December 03, 2015  |  permalink

NPR Cleveland: The Status of Our Airports

Yesterday, the folks at Cleveland’s NPR affiliate asked me to appear on its morning news show “The Sound of Ideas” to discuss the state of northern Ohio’s airports — Cleveland Hopkins and Akron-Canton — the former of which lost its United hub two years following that airline’s merger with Continental. While other, more local guests tried their best to convince listeners they were somehow better off without United and that everything was going to fine, I did my best to warn them about the consequences of losing air service, while a smattering of callers dialed into complain about long drives, early morning flights, and high fares. The entire segment is above; I’m the disembodied voice called on from time to time.

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November 28, 2015  |  permalink

The Work Futures Institute


One of my favorite jokes (that may only be funny to me) is a riff on Warhol’s chestnut about fifteen minutes of fame: “In the future,” I confidently predict, “we will each have think tanks with fifteen fellows.” I tried that line on Stowe Boyd last month and he took me up on it, creating the Work Futures Institute and installing me as his first senior fellow. Stowe — who in his spare time is managing director of Gigaom Research — has already published a manifesto of sorts for what we’ll investigate:

• Dissent (versus Consensus) — Active and directed dissent is a better way to counter the cognitive biases of groups and individuals, and to sidestep groupthink. This is essential to increased innovation and creativity truly driving business.

• Cooperative (versus Collaborative) — The new way of work sidesteps the politics and collectivism of consensus-based decision making, and shifts to looser, laissez-faire cooperative work patterns.

• Creativity (versus Tradition) — We are in a time when new solutions to problems need to be contrived, and traditional approaches may be not only broken but dangerous.

• Autonomy (versus Heteronomy) — Paradoxically, as we come into a time when we acknowledge that we are more connected to each other than ever before, a great degree of autonomy will become the norm. The old demands to subordinate all personal interests to those of the collective will be displaced by a personal reengagement in our own work and a commitment to a deeper work culture that transcends any one company’s corporate culture.

• (Hyper)democracy (versus Oligarchy) — Today’s management theory and organizational structure is basically a holdover from the earliest days of the industrial age, a time prior to democracy, when monarchies ruled. Businesses today are oligarchies, where the few lead the many. In recent decades, there has been a transition from coercive controls to more consensual ones, but if we are to move fast enough to compete in the new economy we will have to more to a hyper lean, agile democratic form factor for work.

Fast-and-loose (versus Slow-and-tight) — Companies need to become much looser — higher degrees of autonomy and voluntary association into working teams — in order to run faster, increase innovation, and provide the sort of environment that top performers best operate in.

• Laissez-faire (versus Entrepreneurial) — The growing uncertainties in complex, interconnected, global economy means that predicting the future and judging risks has become extremely difficult if not impossible. Therefore, the notion of organizing any reasonably sized company around a single ‘official future’ is broken. We’ll need to adopt a laissez-faire operating system for business, where many experiments based on different hypotheses can run in parallel, instead of lining up all the troops and making them march to a single unified strategic plan.

Hyperlean (versus Waterfall) — All business operations will transition away from top-down, long-term, waterfall-style models to a bottom-up, short-term, hyperlean approach. Those closest to the problem will work on its solution, and divvy up the pieces in a way that makes sense to them, and refactor as needed.

• Small-and-Simple (versus Large-and-Complex) — The technological advances that will disrupt markets and patterns of business in the future will increasingly be small-and-simple, but paradoxically, may force the reevaluation of everything, like file sync-and-share applications, which are destabilizing the enterprise software market.

• Open and Public (versus Closed and Private) — The number one factor today in work happiness is the transparency of management practices, and that happiness is likewise reflected in higher engagement at work.

• Emergent Strategy (versus Deliberate Strategy) — The nature of strategy changes in a time of great change, when the future is difficult to foresee. The role of leadership changes with it, as well. Instead of concocting a strategic vision and pushing it out to the organization through cultural and managerial channels — the deliberate style of strategy — leadership must shift to distributed, action-based strategic learning about what is actually happening in the market: emergent strategy. This, as Henry Mintzberg observed, does not mean chaos, but unintended order.

You can read his entire essay here. Obviously, we’re in the earliest stages of figuring this out. Please stay tuned for much more to come— especially once he appoints the other fourteen fellows.

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November 28, 2015  |  permalink

Longitudes: 3 ‘Aerotropolises’ Powering the Global Economy


(UPS’ globalization blog Longitudes asked me to nominate three cities vying to be the hub-to-end-all-hubs. My nominees: Zhengzhou, China; Dubai World Central — since renamed Dubai South — and Panama City. The full post is after the jump.)

Big-city airports aren’t just massive travel hubs today; they’re also evolving into critical nodes of the 24/7 global economy — creating jobs, connecting workers and suppliers, and building infrastructure.

Their enlarged role is seeding communities in the way that maritime ports once defined landmark shipping destinations such as Hong Kong, Hamburg and Rotterdam.

Welcome to the age of the “aerotropolis,” a term coined by authors John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay in an influential book of the same name.

International air routes today, Kasarda says, are forming a kind of logistical Internet, with airports serving as the “routers” for circulating people and products around the clock. And their sphere of influence goes beyond obvious and familiar destinations such as Heathrow, LAX and JFK.

Here’s a look at three emerging air-based global trade hubs that will shape the global economy in years to come.

» Continue reading...

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November 18, 2015  |  permalink

The Abraaj Group Annual Forum


I was honored to participate in last month’s Abraaj Group Annual Forum, held this year in Singapore. The Dubai-based private equity firm is the largest investor in the Global South outside the BRICs, with $9 billion under management. (Forbes recently published a nice profile.)

One of the Abraaj Group’s central tenets is to invest in cities, not nations or regions, and so I was asked to participate in several panels discussing the growth of cities and the logistics networks needed to serve the world’s emerging middle classes. Several photos from the event are below; the group also published a summary report that you can read in its entirety here. I’ve republished the section on our cities panel below — I’m pleased to say I was the one who argued that cities “are where the magic happens.”

Globally, there are now more people living in urban than rural areas, and by midcentury two-thirds of us will be living in cities. The scale of this shift cannot be underestimated – 2.5 billion new urbanites are expected by 2050, nearly 90% of whom will be African and Asian. Neither should we underestimate the implications for how we live our lives – what values we have, what food we consume, what education we desire, and how we vote. Importantly, the urbanization trend we’re seeing play out today differs from that of previous times – it is accelerated, and is largely taking place in growth markets. Today, it is not just about megacities but notably also middle-weight cities that are increasingly driving global growth.

This megatrend is therefore one to watch – for policy makers, investment professionals and business operators alike. Cities matter for a variety of reasons – notably, they are the economic engines of the modern world, with today’s 300 largest cities responsible for roughly half of global GDP. Cities create a critical mass for businesses to grow; and for government spending to be more effective and efficient. At the same time, cities face enormous challenges. Urbanites need infrastructure, housing, transportation, energy, andsanitation – but frequently encounter a significant demand-supply gap.

Ultimately, cities are about people and responding to urban challenges is about understanding what citizens need and want. How do the different pieces of the urban puzzle fit together? Responding to these questions requires truly engaging with urban citizens. As one participant pointed out, one size does not fit all – youcan’t bring Rio to Kabul. Dealing with cities that have developed haphazardly is particularly challenging and necessitates social engineering and an innovative use of technology.

On the bright side, several participants touched on a developing convergence of policymaking, technology, and the investment community in response to ‘emerging cities’. Policymakers are increasingly focused on private-sector solutions to improving energy, healthcare, education, and other hard infrastructure. Not every country is there but a momentum is building where policymakers realize that incentivizing investment is key to economic growth – and to staying in power. Similarly, we’re seeing an increasing appetite among investors – and different types of investors, in some cases with different motivations – to work together to find ways to buy, build, and deliver infrastructure while making very attractive returns.

‘Smart cities’ were presented as a solution to future waves of urbanization. Starting from scratch allows for careful planning, sustainable solutions, and avoidance of the most typical urban problems – notably the entrenchment of inequality that is so common across today’s cities. Understanding the “nexus” of urban needs is decisive to the success of smart cities– notably how energy, food and water interrelate in the urban ecosystem. Once the nexus is addressed, other practicalities can be solved for. Whilst some participants expressed skepticism about the potential of smart cities, there was agreement that they can provide a useful framework for thinking about what makes up a good city. One participant pointed out that it is about community – “great cities ultimately have great communities”.

Whilst urbanization clearly poses challenges, participants were largely optimistic about the future of cities. Referring to cities as compressions of human social networks in space and time, one participant argued that at the borders of these networks “is where magic happens!” Canny solutions are indeed coming out of cities, often driven by sheer necessity. The idea of a “fun city” was discussed, highlighting the importance of thinking about cities from a human perspective rather than as abstract entities. Cities are not just ‘investment destinations’ or ‘infrastructure challenges’ – ultimately, they are about the people that inhabit them.




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November 05, 2015  |  permalink

My Foreword To AECOM Strategy Plus’ 2014/2015 Annual Review


AECOM’s Andrew Laing — the global practice leader for the firm’s Strategy Plus unit, formerly known as DEGW — asked me to contribute the foreword to this year’s Annual Review, which you can download in its entirety here. But I’ve taken the liberty of re-posting my thoughts on the future of work and the office below, some of which might sound familiar…


As someone who hasn’t worked in an office in more than a decade, I possess a unique perspective on the future of work, especially as it pertains to Strategy Plus. You see, I’m an accidental savant who read Frank Duffy’s Work and the City as my primer in office design. When 2008 is Year Zero in your understanding of how to work, the following propositions start to make a lot of sense:

Workspaces create value, not costs. It should be obvious to anyone invested in innovation that realizing complex ideas demands collaboration, that collaboration requires communication, and workspaces shape how we communicate. They’re more important than any org chart. But try telling that to companies obsessed with “wasted” space.

If clients will only manage what they can measure, then measure it. Again, this is obvious. But it’s also maddeningly difficult — how does one prove the value of a coffee machine? Perhaps this is where sensors and “sociometric badges” will come in. The first test of a quantified organisation should be learning how its office works.

Your workspace should conform to you. Someone once demonstrated to me the 500 possible office layouts they’d generated for a client, who would pick one and keep it for at least a decade. This is nuts. Workspaces should continuously evolve to support workers — call it the real-time office.

Ecosystems need membranes, not walls. No enterprise is an island, as it belongs to an “ecosystem” of partners, suppliers, and customers. This is conventional wisdom for Harvard Business Review subscribers, but it rarely manifests in the office. Workspaces should be permeable, welcoming outsiders while freeing mobile employees.

Serendipity trumps efficiency. Those outsiders bring the potential for serendipity, i.e. unplanned ideas or encounters that result from the discovery of tacit knowledge — the hunches and expertise that can’t be written down. These moments and meetings are the seeds of something new and unknowable, and thus can’t be factored into metrics measuring efficiency.

The city is not an extension of the office. That’s reversing the relationship: the office is merely one island in a sea of places to work. Duffy knew in 2008 that we would never realise the full potential of mobile workers without understanding that the scale had changed. Seven years later, we still haven’t.

Free HR, FM, and IT! All of these changes are predicated on radically different roles for what are traditionally powerless back-office functions. Who should be working together, where and how are all strategic questions and should be treated as such.

But then again, you knew this already. What Duffy envisioned in 2008, Strategy Plus is creating today.

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November 04, 2015  |  permalink

“Workspaces That Move People” is one of HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2016


I was delighted to learn that “Workspaces That Move People,” my feature in the October 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review written with Ben Waber and Jennifer Magnolfi, has been chosen for inclusion in HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2016: The Definitive Management Ideas of the Year from Harvard Business Review. You can read the entire essay here; the jacket copy is below:

We’ve combed through the ideas, insights, and best practices from the past year of “Harvard Business Review” to help you get up to speed fast on the relevant ideas driving business today. Revisit these topics now to make sure you’re incorporating the smartest, most up-to-date ideas in your organization, or keep it as a reference so you can access these memorable pieces when you need them most. The collection includes articles on leadership, strategy, and innovation, as well as articles to help you manage yourself and others. A year’s worth of management wisdom, all in one place.

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November 02, 2015  |  permalink

Numbers and Narrative: “The Fires” Next Time

I had the honor and pleasure of appearing on “Numbers and Narrative” — a weekly podcast devoted to the stories we tell ourselves about the quantifiable — co-hosted by The Fires author Joe Flood. We managed to dissect the promises and perils of the smart city in a brisk 45 minutes. Please give it a listen.


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October 28, 2015  |  permalink

Have Slides, Will Travel: Fall 2015 Edition


I’m currently in the throes of the fall conference season, which means traveling 44 hours to-and-from Singapore to spend just 36 hours attending the Abraaj Group’s Annual Forum — and finding time to take MIT’s autonomous car for a spin. Or did it take me for a spin? I’m not sure. A quick recap and preview of my travel schedule follows below, grouped by a few themes. (Not included: my 20th high school reunion.)

The future of mobility. I kicked off September at the Los Angeles office of Gensler with a talk on the future of urban mobility, drawing upon a combination of NYU Rudin’s “Reprogramming Mobility” project, my report for the University of Toronto’s Global Solution Networks, and my ongoing research for the New Cities Foundation’s Connected Mobility Initiative. I revisitied the theme later in the month with both the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and the Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA), both whose members are still coming to grips with the implications of mobility-as-as-service. (I sat down with the FIA for a brief chat following my talk.)

At the end of September, I flew to Toronto to present to the transportation task force of the York Regional Council, a body comprised of elected officials representing nine municipalities and more than a million people immediately north of Greater Toronto. The region expects to add an additional 500,000 residents over the next few decades, which has councilors and staff scrambling to implement bus rapid transit and a long-term strategy to densify development, increase service, and lure people away from their cars. I was honored to encourage them to keep one eye on the horizon for how the advent of new technologies and services that help or harm their plans.

From there, it was onto London for the second annual Cities on the Move conference hosted by the New Cities Foundation and Google, where I was interviewed by the BBC’s Gareth Mitchell. I moderated a panel on how cities might start to construct mobility-as-a-service platforms, beginning with Michael Glitz-Richter’s work in Bremen twenty years ago to current efforts to build a seamless transportation mesh in Finland. Next month, I’ll be the master of ceremonies at the Disrupting Mobility conference at the MIT Media Lab, followed by hosting the opening session of the 50th anniversary conference of the California Transit Association.

The future of work and the office. My other great passion besides transportation, this was the theme of my brief remarks at the Municipal Art Society Summit in New York this month, along with several sessions I moderated for the Abraaj Group in Singapore — although I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that. Nor can I say much about the master class I led for a Fortune 20 company on “serendipity engineering.” But next month, I’ll be in Paris for the OECD’s New World Forum, where I’m set to join a panel discussing the future of human labor (versus, you know, the robots).

The future of travel and tourism. In September, I had the pleasure of addressing both the Texas Travel Industry Association and the International Luxury Travel Meetings about the importance of urban networks, policy, and infrastructure in travel and tourism going forward. One idea that had special resonance with both audiences: that convention and visitors bureaus should fund new attractions and infrastructure in the mold of New York City’s High Line or Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park (which was built atop a highway). I’ll have the chance to expand upon this idea next month when I’m back in Dubai to help dream up ideas for a certain World’s Fair on the drawing boards…

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October 28, 2015  |  permalink

BBC World Service: Mobility-as-a-Service

While in London earlier this month for the second annual “Cities on the Move” conference hosted by the New Cities Foundation and Google, the BBC’s Gareth Mitchell kindly invited me back to once again appear on Click, the technology show he hosts for BBC World Service. I can’t seem to embed the audio for some reason. Please click on this link and fast-forward to the 8:00 mark for my high-speed thoughts on mobility-as-a-service.

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October 27, 2015  |  permalink

Fast Company: The Latest Medical Breakthrough In Spinal Cord Injuries Was Made By A Computer Program


(Originally published at Fast Company on October 14, 2015.)

Doctors have just discovered a previously unknown relationship between the long-term recovery of spinal cord injury victims and high blood pressure during their initial surgeries. This may seem like a small bit of medical news—though it will have immediate clinical implications—but what’s important is how it was discovered in the first place.

This wasn’t the result of a new, long-term study, but a meta-analysis of $60 million worth of basic research written off as useless 20 years ago by a team of neuroscientists and statisticians led by the University of California San Francisco and partnering with the software firm Ayasdi, using mathematical and machine learning techniques that hadn’t been invented yet when the trials took place. The process was outlined in a paper published today in Nature Communications, and hints at the possibility of medical breakthroughs lurking in the data of failed experiments.

“What was thought to have been a boondoggle turns out to have great value,” says Adam Ferguson, a principal investigator at UCSF’s Brain and Spinal Injury Center and one of the paper’s authors. Just how much is unclear until trials are conducted in humans, but the finding raises several interesting questions—notably whether scientists should publish their raw data for posterity and whether their time and funding would be better spent poring through old experiments than conducting new ones.

Ferguson’s team began by meticulously reconstructing data from multiple studies comprising some 3,000 animals, including more than 300 from the Multicenter Animal Spinal Cord Injury Study conducted at Ohio State University in the mid-1990s. Rather than draw on only published results, he and his colleagues contacted each researcher and asked for unpublished data and lab notes as well. “They were very cool about this,” says Ferguson. “A lot of scientists in other disciplines wouldn’t be—they’d feel like you were auditing them.”

And perhaps for good reason. A paper published in The Lancet last year estimated less than half of all findings make it into print, with the remainder comprising a “long tail of dark data” that may hold the key to science’s reproducibility crisis. Spinal cord injury researchers are facing a crisis of their own. Twenty years after Christopher Reeve’s paralysis shone a spotlight on their field, there haven’t been any breakthroughs. “There are no drugs,” Ferguson says. “It doesn’t have any real, agreed-upon therapeutic approach. That’s embarrassing. We should have something, at least.”

Instead, they have failures. One reason is the sheer number of variables. Spinal cord injuries are enormously complex and thus still poorly understood compared to other systems. Efforts to isolate simple causal mechanisms have proven elusive, “and that’s a real threat to discovering new therapies,” says Ferguson. So he and his team thought to test old, dark data again, this time using techniques designed for uncovering hidden relationships between large numbers of variables.

Their tool of choice was topological data analysis (TDA), a technique developed by Stanford mathematician (and paper coauthor) Gunnar Carlsson, using concepts from geometric topology—the study of highly complex shapes—to find patterns hidden in large datasets. Carlsson is also president of Ayasdi, the firm he cofounded to combine TDA with machine learning techniques to probe datasets for relationships between variables. (Ayasdi is one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in Big Data.) Before Ferguson had thought to use it for probing spinal cord injuries, Carlsson and others researchers had successfully employed TDA to find a unique mutation in breast cancers hiding in data sets that had been publicly available for more than a decade.

What sets Ayasdi apart from traditional competitors is its black box model: The software searches for patterns without human supervision (or bias) before rendering the results as a network diagram of variables for further analysis. “It’s the reverse of traditional hypothesis-driven science,” says Ferguson. “We could never have found this correlation with hypertension using traditional tools, because with thousands of variables to test, it would have never occurred to us.”

Does this mean that the process of discovery is over? That all new ideas will come from machines probing data and not from human ingenuity? While he rejects this “end of theory” idea as overblown, Ferguson does believe the first step in the scientific method—observation—has been radically complicated by Big Data and ripe for machine mediation. Or as Ayasdi CEO Gurjeet Singh told me earlier this year, “Traditionally, you have to be lucky, and then you have to have a stroke of insight. But the probability of being lucky is lower and lower over time, so you need these systems to do that work for you.”

In the case of the spinal cord injury data, Ayasdi’s TDA-driven approach mostly confirmed what researchers already knew: The drugs didn’t work. But the discovery of high blood pressure’s detrimental effects on long-term recovery has immediate implications for human patients, namely whether the use of hypertension drugs immediately after their injuries and before surgery could improve outcomes, a hypothesis Ferguson and colleagues intend to test shortly at UCSF.

In the long run, Ferguson believes retroactive data mining is “a worthwhile approach,” especially considering how much less expensive it is to sift old data again than run new trials. “For a little more than a million dollars, we’ve opened $60 million worth of value.”

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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company, author of the forthcoming book Engineering Serendipity, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. He is also a senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation — where he leads the Connected Mobility Initiative — a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute.

» More about Greg Lindsay

Articles by Greg Lindsay

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

The New York Times  |  April 2013

Engineering Serendipity

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Swedish Modern Comes To Town

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Working Beyond the Cube

Fast Company  |  December 2012/January 2013

Imagine Air Travel Without Hassle: Surf Air Can

WSJ  |  November 2012

Jeanne Gang

Fast Company  |  June 2012

That’s So Fly

» See all articles


July 20, 2016

New Cities Summit 2016: Mobility As A Service

July 20, 2016

Forget Autonomous Cars; Say Hello to Autonomous Buses

July 15, 2016

The Durst Conference 2016: “New Workplaces/New Workers”

July 03, 2016

“Divining Providencia” in Venice, Rotterdam, and Quito

» More blog posts