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






Can business mend Broken Britain?

7 10 2010

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

I guess that before answering the question we have to ask ourselves “Is Britain Broken?”

These questions were posed to a panel at a fringe event held at the recent Conservative Party Annual Conference in Birmingham. The event was sponsored by the Tory Reform Group and included the following speakers :-

Nick Venning – Chairman of THRIVE CSR network Birmingham; Richard Fuller Cons MP for Bedford; Jane Ellison Cons MP for Battersea; and Margot James Cons MP for Stourbridge.

It was good to see these new MP’s who came to power in the 2010 election talk positively about what they think this new government can do to mend Britain. They agreed that there is a massive disparity between those at the top of the social pyramid and those at the bottom.  They agreed that people have “fallen out of love with capitalism”.  They agreed that the public sector had grown out of proportion to the private sector. They seemed to agree that there isn’t a quick-fix, and posed the following ideas on how business can help mend Broken Britain :-

– Businesses need to Partner with government to create a form of “Caring Capitalism” – using examples like John Lewis Partnership to share ownership with employees and embrace apprenticeships, etc

– Businesses need to demonstrate they are ethical and act with a sense of shared purpose to work for their community

– Government needs to praise and support the job-creating industries – such as the service sector and financial services sector who between them have created 4.8m jobs whilst manufacturing has lost 4m jobs

I would suggest that no-one will argue with these ideas. However, it struck me that they are somewhat conventional in thinking. We are entering a Government “Spending Review” and the expectation is a wave of cuts which everyone is fearful of. This may be necessary in the short-term, but as I wrote in my earlier blog post “Saving our way to prosperity…” it will not deliver more jobs or create greater wealth. So is more creativity and innovation needed in how we re-invent our businesses and re-position them for growth? We all know that growth of private sector businesses and creation of new jobs will result in shared wealth. So is now the time to foster the development of a new wave of caring capitalists to accompany the existing wave of social entrepreneurs who have created jobs, but taken a lot of public money to do this?

I believe that government and business both need to be more creative and innovative in supporting new ways of working. Developing Authentic businesses with a real purpose within the community. Sharing rewards via new forms of collective ownership. Government supporting these moves with financial support, grants and tax incentives designed to encourage more activity in this field.

What do you think? Is this a movement that we can get moving?

James Rock – MD and Chief Business Designer





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





Global Economic Outlook – The New World Order…

23 03 2009

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I went to a really fascinating talk at Warwick Business School last week.  Dr Gerard Lyons, Chief Economist at Standard Chartered bank and respected global economic forecaster, shared his expert knowledge, insight, and personal views on key economic issues with MBA students and Alumni.  In his talk he covered the following:-

  • How the world got into the current economic crisis
  • The immediate economic outlook for the short-term
  • Further implications for the global economic system

In 45 minutes he was able to explain in plain English what myself and many in the audience have struggled to understand from watching hours of TV programmes and reading multiple articles in newspapers and magazines.  He was able to translate complex economic jargon, using metaphors from the  world of film to illustrate a concise picture of what has already happened, and a set out his vision of what is probably going to happen next.  He has a good track record of being able to do this as his Biography attests.

In summary, Dr Lyons explained how the state of our economy is driven by 3 key elements –  economic fundamentals;  policy responses from government and central banks; and confidence.  He described how the lessons learned from Japan’s deflationary cycle have been used to accelerate UK policy responses which have been designed to restore confidence by “throwing the kitchen sink…” at the problem. As a result Dr Lyons summarised the following for us:-

  • “You can’t stop what’s coming” – the downturn will be steep, particularly in the west but less so in the east, for at least the next 12-18 months;
  • There is a significant long-term shift in economic power from the western economies to the east – China, India and the Middle East; and
  • The UK must face up to it’s challenges – increase added value and look to increase exports to strong and growing markets in the east.

I’ll be watching out for more comments from Dr Lyons as things develop. In the meanwhile there is a short video interview recorded on the night that can be seen here: Dr Lyons Interview





Sign up to Earth Hour and save the world… 28 March 2009

20 03 2009

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On Saturday 28 March more than 1 billion people across the world will turn off their power from 8.30 – 9.30 pm. This action is their way of expressing their vote to save our precious planet. The energy saved during this period is expected to top 10% of normal global consumption.

Cultivar has signed up and is comitted to doing something positive on 28 march. Will you vote for our planet too?

Find out more about Earth Hour… Make a personal commitment, tell your famly and friends, get your business to sign up, make a difference!

Earth Hour





How to spot the upturn early…

25 02 2009

If you, like me, are keen to spot the green shoots of recovery then where will you be looking?

I spotted this interesting blog over at Harvard Business Review where the editors blog has been discussing the subject – click on the following link to  go to the article: – HBR Editors Blog

What signs will you you be looking for? I’m watching for private sector executive jobs to come back into the Sunday Times recruitment section.

Share your suggestions below with other readers…

James