The Leader Magazine

MAR 2017

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MARCH 2017 35 high social and job value for the average citizen, but that might lower the potential "pay-off" for corporations? Those who exploit change and uncertainty will drive the future Although some emerging patterns of these megatrends are clear, the direction in which these trends will lead is still open to interpretation and speculation now and, likely, for the foreseeable future. At best, these trends suggest potential scenarios and raise questions to be probed and monitored. CRE professionals will be well-served to join this search so they can keep abreast with business leaders and be prepared to respond as needed; or better yet, so they can take proactive action, if even of an experimental nature. The value of doing so was well-expressed by the director of workplace services for one of the globe's most dynamic and successful corporations. He has a track record for globally delivering imaginative workplaces on time and within budget, yet he frets about the future success of his group. When queried about why he is so concerned given his group's success, he replied, "I am afraid that I will not anticipate and proactively respond to an as-yet-unknown future, and that is not acceptable in this enterprise." Becoming aware of broad megatrends is the fi rst order of business. Following closely must come the proposing and testing of new policies and practices. Here, we suggest just a few things corporate managers and CRE professionals can do to increase awareness. 1) Break through personal and corporate blinders and silos Professionals in any fi eld tend to look for new ideas and inspiration from colleagues and situations in their own fi eld. Reaching out to other fi elds is informative and can stimulate innovation, as the movement toward business eco-systems and the networked organization demonstrate. Toyota pioneered such approaches when, rather than just demanding certain performance parameters from its suppliers, it welcomed them into their labs and manufacturing facilities to jointly develop and invent new processes and products. It broke down intellectual property barriers and welcomed people into the organization who brought in different skills, expertise, and ways of thinking and working. 2) Seek "vireos" The theory of the black swan is a metaphor that describes a hard- to-predict event that comes as a jarring surprise and has a major impact on the course of economic or social events. The phenomenon has been extensively discussed related to science, technology and fi nance. Juxtaposed to this, we propose probing the future by looking for what we refer to as vireos. These are objects, actions, and ideas in our current environment that we do not see but, if we did and thought about them, might give us a much better grasp of a possible future, even if that future might only be fuzzy. Acting on them later, when circumstances force us to "see them," forces rapid adjustment and the likelihood that much of the value that could have been achieved by earlier action is lost. Our coining of the concept of vireos gets its inspiration from the white-eyed vireo, a North American bird with a melodic song, but one that is very hard to fi nd and see unless one actively looks for it hidden in its surroundings. Thinking about the workplace as "anywhere, any time" is a case in point. A review of today's workplace literature makes this seem like an idea that keeps jumping out of the brow of Zeus. But this style of work would have been visible to anyone who 25 years ago looked at the work patterns of college students as they started to use the Internet to work anywhere at any time. Similarly, observing the early work of scientists developing biotechnology and nanotechnology several decades ago might have been able to foretell the new kinds of facilities that require agile leasing arrangements and spaces for convergence that now appear in innovation districts around the world. To gain insights about how children today might work tomorrow, professionals developing a new media industry in Abu Dhabi launched an Arab-language website on which children could play games for free. The site was monitored to observe playing habits and interests to gain insight about how children might work when they join the labor force years hence. 3) Avoid the commoditization and puffery of 'best practices' and assumptions about the future Exploring the unknown future is diffi cult and often relegated to the sidelines, given the pressures of doing what has to be done now. This leads people to focus on what is crowned by the professional press and conferences as "best practices" and to shape their own strategy and practice around them. This is understandable and can help enterprises improve, but over-reliance on this can mask the next wave of innovation and divert thinking about insights into what "might be" or "should be." This situation is often found in the workplace community where what was once innovation has become commoditized. Conclusion How many companies today, led by iconic technology companies like Apple, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as many smaller high-tech companies, have transformed hoteling and providing a wide range of informal meeting and conversation spaces from a radical innovation to a familiar workplace strategy? Focusing on such efforts, as the media do, while new and innovative to many companies outside the tech industry can mask the next wave of innovation. "Agile," for example, once meant furniture that was easy to reconfi gure; now, it is becoming a networked organization defi ned not by internal workplace strategies like activity- based planning or hoteling, but by externally focused formal and informal partnerships and agreements with companies in other industries who come together because their collaboration and sharing of expertise is mutually benefi cial. Forming a complex web of networked relationships with other companies whose staffs have such skills necessarily shifts the CRE bias, to date, for people with expertise in fi nance, space design and operations to one balanced by people from other disciplines ranging from anthropology and sociology to information technology, organizational development and software engineering. Such forms of collaboration, currently largely foreign to CRE practice, are likely to become, fi rst, radical innovations and, then, common practice. Franklin Becker, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. A specialist in organizational diagnostic and design, Michael L. Joroff is a senior lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with which he has been affi liated since 1971.

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