May 17, 2018  |  permalink

Navigating the Noise #1: The Future of Corporations

My friend and fellow futurist Brian David Johnson invited me to join his inaugural podcast for the Corporate Housing Provider Association (the folks who help the folks who furnish long-term stays for road warriors) on the future of corporations, falling transaction costs, and how people derive status (and meaning) in a world without full-time employment. Either listen to the podcast above (I appear around the 10:30 mark), or just read our exchange below.

Brian David Johnson: Today on the podcast, we have Greg Lindsay. Greg is a journalist, an urbanist, and a futurist and speaker. He’s a senior fellow at NewCities and the director of strategy for its offshoot LA CoMotion — an annual urban mobility festival in the Arts District of Los Angeles. He’s also a non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company, and co-author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We Will Live Next.” Now, this book Aerotropolis, I cannot recommend more. This is actually the book that introduced me to Greg and Greg’s work. I did not know him at the time. It was so amazing that after I finished reading it, I reached out to him via Twitter and started this conversation because I was so impressed by his work. So it’s a pleasure to have you on the show today, Greg.

Greg Lindsay: Thank you so much for having me, Brian.

BDJ: So, on the show today we are looking at the future of corporations. We’re looking specifically at falling transactional costs — you know, the work Ronald Coase did. Talking about transactional cost and the nature of the firm. And you’ve been doing some really interesting work around thinking about not only what that means for corporations, where we can have, we can spin up a lot of small companies and spin them down. And there’s a lot more freedom of movement because of technology. But you’ve also been looking at kind of how that changes the culture of these corporations. Can you tell us a little bit more about the work?

GL: Yeah, I first got interested in the rise of shared workspaces. Five or six years ago, before WeWork became a $20 billion colossus, it was just another startup in stealth mode. And I actually worked out of their very first office in Dumbo in Brooklyn. And it led me to thinking about why were people choosing to work in these shared workplaces versus traditional office space or traditional employers? And it led me to think about how the culture of the office was changing. If you compare today’s culture of white collar knowledge work compared to what Coase wrote about with transaction costs, you can see that the mid-century firm, the wood paneled office and the huge corporate campuses of IBM and GE and others. I was relating to this notion that it was really hard to find talent. And once you did, you wanted coddle it. You wanted to keep them there as long as possible.

Now, with falling transaction costs, you end up with “Free Agent Nation” and these loosely coupled networks of self-managed, self-driven people who are nesting inside these shared workspaces. They’re using them almost as coral reefs, to basically find their next gig or collaborator. So, I got really interested in the change of the office as a container for doing work to a sort of platform that actually enabled you to work and to find new work.

BDJ: And how does this then change what people value? I know in some of your writing and some of your work you’ve done, you’ve looked at the, in the larger corporations, you’ve got the gold watch upon retirement. You were there for a long time and now in these new more flexible areas, you know, what people want, what people value is changing. What have you seen happening there and what do you think that means for the future of corporations?

GL: There’s a couple of things. Yes, the mid-century corporation had its own hallmarks of success. It was the gold watch. It was the luxury car. It was the suburban house. Any of us who’ve seen Mad Men can immediately envision that era. And that’s obviously changed to this sort of startup culture now which is sort of very studiously casual and relaxed. And it sort of has some rigid hierarchy to date but they’re sort of different. But the other thing it’s done is led to this profusion of different types of status. Right? So not only is there conspicuous consumption. You know, do you have right athleisure clothes? But also conspicuous production. You know, the greatest status signifier in startup culture is who your VCs are and how much you raised in your last round.

So, it has these changing symbols. And the other thing I found is that just like every other media that we participate in, it’s fractured. Right? None of us watch the same television. We all have our own filter bubbles. The same thing has happened with taste and culture as well. There’s a sort of portable culture.

A friend of mine named Stowe Boyd has this notion of “work culture” versus corporate culture. Work culture is the culture that we take with us from job to job wherever we go. And that’s also a sort of culture of taste and style that we take with us. And so you know, you have these sort of portable workforces that are going from place to place. And that’s sort of what I think too. If you go to a lot of different offices, you see they have the same very clean aesthetic. You know it’s been called the Brooklyn style or air space or other things. And I think that’s partly responds to the fact that yeah, we expect that workers have their own tastes and they want this workplace to look the same.

That’s why WeWork is managing offices for IBM. Because the workers IBM wants to hire expect to work at We Work. They don’t expect to work at a suburban IBM campus. Remember the classic line “Culture eats strategy for breakfast?” Well, in a macro sense, the opposite is true. The strategy of how you hire and find talent is actually producing these new sorts of culture.

BDJ: Yeah and I think what’s really interesting about that, and as you can apply it in thinking about the future of corporations and what people want, is you say we’ll have different space requirements. What people value. People will gravitate to a certain space or a certain area because it embraces that culture. Right? It embraces like you said, the startup culture or this culture of the gig economy or what have you. And a lot of it is driven by these sort of underlying forces. I think both falling transactional costs as well as the increasing digital nature of corporations. Right? We’re seeing more and more companies becoming digital in nature.

So, my last question to you Greg is, so as you look out to the future of corporations and sort of what the business of doing business looks like, where do you see things going?

GL: Well, if you follow Coase’s idea to its logical conclusion, you end up with the heat death of the corporation. It completely atomizes and it’s all individuals. Which hasn’t been the case. That’s been happening for 20 years, and instead of flattening out into everyone is an entrepreneur, instead you have the rise of these new networks forming — networks of small firms, networks of entrepreneurs, or freelancers. I think we’re still in the early stages of that evolution, seeing what new corporate organisms will emerge. And at the very top, you see these continuing waves of consolidation. But even then, these corporations, these huge corporations are hollowing out.

Perhaps workers will organize around platforms istead. People have pointed to companies such as Upwork and Uber as examples of these huge platforms that have arisen to organize certain types of work. It’ll be interesting to see what the interplay is between physical face-to-face workspaces and these platforms? Will we have guilds reemerge, for example where you exist in peer networks where you are helping each other learn or helping each other find work? I think we’ll start to see the rise of corporate to corporate coworking. We will see teams from different companies who have the same roles but different employers will work side by side because, you know you’ll have less corporate politics. But they’ll be able to help each other solve problems faster if they’re non-competitive.

So, this notion that you work for one company and you go to the same job in the same space five days a week is going to change pretty quickly, I think. And then the other thing, the long term trend is that historically it’s been about control. You know, companies controlled you and in exchange for the control, they gave you perks. They made you come to the office. They monitored how much you worked and how long you worked. And today, they’re trying to do that digitally, right? Either they’re watching your screenshots or you have this sort of people analytics on the rise. But there’s always been a strive towards autonomy in that. And I think the real cutting edge there too is just how much autonomy are these companies willing to give their employees or the people they work with to really solve problems with no instructions or to really enrich themselves. And I think that’s going to continue to be the cutting edge as well.

BDJ: Well, Greg Lindsay, listen. Really amazing things for us to keep an eye on and for us to kind of dig into. But we want to thank you so much for being on the podcast today. We really really appreciate it.

GL: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

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May 17, 2018  |  permalink

La French Tech au MoMA

In celebration of NYCxDESIGN, the MoMA Design Store teamed up with La French Tech — a tech startup ecosystem supported by the French government — to host a discussion on the French tech ecosystem, why France has become such a hotbed for tech startups in the last year, and how the ecosystem will progress in the future. As moderator, I was joined by Christian Brun of the French startup iSKN, Laetitia Gazel Anthoine, founder of Connecthings, and French business leader Pascal Cagni to host a rollicking conversation in SoHo tonight.

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April 30, 2018  |  permalink

Big Ideas Summit London: Engineering Serendipity

The folks at Procurious — the social network for procurment executives, AKA the people who run the world, or at least sign contracts for it — asked me to speak about engineering serendipity at their Big Ideas Summit in London last week. Above is a two-minute preview of my talk, which covered unknown knowns, WeWork’s staggering 220,000 members, eavesdropping over pints in the alleys of London, and weaponized Twitter bots. You had to be there.

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April 30, 2018  |  permalink

reSITE Sneak Peek: Cities as Luxury Goods?

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(Ahead of reSITE 2018 ACCOMMODATE in Prague next month, our media partners at Citylab published an interview with myself and reSITE founder and chairman and founder Martin Barry. Please find it republished below.)

Housing has been identified as the number one issue of today’s cities by leading architects and planners, Teddy Cruz, Jean-Louis Missika, and Carl Weisbrod – all keynote speakers at reSITE events over the last three years. That’s where the theme of the reSITE 2018 Accommodate event, June 14-15 in Prague, begins. For this annual event, reSITE is inviting fifty international guests to explore the challenge and its solutions from all angles, including planning, design, technology, and new economic and social models of co-living and cohousing. Greg Lindsay, guest curator of reSITE, and Martin Barry, reSITE’s founder, speak about the theme of the upcoming June event.

Q:What do you define as the most pressing housing challenges cities face today?

Martin Barry: From Bordeaux to Belfast and Tokyo to Tel Aviv, cost of living has become one of the most pressing puzzles of our generation. As cities face increasing challenges to fund affordable housing solutions, we need to utilize new technologies and diverse partnerships. We need to build more and build closer to city centers or transit hubs. We need do it in a way that can open alternative ownership models that provide higher quality housing at affordable costs and a flexible structure. Increasing supply simply isn’t decreasing cost. If cities want to remain competitive, they should look no further than ensuring that people can find a good and affordable place to live.

Greg Lindsay: It’s become clear that the most beloved qualities of our cities have transformed them into luxury goods, and a process that started in London or New York a decade ago is trickling down into one city after another. Having a “right to the city” means having the right to live in the city, and that’s why we need new strategies, technologies, and protections to build homes for all of us. We need to build more housing where people want to live; we need to do it without the mass displacement of the people who live there now, and we need to stop financializing it.

Q: What are the new and expected trends related to housing and living in cities?

Greg Lindsay: As an American, I think it’s interesting that the dream of a single-family suburban home is receding for rich and poor alike. Soaring home prices coupled with stagnant incomes and austerity are leading some to reconsider collective housing, while at the very high end of the market, “co-living” offers wealthy residents housing as a membership club. Why pay a lease or a mortgage when you can sign up for a room in one city and then float to a luxury building in another? Home ownership has become either an unattainable ideal or a drag, depending on your tax bracket.

Martin Barry: Student housing in Europe is trending and there is a need, with over 7 million international students in 2020, compared with 4.1 million in 2014. However, the market in cities like Amsterdam, Lisbon and London will soon be saturated with ultra-luxury student apartments, which are more like 5-star hotels than the creaky flats that I lived in when I was in school. It’s a great sector for us to pilot new types of housing alternatives, because younger people have different expectations about how they want to live in the future city. We can test new ideas of co-living and intergenerational living as part of this trend.

Q: Why do we need to cooperate across disciplines?

Greg Lindsay: No single discipline or profession can solve this challenge. We need to rethink in parallel the design, construction, financing, and use of homes if we have any hopes of creating better cities. Simply building more housing isn’t enough; neither is designing a more beautiful or practice house, or finding ways to build them more cheaply, or with less money down. We need to think holistically and discover how one solution might reinforce another.

Q: What are your program tips for reSITE 2018?

Martin Barry: Alternative ownership, financing and regeneration models are driving the conversation about housing around the world. We will expand upon each of those at reSITE this year. Jeanne Gang is a practicing architect and a MacArthur Fellow, whose work at a recent MoMA exhibition “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream” will be a highlight. Reinier de Graaf’s first book “Four Walls and a Roof,” will be revealed at the event, where we expect him to lambaste apathetic architectural ideals and explain that architecture will always be flawed as long as humans conceive, create and build it.

Greg Lindsay: An emerging theme is top-down plans for large-scale regeneration — such as LSE Cities’ Richard Burdett and his role in remaking east London following the 2012 Summer Olympic Games — versus bottom-up craftsmanship, as demonstrated by the Turner Prize-winning architects of Assemble and the Mumbai-based research group URBZ. Resolving that tension productively will go a long way toward achieving our goals for housing.

reSITE 2018, the annual international forum showcasing better solutions for our urbanized world, sponsored by CityLab, will present 50 international speakers from 30 countries including architects Jeanne Gang, Michel Rojkind, Sou Fujimoto and Reinier de Graaf. Over 1,000 audience members including architects, planners, bottom-up innovators and municipal and private sector leaders will also attend on June 14–15, 2018 at Prague’s Forum Karlin.

To register and learn more, including about reSITE’s “Women Make Cities” discount promotion, which is available for all the women in architecture, design, NGOs and city leadership, visit reSITE.org.

About the event:
reSITE 2018 ACCOMMODATE
June 14-15, 2018
Prague, Forum Karlin
Register at reSITE.org

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April 26, 2018  |  permalink

Woods Bagot’s LA 3.0

LA 3.0: Development and Design for the New Los Angeles from Woods Bagot on Vimeo.

Back in February, Woods Bagot — Australia’s largest architecture firm — invited me to moderate and speak at “LA 3.0,” a half-day conference exploring the ongoing transformation of Los Angeles. Come for me, stay for LADOT’s Seleta Reynolds…

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April 20, 2018  |  permalink

The Flood Comes to Venice

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I’m delighted to announce that “Bight: Coastal Urbanism” — a re-imagining of New York and New Jersey coastlines after 50 years and several feet of sea-level rise — will be exhibited this spring at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, also known as the Venice Architecture Biennale. Along with my teammates Rafi Segal, Susannah Drake, Sarah Williams, Brent Ryan, and Benjamin Albrecht, our work will be featured by the GAA Foundation and European Cultural Centre as part of the former’s “Time, Space, Existence” exhibit at the Palazzo Mora.

If you make your way to Venice this summer, I hope you’ll check it out.

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April 13, 2018  |  permalink

Brooklyn, Down Under, and Everywhere In Between

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As New York finally thaws after a brutal winter — if you can call four Nor’easters in March “winter” — here’s a quick recap of my speaking schedule this year to date.

• I started the year in Orlando at the International Builders Show, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders. I was back in town a few weeks later to speak to the Urban Land Institute’s Central Florida chapter. In between, I hosted a workshop and public presentation on future uses of autonomous vehicles at URBAN-X in Brooklyn. Speaking of AVs, I spoke in San Antonio to the members of the American Traffic Safety Services Association — the highway workers who are arguably the most at risk from self-crashing cars. I ended the month moderating a panel on electric mobility at BMW iVentures’ inaugural Urban Mobility Forum in New York before hopping a transcontinental flight to Los Angeles for Woods Bagot’s “LA 3.0.”

• March was mostly about mobility. Dodging yet another Nor’easter, I spoke in Boston to the senior leadership of the design and engineering firm VHB before driving home after all planes and trains were canceled to catch an early morning flight to Chicago, where I moderated a session on mobility-as-a-service at the Shared Use Mobility Conference. But that was just a warm-up for the following week’s flight to Auckland to deliver the opening keynote at ITS New Zealand’s T-Tech Transport Innovation Conference.” If that wasn’t enough, on the way home, I laid over in Victoria, British Columbia to offer the Canadian Home Builders Association a whirlwind tour of the next twenty-five years. (They seemed less enthused about 3D-printed houses made from cultured meat.)

I hit the road again next week for CIBC’s 23rd Annual Real Estate Conference in Toronto, followed by Procurious’ Big Idea Summit in London before a May homestand in New York with NAIOP, CoreNet, MSCI, and MoMA. (Then the real fun begins, with trips to Riga, Prague, and Venice in early summer.)

Needless to say, please get in touch if you’d like me to make a stop somewhere in between!

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March 31, 2018  |  permalink

The Guardian: Private companies want to replace public transport. Should we let them?

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The Guardian’s Mark Wilding asks, “private companies want to replace public transport. Should we let them?” To his credit, the answer is no, or at least “it depends.” Sampling Citymapper’s new ride-sharing service in London, and Helsinki’s Whim — the leader in mobility-as-a-service — Wilding finds the latter more appealing and public officials more willing to give it a try.

He was also kind enough to grant me the requisite Uber-is-coming-to-kill-you-all quote:

It might be working. When Transport for London recently announced that its passenger numbers have fallen, many pointed the finger at Uber. There is little evidence to prove that connection, but when researchers surveyed the residents of seven US cities in 2016, they found a 6% reduction in use of public buses and a 3% reduction in use of light rail after ride-hailing services were introduced. “Current evidence suggests that ride-hailing is pulling more people away from public transit in cities, rather than adding riders,” they said. Greg Lindsay of the NewCities Foundation encapsulates the thinking: “My fear is that Uber is going to lead to a cycle of cataclysmic disinvestment. They will try to siphon off the most profitable customers and leave public transport a rump service.”

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March 25, 2018  |  permalink

reSITE 2018: ACCOMMODATE

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reSITE 2018 has an official title — “ACCOMMODATE” — and a roster of speakers that’s firming up quickly, including the architects Jeanne Gang, Sou Fujimoto, Michel Rojking, and Reinier de Graaf, the choreographer Elizabeth Streb, Amsterdam’s “night mayor,” Mirk Milan, and LSE Cities director Richard Burdett. Watch this space as the program develops, and please join us in Prague on June 14-15!

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March 22, 2018  |  permalink

New Zealand’s T-Tech Conference & Tech Podcast

I was in Auckland this week as a guest of ITS New Zealand and as the keynote speaker of the T-Tech conference exploring the future of mobility. (To one’s surprise, the Kiwis are away ahead of us.) While I was there, the NZ Tech Podcast host Paul Spain invited me to join him in the studio along with Syndex Exchange’s Mike Jenkins to discuss the conference, Zephyr Airworks’ autonomous electric air taxi, Apple Parental controls, Nest taking on Amazon, and the cold reality of an autonomous Uber killing a pedestrian. It was a great capstone to the trip.

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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow at NewCities and the director of strategy of its offshoot LA CoMotion — an annual urban mobility festival in the Arts District of Los Angeles. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

» More about Greg Lindsay

Articles by Greg Lindsay

Medium  |  May 1, 2017

The Engine Room

Fast Company  |  January 19, 2017

The Collaboration Software That’s Rejuvenating The Young Global Leaders Of Davos

The Guardian  |  January 13, 2017

What If Uber Kills Public Transport Instead of Cars

Backchannel  |  January 4, 2017

The Office of the Future Is…an Office

New Cities Foundation  |  October 2016

Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport

Inc.  |  October 2016

Why Every Business Should Start in a Co-Working Space

Popular Mechanics  |  May 11, 2016

Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem Be Solved?

The New Republic  |  January/February 2016

Hacking The City

Fast Company  |  September 22, 2015

We Spent Two Weeks Wearing Employee Trackers: Here’s What We Learned

Fast Company  |  September 21, 2015

HR Meets Data: How Your Boss Will Monitor You To Create The Quantified Workplace

Inc.  |  March 2015

Which Contacts Should You Keep in Touch With? Let This Software Tell You

Inc.  |  March 2015

5 Global Cities of the Future

Global Solution Networks  |  December 2014

Cities on the Move

Medium  |  November 2014

Engineering Serendipity

New York University  |  October 2014

Sin City vs. SimCity

Harvard Business Review  |  October 2014

Workspaces That Move People

Inc.  |  April 2014

The Network Effect

Atlantic Cities  |  March 2014

How Las Vegas (Of All Places) May Be About to Reinvent Car Ownership

Wired (UK)  |  October 2013

How to Build a Serendipity Engine

Next American City  |  August 2013

IBM’s Department of Education

» See all articles

Blog

May 17, 2018

Navigating the Noise #1: The Future of Corporations

May 17, 2018

La French Tech au MoMA

April 30, 2018

Big Ideas Summit London: Engineering Serendipity

April 30, 2018

reSITE Sneak Peek: Cities as Luxury Goods?

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