart and resolution of this one is time.

All That Matters is What Matters

Companies introduced social and recreational perks because they thought those things would attract young people. At first, they were right. Then two things happened: (1) Those young people got older. (2) They discovered other things were more important than superficial socialization and recreation in the places in which they were hired to work.

By the same token, companies introduced open workspaces to fit more people into less space, selling the concept with sloganeering about communication and collaboration. Then two other things happened: (1) Employees discovered they didn’t have the privacy in which to concentrate. (2) Employers discovered productivity was tanking.

Now that enough time has elapsed, it’s become evident that people care less about perks and open space than they do about supportive environments, adequate health insurance and parental leaves, work/life balance, recognition of individuality and achievement, professional development,  and social responsibility.

Eyes Open

All of this is simply evidence of something Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong knew when they wrote, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine“: “People say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.”

In other words, be careful what you wish for … or somebody will sell it to you.

Image by Wormer’s Famous Rattlesnake Oil, via Wikimedia Commons

Playing Nice in the Sandbox

This fascinating article largely speaks for itself: “An Intellectual History of the Sandbox.” While I’ve long been aware of the creative potential of sandboxes and the adoption of the term for individual and collaborative workspaces (what we now have to call incubators), I’m not sure I’d have given much credence to their intellectual traditions or characteristics. I’d have been remiss:

In 1885, a group of female philanthropists decided that the immigrant children of Boston’s North End needed somewhere other than the increasingly crowded and dangerous streets to play. They paid for a pile of sand to be poured into the yard of a chapel on Parmenter Street at the beginning of summer … The idea came from Germany, where such “sand gardens” were introduced in Berlin’s public parks in 1850 … [children] solved their own problems of administration, carpentry, industrialization, sewage, and monetization.

What strikes me, though, isn’t the history of the sandbox. Rather, it’s the direction in which games of the imagination and the practice of creativity have evolved, as well as our seemingly increasing reluctance to get our hands dirty — literally, figuratively, and creatively.

Go Ahead, Back Up

In the 168 years between 1850 and now, we seem to have come so far and advanced so little. From the innocent combination of imagination and grains of sand, from the trial, error, and acceptance of plastic pails and shovels to the unforgiving precision of AutoCAD, from the shifting sands of impermanence to the rigidity of judgment, we’ve refined our tools and gone to work for them.

Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. (Henry Brooks Adams, 1838-1918)

I don’t know what we should do first: simplify or forgive ourselves for the mistakes that will be made — that have to be made — in any creative process. (It’s no accident that the civilized appropriation of rubber preceded the discovery of graphite by 39 years or the first manufactured pencil by 137 years. We used to allow for our mistakes and found it useful to be able to erase them*.) But I do know we’ve lost something profoundly simple and forgiving in the way we play and work, in the valuable relationship between play and work.

Maybe the remedy is as simple as returning to our willingness to get our hands dirty, to make mistakes and accept them, to erase or correct them, and to re-invest ourselves in the playfulness by which the best work is and has always been done.

Let’s try. I’ll meet you in the sandbox.

*In 1525, the Italian historian, Padre d’Anghieria, reported seeing Mexican tribespeople playing with elastic balls. Graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, England, in 1564 and inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks, precipitating the first mass-produced pencils in 1662 in Nuremberg, Germany. The rest, as they say ….

The Purposeful Plan

We read a post in Contract Furnishing News (CFN) — “The hype surrounding wellbeing concepts can blind us to their true value” — that made us think about two things: the need for planning and the need for flexibility.

The premise of the post is the way in the media (all of us, in fairness) latch on to particular terms and phrases to the point that we turn those terms and phrases, wittingly or unwittingly, into fads. The offending phrase in the post is digital detox.

It’s a phrase coined by would-be experts who don’t like the fact that we live in an electronically (digitally) connected world and want us to believe we need to disconnect or face perilous consequences. More often than not, the perilous consequences are unspecified. But that doesn’t matter. The point of citing digital detox at all is to make us think we’re doing something wrong, possibly unhealthy, if we remain connected to the world in which we live and work.

To CFN’s credit, the post does offer this balancing commentary:

Everyone needs a break – it’s a natural detox … it doesn’t mean the arguments [in favor of disconnecting] are wrong. We just need to tailor them to different working environments, cultures and team[s]. Put aside the marketing speak … and find out what works for your workplace.

That made us think about two more things: the importance of planning and the importance of balance in planning.

Yeah, But I Thought ….

If you’ve explored our website at all, you know we’re big believers in planning. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. But we’re also believers in the need for balancing certainty with flexibility in planning. It may sound self-contradicting to say you have to plan for the unexpected. Maybe it is. At the very least, you have to allow for it.

Here’s what we mean: You want to get from Point A to Point Z. Do you need plan to get there? Yes. Are you certain Point Z, however you’ve defined it, will remain exactly the same as you cover Points A through Y? No. Make the plan. Take the first step. Stop. Breathe. Look around. Think. If Step B looks exactly as you imagined it would, take it. If it doesn’t, allow for the change, amend the plan, then take the next step. Repeat the process until you reach your desired outcome.

Given that, it may also sound self-contradicting to say we don’t believe in best practices. We don’t. And we don’t because the only way to judge anything best, that judgment can only be in hindsight. We’re not terribly interested in what’s been done or what we’ve already done. We’re much more interested in what we will do and in making sure we do it better than we did it the last time. As opposed to best practices, it’s called continuous improvement.

Don’t Forget

As long as your plan contains these two elements — particularly for your property, commercial or residential — it’s likely to be a good one:

  1. Marketability. You might plan to be where you are forever. But, like any other element of your plan, that could change. Make sure your property retains marketable value.
  2. Sustainability. You don’t have to be a greenie to know adaptable reuse and frugality make good sense. Don’t spend what you don’t have to.

Whether the plan for your property is for new use, for sale, or for lease, #1 and #2 are equally applicable and important. And don’t forget: You don’t have to think of everything at Point A, as long as you remain open to positive change. That openness, and its corresponding flexibility, will make Points B through Z much more constructive, productive, and enjoyable.

Now that’s a purposeful plan.

A More Practical Vocabulary

Since we have more important work to do than to worry about terminology, we tend to keep our heads down (in our work) and keep our opinions to ourselves (unless we’re asked). So, we’d have been willing to let one particular term, resimercial, slide in deference to more constructive pursuits. But we happened to be reading interiors+sources one day and came across this: “‘Resimercial’: Why We Need a Better Term“. Ah, hah (we thought). We’re not alone.

For those not familiar with the term, the article defines it like this:

Resimercial … is the trend of residential aesthetics in the commercial marketplace … mashing two words together to coin a phrase [to] … explain the more laid-back aesthetic that is finding its way into the commercial market.

Fair enough. We might have been inclined to let it go at that, but the author of the article offers another term in place of resimercial. It’s this: ambidextrous design. With that, we had to enter the fray.

Where to Start?

First of all, the author explains ambidextrous design a bit confusingly:

The term highlights the ways in which design from all markets are overlapping. Healthcare is taking from hospitality, retail is taking from restaurant design, and commercial and residential are swapping design ideas left and right.

That’s confusing because ambidextrous” derives from the Latin ambi (meaning both) and dexter, meaning right or favorable. In literal terms, then, ambidextrous means both right or both favorable. The problem there is that both connotes two. But hospitality, retail, restaurant, commercial, residential denote five. If someone had five hands, pentidextrous might work. But ambidextrous? Not so much.

Secondly, laid-back aesthetic doesn’t quite do it, either. Aesthetic can refer to a theory or a set of principles about the idea of beauty. It can refer to an individual’s ideas about style and taste. Or it can refer to a set of principles or worldview. But because aesthetic is philosophical — ideas, theories, principles — as opposed to physical, it cannot refer to the material aspects of a space.

Let’s Try This

Since we like to impress people with our work, rather than our vocabulary, we think comfortable works quite nicely, thank you. It integrates residential comfort with commercially able, which is precisely what it should do.

We can’t help but wonder what else we might communicate, let alone accomplish, if we all adopted a more practical vocabulary.

Waste Not, Want Not

Toward the end of last year (on Christmas Day, in fact), the National Association of Realtors published a post called, “The Forecast: 2018 Trends in Staging“. It was unsurprising, except for this quote from one of the people interviewed for the post:

Staging and preparation can include as little as some fresh paint, but in most cases we also landscape, replace dated light fixtures and hardware, and in many cases refinish hardwood floors, replace countertops, bathroom fixtures, etc. … Fewer than 10 percent of homes I stage are partial–where we keep some of the furniture and belongings, edit out and add in where needed.

Maybe we’re a little more provincial than we fancy ourselves to be. But we think adaptive re-use makes sense. It certainly manifests common sense. And it definitely makes good business sense.

Consider This

Think about the choices you made when you went about outfitting your home or your workspace. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Did you deliberately or knowingly make any bad decisions or choices?
  • Did you deliberately or knowingly select any furnishing or finishes that didn’t suit you at the time?
  • Did you deliberately or knowingly plan or anticipate the obsolescence of anything with which your furnished or finished your space?
  • Will you recoup and make a profit on whatever investments or purchases you make for the purposes of selling your space, residential or commercial?
  • Do you have money to burn?
  • Did you deliberately or knowingly purchase anything because you knew it would have a short shelf-life?
  • Did you consider the things you purchased to furnish and finish your space to be investments?

If the answers to those questions are, in order — no, no, no, no, no, no, yes — an alternative perspective might be in order.

What Price Value?

We love new stuff as much as anyone. But we define value as more than the purchase price of new stuff. Your investments have value. Your vision and tastes have value. The things that remain important to you have value. And your money most certainly has value. So, our approach is more evolutionary than revolutionary.

If it ain’t broke, we won’t try to fix it. If it has emotional, monetary, and aesthetic value, we won’t try to replace it.

We don’t have a motto. But if we did, waste not, want not would work pretty well.


Sharing Your Vision

Last month, Harvard Business Review published an essay entitled, “The Best Leaders See Things That Others Don’t. Art Can Help“. It made this important point about the ability of art to help business leaders perceive things they might otherwise miss or discount:

Without ever intending it, experienced leaders often allow what they know to limit what they can imagine … [that’s why] it’s so important for leaders to see their company [sic] and industry [sic] with fresh eyes — which means looking at their work in new ways. Art, it turns out, can be an important tool to change how leaders see their work.

But it missed another, arguably more important point: Art can help everyone (not just leaders) see everything differently everywhere (not just at work).

Salvation by Imagination*

If you don’t believe in the power of art to inspire imagination and to compel people to look at themselves and the world differently, consider this: My husband created a workshop, Finding Your Voice, for fledgling writers who want to find or improve their authorial voices. In the workshop, he uses my painting, “Dawn”.


In the first session, he gives participants their first and only assignment — to write their interpretations of the painting. (The remaining sessions are spent refining the written expression of those interpretations.) No interpretation is judged to be correct or incorrect. How could it be? Imagination isn’t correct or incorrect. It just is. Any judgment can only be subjective. Subjectivity is the source of interpretation. And vive la différence!

Live Out Loud**

In the same way my husband uses “Dawn” to help people with their written expression, you can use art — painting, sculpture, pottery, and more — to help with the visual expression of your vision. Serious. Playful. Constructive. Recreational. Your vision is anything you want it to be. And the art you choose for your workspace will reflect your vision, as well as your brand and its personality, even as it invites the creative interpretations of those who work in and visit your space.

To paraphrase Harvard Business Review, art, it turns out, can be important in changing the way others see your work and your workspace. And it’s an engaging way to express your vision.

If you’re ready to share your vision, we’re ready to help you express it.

* “An idea is salvation by imagination.” (Frank Lloyd Wright, Two Lectures on Architecture, 1931)

** “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” (Émile Zola, Nana, 1880)