Coworking – Independence, Collaboration, Community…

7 04 2011

Photo by Luc Legay, Paris, France

In my last post about the recent Intersections 2011 conference I mentioned some of the emerging global issues in society and business that are creating a new tipping point in our world. In response, our society and our world of work is changing. As our workforce matures and Baby-Boomers and Generation X are replaced by Generation Y (the ‘Millennial Generation’) it is becoming apparent that the straight-line thinking style of the industrial era is losing relevance. We are moving into the age of networks, enabled by rapid growth in global communication technology, mobile computing, etc, and fostered by the team-based and collaborative attitudes of this generation. This trend will accelerate as Generation Z (the ‘Net Generation’) who have grown up as ‘Digital Natives’ and who value their independence fiercely, begin to move into employment.

Within this generational shift we have moved from the concept of ‘a job for life’ through ‘a career for life’ and into ‘portfolio careers’. The economic crisis has resulted in massive unemployment, particularly within our younger generations, and recent public sector job cuts will soon add to our jobless figures. Whilst the economy remains stagnant a key societal response seems to be a renewed focus on entrepreneurialism where individuals are creating jobs rather than finding jobs, and governments are supporting this with programmes that encourage new businesses – like Startup Britain.

Over the last few years this shift in our type of employment has been accompanied by a shift in where we work too. Home working has risen steadily, and there has been a dramatic rise in coffee shop culture and the availability of free public WiFi networks. As a result we now see many more independent people working away on laptop computers wherever we go. The public sector is now starting to encourage this way of working too, as a way of reducing office space and cutting costs. Adopters of this lifestyle are quick to point out the benefits that this new-found flexibility in working offers them, such as less travel. However, after a short honeymoon period, they often begin to realise there are down-sides too, such as loneliness and lack of support, and this is driving a new and rapidly growing trend of Coworking as a modern style of working based upon flexibility, low space costs, and shared values including independence, collaboration and community.

Deskmag – a blog about coworking – recently completed a global coworking survey examining this trend. Over 660 participants from coworking locations across 24 countries responded to a questionnaire about why they like coworking, where they cowork, what they like and dislike, etc. The full results of this survey are documented in a series of blog posts starting with this one: Deskmag – The Coworking Magazine – Why Coworkers like their Coworking Spaces

It seems that the number of Coworking locations has roughly doubled year on year – and by end of 2011 there are expected to be more than 1000 coworking locations across the world, so it seems to be a successful concept. I began working out of a coworking facility in Birmingham about 12 months ago. Moseley Exchange used to be a BT telephone exchange – but now its been converted into a modern open plan office where members can meet, work, learn and exchange ideas. Its a place where collaboration and innovation go hand in hand and where 50+ interesting people and businesses work from. The culture is one of being independently minded, but collaborative at heart. The centre is managed as a social enterprise designed to create jobs and wealth and help to regenerate the local economy – and in this respect it seems to be a big success story.

Moseley Exchange - A successful example of Coworking in Birmingham, UK.

There is a wide mixture of business types based here including Architects, Designers, Film/TV and Radio Producers, Marketing Consultants, Programmers, Trainers, Arts Companies, etc. The benefits are many and there is a lot of interaction going on, working together with clients, assisting each other with specialist advice, passing opportunities and leads to others, networking, and socialising. Its like being in a larger corporate office but without the constraints. There is now an ‘International Coworking Visa’ scheme that allows members in Birmingham free use of similar offices in London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai and in nearly 200 other global locations. There are growing links across this wider network, and over 100 people recently attended a coworking ‘unconference’ at SXSW in Austin, Texas, where discussions included how to develop the global network further for the benefit of all participants. Big corporations are starting to realise that coworking offers opportunities for them too, including greater creativity and innovation within their employees. So expect to see more coworking locations popping up near you, and I suggest you might like to try them out sometime. Every coworking location I know of is more than happy for guests to drop in.

Contact me if you would like to know more about coworking and how you can find one close to you or even set one up yourself!

James Rock – MD and Chief Business Designer, CULTIVAR Consulting






Saving our way to prosperity… Is this an Oxymoron?

4 08 2010

You can also get an audio version of this podcast here: Listen!

Have you noticed for the last few months that the phrase “Efficiency Savings” seems to crop up in whichever newspaper or magazine you read, or on any TV news show that you watch? Governments, Local Authorities, and Private Companies all seem focused on achieving savings, in some case up to 40% in certain areas. Unsurprisingly, reaction from customers and employees is a mixture of doubt and fear about what it means for them.

I guess this is understandable. The economic downturn has forced us all to reconsider what we do, and to make do with less… but sometimes the result isn’t quite what we expect.

In my wide experience as a consultant I have heard “Efficiency Savings” used many, many times, and the phrase is abused time and again. Greater efficiency means either achieving more output with the same resources, or the same output with less resources, and the latter is what is usually inferred when the phrase “Efficiency Savings” is used. But in most cases I have found that output also drops as well as input and this inevitably harms effectiveness. I call this phenomena “Saving our way to prosperity” and it constantly amazes me how many management teams believe it will work. But the reality is that this type of cost-cutting is unsustainable – short term cost saving without re-inventing the way things are done only stores up problems for the future. I’ll give you an example.

A client I worked with needed to make “efficiency savings” to satisfy shareholder demands for greater short-term profitability because they wanted to sell the business – and greater profit means higher shareholder value. So it made an assumption that if field service engineer calls were increased from 4 calls per day to 5 calls per day then this 25% improvement would allow them to make 20% reduction in headcount – simple logic – and after all it was only one extra service call per engineer per day…! So the board instructed the management team to make the savings and crack the whip harder to make sure that service engineers hit their new targets – they then sold the business for an increased price and were very happy. A great result for the exiting shareholders, but for the company the result was disaster – overworked engineers could’nt hit their new call targets without considerable overtime, and service parts stock had not been increased to reflect the additional calls so they found they could’nt fix equipment even when they got to customers sites, so re-calls needed to be added; service-call lead-time increased from 1-2 days to over 2 weeks; when challenged by customers about the delays service engineers blamed management for the issues; dissatisfied customers quickly raised complaints; customer service staff became inundated with complaints and repeat calls from customers and the firm lost key service contracts; and the predicted cost savings never materialised – overtime pay increased dramatically, cash collection took longer, whilst turnover dropped by 10% and staff turnover in the department increased to 200% per annum leading to big unexpected and unbudgeted additional recruitment and training costs. The new business owners soon found they had to re-invent the way things were done, and it took 18 months of hard work to turn around the situation and get employees and customers back on board again.

So when you look at making efficiency savings make sure that you plan for success by engaging employees and customers in co-creating the new processes that will deliver savings whilst simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction; be authentic in staying true to your core purpose; and be creative in using Design Thinking to re-invent how you do things.  The result CAN be lower costs combined with long-term sustainable growth and increased profitability – the true way to future prosperity….

I would love to hear your own examples of companies that got this either right or wrong. Leave a comment below.

If you would like to discuss how I can help you make your efficiency savings sustainable then please get in touch.

James Rock – MD and Chief Business Designer





Room for inspiration?

14 05 2010

In my last post I wrote about the importance of work space in providing a work environment that positively encourages employees to be creative, innovative, motivated and happy. I would like to apply this thinking to the future of UK government.

Whilst much of the policy debate in the recent UK election focused on change for the future, both the Conservative party and Liberal Democrat party tried to engage voters with their vision of “what might be” if they were elected. In contrast to this however, the Labour party seemed to focus on the past rather than trying to paint a vision of the future.  Their key message was often “see what we have achieved in the past – so trust us in future” and, as we now know, this failed to engage the electorate and Labour lost heavily.  Was this surprising? Not for me… If you look at this set of incredible photos taken by Guardian photographer Martin Argles you can begin to understand why the Labour leadership seem stuck in the past: –

Gordon Brown – The last hours in Number 10

Isn’t it easy to see why the team using this office aren’t looking forward? Do these offices inspire you? No? So why would they inspire anyone to think creatively about the future? And what about their other work environment – the House of Commons? Lets take a look inside: –

We can get a sense of history from these surroundings, rich in heritage as they are. But do they inspire creativity? And do they foster the collaborative working environment that all parties say is important to deliver policies that will turn around the country following the recent economic crisis? How about the adversarial layout seen here – the “opposition” benches that are designed to position parties facing each other, and which we so often see bristling with hostile MP’s, and with the “Front Benches” full of big hitters.

As I think about the challenges ahead I wonder if these work environments support or hinder new ideas, new collaboration, and a fresh start for UK politics?  If you look at other coalition governments they operate in the round, and in modern buildings – see below for some examples: –

Inside the Welsh Assembly

Inside the Scottish Assembly

Inside the German Parliament

So will our new UK Government remain stuck in the past? Or will they be able to overcome the inertia of their surroundings? Will the Welsh, Scottish and German parilaments be more progressive with their modern, efficient, comfortable and inspirational buildings? What do you think? – why not post a comment to let us know….

Contact me for more information about how we can help bring design thinking, creativity and innovation to your business…

James Rock – MD & Chief Business Designer – CULTIVAR Consulting





Design Thinking, Architecture and Interior Design

11 04 2010

Two years ago I wrote the following blog post: –

“Are your Employees like Battery Hens?”

The theme of this post was about the issue of workplace design and how it relates to happiness and motivation of your employees. I argued that I find only too often that workplace design is poor and uninspiring, leading to both poor motivation and poor levels of creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Later, in September 2008 I wrote the following blog post: –

“Business 2.0 – Delighting customers, shareholders and employees simultaneously”

The theme of this post was about embracing Business 2.0 to think again about how we organise our businesses, embrace technology to support home-working practices, and resulting in happier employees, greater productivity and innovation, and better profits and improved shareholder value.

Now I would like to link these two earlier posts to my recent thoughts on Design Thinking…

The office above is at leading design agency IDEO in San Francisco. Notice that it isn’t rows of cubicles, or bland desks, with poor lighting and ventilation.  This space is COOL.  Its designed as a social and collaborative space where groups or teams of various sizes can get together.  People can go away and work on things alone, but now when they get together they want something more than a 10×10 meeting room with a square table and four chairs. This type of environment not only supports creativity and innovation – it stimulates it!

Is your workspace like this? If not here is a link to a website where you can see 10 seriously cool designs for an office – perhaps this will inspire you :

“10 seeeeeriously cool workplaces”

So if you are seeerious about Design Thinking as a way of re-inventing your business, then why not engage a leading architect and interior designer to help? think of it differently – is it possibly something you thought was previously too expensive? but now maybe you should consider it as an investment?

Contact me for more information about how we can help bring design thinking, creativity and innovation to your business via our network of associates.

James Rock – MD & Chief Business Designer

CULTIVAR Consulting





The Art of Business Design 2.0

1 04 2010

I recently published a free eBook on the subject covering my philosophy of Authentic Design Thinking.

This covers Design Thinking and Authenticity, and how I believe that these are both crucial important elements in designing and/or redesigning business models that cope with the miriad of challenges of today, and position businesses to be the leading companies of tomorrow.

You can view and download your FREE copy of this book from Slideshare.net – just follow this link:-

The Art of Business Design 2.0

Don’t forget to share your comments about this subject below.

If you would like to discuss it in more detail and how it can apply to your business then contact me…

James Rock, Chief Business Designer – CULTIVAR Consulting





Inspired Thinking

29 03 2010

You can also get an audio version of this podcast here: LISTEN

If design schools are being hailed as the new business schools then perhaps we should be taking our inspiration from great designers instead of business gurus.

I was given a fantastic book for my recent birthday – its called DESIGN NOW! and is published by that great publisher of art books Taschen. I recommend it strongly…

DESIGN NOW! by TASCHEN Books

The book contains short biographies of todays top contemporary designers – global leaders in the field of cutting edge design, and covers some of their very best work.  Reading it is an inspiration, and some quotes from the top designers are worth reference – so here are my top 10 quotes that I think will inspire your Design Thinking :-

1. Werner Aisslinger – “design is creating the life of tomorrow – for me the most exciting profession”

2. Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec – “our work frequently starts with an encounter”

3. Continuum – “we believe that design creates a relationship – the point of contact is an experience”

4. Stefan Diez – “one part of our job is making decisions between options – finding out what these are is the other part”

5. Tom Dixon – “I like to try to approach each project as a naive outsider… I work better when I am not encumbered by preconceptions”

6. James Dyson – “good design is about making something better than anything else that has gone before it”

7. Danny Venlet – “design is more than form and function, its a way of life”

8. Jonathan Ive – “we try to design and develop simple solutions for extremely complex problems”

9. Suntae Kim – “things communicate with us. I listen to, observe, and rearrange them”

10. Karim Rashid – “design is no longer a word or profession, it is a philosophy – a doctrine – a way of living – a modus operandi – a way of being – and will one day be seamless with existence”

I suggest you refer to these quotations as a source of inspiration when you are re-thinking about your business, its purpose, and how you can get more from it – in other words – think laterally…

For more information about The Art of Business Design, Authenticity, and Design Thinking contact me: CULTIVAR Consulting





Design Thinking and The Art of Business Design

3 03 2010

You can also get an audio version of this blogpost here: – Listen!

I have heard it said over the last year or so that Design Schools are the new Business Schools. Protagonists argue that this is because old school businesses are out-of-date, which is consistent with the “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild” message coming from global business leaders at this years WEF Annual Meeting in Davos.

This trend will lead towards the growing application of Design Thinking in business design. This is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. In organization and management theory, design thinking forms part of the Architecture/Design/Anthropology (A/D/A) paradigm, which characterizes innovative, human-centered enterprises. This paradigm also focuses on a collaborative and iterative style of work and an abductive mode of thinking, compared to practices associated with the more traditional Mathematics/Economics/Psychology (M/E/P) management paradigm.

These principles are consistent with the adoption of Authenticity as a fundamental philosophy and culture around which a business can be designed in pursuit of its declared purpose. And by combining Design Thinking with Authenticity I believe we are seeing the rise of The Art of Business Design – creating the Avant Garde businesses of today, and most probably the successful ones of tomorrow.

However, businesses also need an architecture to provide structure and form, but by their very nature this architecture also need to be amorphous to a degree – allowing flexibility to bend to changing economic conditions, competition, emergence of new technologies, etc. So I advocate designing businesses and organisations using the “Authentic Business Architecture” – shown below: –

Copyright : Cultivar Consulting 2010

This Amoeba like architecture contains the essential elements of structure that are needed for a business to operate, but it recognises that when a business changes shape, then the constituent elements will all be affected to some degree, and need to flex accordingly.

So Business Design needs to be holistic, authentic, and abductive if it seeks to be creative and innovative in delivering its purpose effectively.

For more information about The Art of Business Design, Authenticity, and Design Thinking contact me : Cultivar Consulting