The ‘WWW Workplace’ is about wow (enabling technology), wonder (imagination / possibilities), and who (skills, knowledge and support). These are reflections on the inspirations for the phrase jumping into my mind.
Things that make you go ‘wow’!
Flipping through the channels, I recently caught a programme on BBC2 Behind the Lab Coat that had me enthralled. What caught my attention was a presenter talking to a young shoe designer, who was an architect by training and was using his understanding of structures to custom-design fabulous and unique shoes. He began by making a 3D scan of a foot and then used CAD software in the design. Next, and this is where my mouth hung open, he made a tiny, scaled-down shoe for the presenter using a 3D printer.
The actual shoes he had designed and made in this way were gorgeous. Now I already knew about 3D printing and its revolutionary potential but to see these shoes was extraordinary. The programme became even more riveting as it switched to showing images from the London 3D Print Show last year. Wow!
Imagination and possibilities
Dr Marie Puybaraud is Director of Workplace Innovation at Johnson Controls. She and I have been facilitating exploratory conversations for at least five years.
Between us, we co-facilitate the Johnson Controls Innovation Network, which brings people together from different backgrounds, often far apart from each other, from IT, HR and Facilities Management / workplace design, organisational design, architecture, sociology, psychology, marketing etc several times each year for energetic and animated conversations.
We have been thinking about intersections for a while now through themes like using social technologies to shrink social distance, breaching cultural boundaries, and exploring creative, cultural and knowledge mash-ups. These are exciting themes to talk about. What are the possibilities for workplaces, careers and new ways of working that emerge from breaching the boundaries of art and design, technology, science and architecture?
The energy and insights that typically emerge from these conversations are infectious. Bring great people together, give them a topic to chew on, and then off we go. And with the right people who respect and trust each other, disagreements and different perspectives emerge. This is when creative magic happens and possibilities are revealed.
Our most recent conversations were particularly insightful. We used the Willy Wonka film to explore The Willy Wonka Workplace (Nothing is Impossible!). Although we talked about the version with Johnny Depp, here’s Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka singing ‘Pure Imagination’:
“Want to change the world? There’s nothing to it”
I am making the strong case here for the creative potential of diversity in the emergence of new insight and new possibilities. Two other aspects of ‘who’ in the WWW Workplace interest me. One is social learning through connected, informal knowledge networks. Who is the best person to ask for specialist answers? If you don’t know who that is, who do you know whose recommendations you can trust?
The inspiration for the discovery and knowledge-sourcing potential of networks was hearing J.P. Rangaswami speak a couple of years ago at the Dachis Group Social Business Summit. He said that recommendation was a powerful use of social networks to discover people and information. No-one can know everything but everyone can nurture reputations for specific capabilities and become known as the ‘go-to’ expert.
The other is aspect is informal social support networks/ communities – from within and outside organisations, off-line and online – for those who have the courage to challenge outdated ways of working and managing. This typically means challenging the status quo, which requires courage. Who is your support network? Who will mentor, advise and challenge you – as well as being shoulders to cry on?
The inspiration for this sort of intensive social support was working with senior executives on a strategic work-based learning programme in Moscow a few years ago. Watching the depth of their commitment to each other was a privilege. It really was “All for one and one for all”.
Rise of WWW Workplaces?
While I was thinking about this post, I was also scanning what people were talking about on Twitter. An article caught my eye about the BBC and the evidence recently released from the Pollard inquiry late last year. This coming on top of the very recent Francis report into failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and the Leveson inquiry last year, and it is momentarily hard for me to justify the optimism in this blog post.
Reading about the old order as it continues to fail and as power apparently slips away from institutions, my spirits are deflated. But then my optimism is restored thinking about how I felt watching ‘Behind the Lab Coat’, about the energy and enthusiasm generated through our network conversations, and through the caring, generous interactions I experience from my off-line and online networks.
I am looking forward to seeing the emergence of more WWW Workplaces, which are characterised by ‘wow’ technology, generating new boundary-breaching and life-enriching products that rely on social and technical skills at the intersection of art, technology and science. Enough of the energy draining nonsense.