November 02, 2014  |  permalink

Quartz: Forget self-driving cars; we should be focusing on self-driving buses


(Originally published on November 2, 2014 at Quartz. Written with Anthony Townsend.)

The self-driving car has traveled a long and lonely road to get here. Introduced to the American public by General Motors at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the Depression-era dream of automated highways has perpetually lagged behind the present in drivers’ rear-view mirrors. But thanks largely to Google, the future once again appears to be gaining on us. A panel of Silicon Valley technology leaders recently polled by The Atlantic expects the first fully autonomous models to roll into our driveways in 2022.

But don’t count on it. The autonomous car will not be nearly as autonomous as its champions would have you believe.

When Google’s car took its first official driving test in Nevada in 2012, it struggled at times to pass—and this was on a course and under conditions of the company’s choosing. According to the state examiner’s log published last month by IEEE Spectrum, the self-driving Toyota Prius needed human help making turns and surrendered control completely when faced with the ambiguous terrain of roadside construction. The car wasn’t tested at all at railroad crossings or roundabouts, and Nevada’s DMV had agreed beforehand not to drive it in snow, ice or fog—none of which the car was designed to operate in.
Of course, self-driving cars will get smarter as computing power increases. But they will quickly encounter another real-world complication: other breeds of self-driving cars. In September, California joined Nevada in granting autonomous licenses, and within hours Audi and Mercedes-Benz squeezed ahead of Google in securing permits. There were merely the first in line. General Motors’ Cadillac division announced in August it would offer limited autonomy by 2017, and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently unveiled the Model D, an electric sedan with its own semi-autonomous features.

Further complicating matters will be unpredictable human drivers, who won’t give up their cars en masse. A survey of 1,533 US, UK, and Australian drivers published by University of Michigan researchers in July found that a majority of respondents had serious concerns about riding in autonomous cars—and more to the point, they wouldn’t pay extra for them. It’s taken more than a decade for drivers to seriously consider switching to hybrid and electric vehicles; it will take decades more to achieve a majority of self-driving vehicles on the roads.

As a result, by the time Google’s cars are ready for sale, they will have to share the roads with a slew of models produced by dozens of automakers, each with its own scheme for avoiding collisions. With traditional rules of the road shoved aside by overly cautious computers, one result might be epic gridlock, as they slow to a crawl attempting to work it out. Meanwhile, all the focus on vehicular autonomy has overshadowed the slow progress on essential protocols for car-to-car communications, an essential technology for mass automation of our roads. Drivers can expect years of technical and legal wrangling in addition to incompatibilities and glitches as Google’s and Tesla’s cars try to talk while traveling 60 miles (96 km) per hour. Tough security problems abound and various proposals to shuffle the unique ID of your car—so that it doesn’t become a privacy-compromised tracking device like your phone—have yet to be worked out.

» Continue reading...

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November 02, 2014  |  permalink

Inc.: Travel Without Tears


(Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Inc.)

Randy Petersen founded FlyerTalk, the Web’s largest frequent-flier community, in 1995 and sold it in 2007. He now runs MilePoint and BoardingArea—two more sites focusing on the ins and outs of air travel. His advice comes from hard experience, so hear him out. As told to Greg Lindsay.

Go monochrome. My uniform hasn’t changed in 20 years; every time I fly, I’m in Nike, and I’m all in black. I’m the most comfortable passenger the airline industry ever invented. I never worry about someone spilling stuff all over me. And I never have to take off a belt.

Don’t carry receipts. The worst thing is to be slowed down by paperwork. I use an app called Expensify to take a picture of every receipt as soon as it lands on the table. After that, I don’t care if I lose it.

Movies are for kids. Real road warriors get on the plane and just go to sleep. Don’t stay up all night watching movies, or waiting for someone to get upset about a Knee Defender. I’m a big believer in Benadryl. A little dose and I’m drowsy. The next thing I know, I’m where I should be.

Treat yourself. I’ve learned that in your middle years as a traveler, you stop thinking you’re invincible. It’s OK to spoil yourself along the way. Every time I see one of those half-hour massages at the airport—here’s my money, get me going. If I can’t get in a lounge for free, I’m good with spending $50. A familiar environment where I’m not fighting for power outlets is worth it. Cokes cost eight bucks in the terminal, anyway.

Stop schlepping. I still check bags, at least internationally, because you’re traveling with more than a backpack. I don’t like carrying stuff around if I don’t have to. Frequent fliers like me don’t pay $25 per bag anyway, so I might as well take advantage of it. I want to ensure I’m getting the most out of my benefits.

Arrive hungry. On board, food just doesn’t interest me. I’ve never seen it executed well on a long-haul flight, anyway.

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October 24, 2014  |  permalink

Sin City vs. SimCity

(This essay was commissioned by New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management as part of its 2014 research initiative “Re-Programming Mobility: The Digital Transformation of Transportation in the United States.” It is republished here in full.)


Las Vegas, 2016: It’s another sunny 103º day in Henderson — and the first of mandatory “dry-outs” without water service after five years of drought. Instead of driving his SUV to work — these days, it’s really just for weekend excursions — the lawyer opens the Shift app on his phone and enters his destination: Zappos’ headquarters. Seven minutes later, a chauffeured Tesla S sedan is ferrying him to work downtown, which has boomeranged from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Nevada to one of the wealthiest, thanks to Tony Hsieh.

Zappos’ CEO invested his $350 million personal fortune in creating an entrepreneurial utopia, perhaps the most ambitious piece of which was Shift — an all-inclusive car-, ride-, and bike-sharing service combining aspects of Zipcar, Uber, CitiBike, and RideScout. Instead of checking traffic or wondering when the bus will arrive, members ask the app for the fastest modes between A and B. The attorney didn’t choose a Tesla today; Shift’s “decision engine” chose for him. And while this trip is a simple pick-up and drop-off, there have been times when he’s been ordered by the app to park his Smart car in a designated spot along the curb and finish his journey on a Social Bicycle (SoBi) chained next to it — locking and unlocking both with his phone. Five hundred dollars per month is a small price to pay for mobility-as-a-service, and he knows it, because the payments on his other car had come to $750 a month before he sold it…

Milton Keynes, 2017: “The pods are naff,” the consultant’s husband had huffed when she mentioned at breakfast she had reserved one for her visit to Milton Keynes that morning. Upon arrival on the train from London, she had to admit he was right. Seeing them lined up empty outside the station, strobing in different shades of neon — looking down at her phone, she saw it was flashing the same garish shade of purple as the third one from the front — makes her reconsider her earlier enthusiasm. Approaching the two-wheeled self-driving pod resembling something out of Minority Report (a film that’s now fifteen years old, she remembers), she opens it with a tap of her phone. After placing her bag in the second seat, the door silently swings shut and then glides smoothly not onto the street, where traffic is zooming by at 70 mph, but onto the Redway pedestrian path — and without her steering.

On her way to the headquarters of Transport Systems Catapult — really, she could have walked, had she felt like traversing parking lots and dodging cars on Grafton Gate — the pod quietly creeps along the path, until it doesn’t. Whenever pedestrians, dogs, and other pods draw too close, it alternately slows, stops, or accelerates, depending on whatever algorithmic rules it silently consults. The ride lasts no more than a few minutes and is pleasantly uneventful, but by the end she’s resolved to use the city’s “mobility map” to hail one of its electric taxis after her meeting — after all, Milton Keynes had been designed for cars….

(Read the rest here.)

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October 08, 2014  |  permalink

Cities, Stars, and Serendipity


(In June, I was asked to speak at “The Purpose City,” an all-day event hosted by the architecture firm NBBJ. The essay below is adapted from my talk.)

How should we think about the city? Metaphors are dangerous; choose the wrong one, and you’ll wreck them for a century. Le Corbusier thought of the city mechanistically, as a “machine for living,” producing the Ville Radieuse and destruction in its wake. Earlier, Patrick Geddes had thought of the city ecologically, with architects and planners playing the role of gardeners — we should prune them, not tear them out by the roots. Although evocative, neither metaphor was correct.

Perhaps a better one is a star — a metaphor proposed, appropriately enough, by the Santa Fe Institute physicist Luis Bettancourt, who describes cities as “social reactors.” Instead of combining hydrogen atoms under tremendous pressure to produce light and heat via fusion, they compress people in space and time. The fusion of social networks produces new relationships through which new ideas might flow, leading to what Jane Jacobs called “new work” in The Economy of Cities, written before mainstream economists had any language to describe how and why cities exist at all. And the more densely we can compress these networks, the faster and hotter the reaction.

Surprisingly, some of the places that do this best are “informal” ones, where people live and work off the books. We see it today in the slums of Dharavi, in Mumbai, and Lagos’ Kibera. And we saw it in post-war Tokyo or parts of New York City a century ago. All of these are or were places in which everything is an asset to be sold, traded, or rented; every street is more than just a road, but also market, and everyone is an entrepreneur by necessity. When we talk about the “sharing economy” — or the Purpose City — what we are really talking about is a slum economy.

The Mumbai-based architecture collective CRIT investigated what makes these places white-hot social reactors — and what they found was a much more intensive use of public place, especially the street. Peoples’ willingness to utilize every space for any activity — and to ignore the boundaries between the public-and-private and legal-and-illegal — created the conditions in which fusion can occur.

From this research, CRIT identified two characteristics that make these districts special. The first is “the blur,” the compression of living, working, moving, and making into the same place and time. The second is the city’s “transactional capacity,” which doesn’t just mean market transactions, but personal ones — the ability to meet and converse. Slums, of course, are terrifically (and horrifically) transactional, where simply using the toiler carries a price. But they’re places of astonishing productivity as well.

A few oft-cited statistics estimate Dharavi has an economic output of nearly $1 billion each year, and that 85% of India’s jobs are in informal, unincorporated enterprises with fewer than ten employees. Seen one way, Dharavi is a hopeless slum; seen another, it’s the Lower East Side of New York a century ago.

No one wants to live in a slum, of course. But what can we learn from them in order to maximize the blur, and in turn maximize the output of a city’s social reactor? At one extreme is Le Corbusier’s radiant city of high-rises — modernist masterpieces with no blur. At the other is the slum, which lacks even the most basic services and as a result is constantly in motion. Where is the sweet spot between the two? Our goal should be to avoid over-formalizing the city, to create more interstitial spaces where human fusion can happen.

This is hardly a new idea. Jacobs reached the same conclusion when she wrote “new ideas must use old buildings.” Jurgen Habermas traced the beginning of such spaces to the London coffeehouses of the 17th century, his archetypal example of the public sphere. That was the London of Samuel Pepys — the original mobile worker. He worked from home and his office next door, from court and the docks, and from the taverns and coffe houses in an astoundingly blurry city. (Pepys greatest lament — all the time he wasted waiting for no-shows — has at last been solved by texting.)

The challenge facing us is how to build these blurry spaces, especially in a time of austerity, where resources are not forthcoming. We will have to hack the cities we have. For example, Marcus Westbury is an Australian arts festival organizer who decided to help his hometown of Newcastle bring its boarded-up downtown back to life again. What he discovered is that downtown’s landlords were perfectly happy to leave it that way — they couldn’t be bothered to lease their empty storefronts to entrepreneurs or artists because tax laws and leases favored keeping them empty until someone with deeper pockets came along. Westbury’s solution at Renew Newcastle was to deploy a new system of short-term, lightweight permits, hacking the existing regulations to put hundreds of people into spaces, thus increasing the blur downtown. Organizations in other cities are doing something similar, whether it’s New York’s Made in Lower East Side, or London’s 3space, which won the most recent FT/Citi Ingenuity Award.

Through initiatives such as these, combined with the startups of the sharing economy, we’ve taken the dynamics of slums and recreated them using digital networks. This is what post-austerity America looks like — with Airbnb, every home is an unlicensed hotel, and with UberX and Lyft, everyone with a car is a cab driver. And with new apps like Breather, your apartment becomes someone’s office for an hour.

If cities are comprised of social networks moving through space in time, with nodes overlapping and fusing, then those nodes are becoming increasingly visible. Tinder is a crude but telling example. The reason Tinder is the fastest-growing dating app in the history of online dating is because it’s proximity-based — the promise is that if you make a match, they’re close at hand. If serendipity has traditionally been the spark igniting fusion, then an entire generation of apps is trying to engineer it. As we overlay more information, and more legibility on top of cities, we make the blur visible — and actionable. And manipulable.

The real test will be to implement these tools and networks in a place like Detroit, which has tens of thousands of abandoned, but still salvageable buildings, all of which have nominal owners, many of which are in foreclosure, but all of which exist as a purely physical fact — which means they can be occupied, activated, and used to restore the city’s blur. We’ll need new networks that enhances our ability to use these spaces by making them visible and usable — and does so as a public good, not a profit center.

So when it comes to building the Purpose City, what we’re really trying to do is accelerate the speed of its reactions. We’re trying to build new spaces for encouraging serendipity and forging new relationships. We’re trying to create public spaces that increase the density of interaction rather than just people. When we do that, we create a brilliant city as well.

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September 22, 2014  |  permalink

Techonomy Detroit: Hiking, Biking, and Responsive Transit

While at Techonomy Detroit last week, I also moderated a session on the future of transportation starring Ford’s Don Butler, Alta’s Jeff Olson, Urban Engines’ Shiva Shivakumar, and Streetline’s Zia Yusuf. What does Detroit look like in a world of seamless mobility? Click on the video above to find out.

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September 19, 2014  |  permalink

How I Spent My Detroit Vacation


At the Techonomy Detroit conference: From left, Phil Cooley of Ponyride in Detroit, Gabriella Gomez-Mont of City Laboratory in Mexico City and Greg Lindsay of World Policy Institute and Fast Company lead a panel discussion on how technology will shape the future of cities. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)

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September 19, 2014  |  permalink

Harvard Business Review: 6 New Workspaces That Are Killing the Corporate Campus


(A shorter version of this story originally appeared at Harvard Business Review on September 18, 2014.)

To hear Samuel Pepys tell it, the 17th Century diarist and Royal Navy clerk was the world’s first mobile worker. As the architect Frank Duffy notes in his book Work and the City, Pepys tirelessly traversed London giving and taking orders and trading gossip, whether at the docks, at court, or in one of city’s fashionable new coffee houses. His greatest annoyance? Having “lost my labour” when one lord or another failed to appear for a meeting.

Some things never change, but Pepys’ peripatetic routine underscores just how recent, and how artificial, the modern office is. The notion that a single organization would monopolize a space, often for a single function, is a distinctly 20th century one. The demands of the vertically integrated corporation required tight coordination in both space and time, what Duffy calls “synchrony” and “co-location.” The solution was the skyscraper, and later the suburban campus.

But as workflows and processes moved first into software and then into the cloud, the questions of how and where and with whom we should work are being asked anew. Just as Pepys’ treated London’s coffee houses as an extension of his office, new heterogenous workspaces are emerging that capitalize on these changes. Here’s a short taxonomy:

1. Real-Time Offices
The typical office is designed to last years, leaving teams to struggle against static layouts even as the pace of change and competition accelerates. Real-time offices attempt to flip the script, dynamically reconfiguring themselves to mirror how work actually gets done, rather than forcing workers to conform to its limitations. Facebook will try to do this with the Frank Gehry-designed extension of its Silicon Valley campus — nearly half a million square feet of open space until one roof in which its engineers can rearrange desks at will . But the best example may be the billion-dollar videogame-maker Valve Software, where employees decide to join (or switch) projects by unplugging their desks and wheeling them over to their new team . As a result, very important decision — from who to hire to which games will ship — begins as a choice of who to sit with.

2. Permeable Offices
Instead of retreating into their shells, some organizations welcome other firms and freelancers to work alongside employees in hopes of learning from them. Permeable offices act as a membrane, selectively allowing these strangers inside. Capital One , Rackspace , Steelcase, and Amway have all experimented with this model, but the most successful example may be AT&T’s Foundry network of innovation centers . In those offices, selected startups and entrepreneurs work in cross-company teams with AT&T partners such as Intel, Cisco, and Ericsson along with its own engineers. One of these startups, Intucell, improved AT&T’s call retention and throughput speeds by 10%  and was later bought by Cisco for $475 million . In general, Foundry teams have cut the development time of new products from 3 years to 9 months.

3. Office Networks
Behind the current backlash against the open office and its constant interruptions is the dawning recognition that not one workspace fits all. According to Gensler’s 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey , knowledge workers with choices of when and where to work are significantly more satisfied, effective, and innovative than their peers. Taking advantage of this trend, coworking chains such as Work in Progress and NextSpace have begun offering memberships across a range of location, with each possessing its own vibe, design, and clientele. The Santa Cruz-based headset-maker Plantronics uses NextSpace’s Bay Area branches as its satellite offices, with the company’s software division electing to work from San Jose to be closer to new hires and customers .

4. Office Neighborhoods
Realizing the benefits of urban amenities when it comes to wooing talent, some companies and developers are treating entire neighborhoods as an urban campus. This includes Zappos and the Downtown Project’s goal of building a creative class company town from scratch, but also Seattle’s South Lake Union — where Amazon is building its permeable new headquarters — and Forest City’s 5M Project in San Francisco. The latter couples a Yahoo office with a coworking space, maker space, and arts incubator in a single city block — a major selling point to tenants for the 2 million sq. ft. of office space it intends to build on the site.

5. Office-as-a-Service (OaaS)
The consulting and design firm Strategy Plus estimates workspace utilization peaks at 42% during the workday, meaning more than half of all (technically occupied) offices are currently sitting empty. They comprise a ripe opportunity for the so-called “sharing economy” to transform every underutilized conference room, hotel lobby, or even home into a bookable meeting space or quiet nook. AirBnB would appears to be a natural fit for this role, but the company seems content with overnight stays. Enter more aggressive startups such Liquidspace , which not only allows users to search for usable spaces on its network, but also specific individuals — who would you like to work with today?

6. The New Guilds
Company men not only looked to GE, GM, and IBM for a paycheck and benefits, but also for an identity, too. The same can’t be said of an estimated 53 million American freelance workers , many of whom have had those identities — and their benefits — stripped from them during the long recession. Enter a handful of coworking chains and startup incubators to fill the void for those affluent enough to pay for the advantages of corporate scale without the obligations of drawing a paycheck. WeWork offers its 3,500 members discounted health insurance, hosts an annual raucous summer camp , and touts itself as “the physical social network.” San Francisco’s RocketSpace combines coworking with a tech accelerator, matchmaking tenants with hungry venture capitalists who consider their residency a badge of prestige.


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September 12, 2014  |  permalink

Fast Company: Forget What You Think You Know About The Office Of The Future


Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman offers her take on my story in the new issue of Harvard Business Review (written with Ben Waber and Jennifer Magnolfi).

Forget what you know about how to maximize productivity.

That includes knowing which tasks can be breezed through with the help of a playlist, or exactly when to down that cup of coffee (or switch to another beverage) and when to mindlessly surf the web.

According to a new report published in Harvard Business Review, the key to unlock the greatest productivity isn’t necessarily in the hands of the individual employee. Rather, authors Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi, and Greg Lindsay posit that chance and face-to-face encounters are the way anyone working in the knowledge economy is going to improve performance. That’s in spite of technology that keeps us “connected,” even when we work remotely.

Dishman was kind enough to quote me opining on the invisible social networks within organization and how the combination of data and workspace design can reveal and enhance them:

“One thing I’m finding is the notion there are a lot of informal social networks inside of organizations,” says Lindsay. From chat rooms like Yammer and Slack to actual gatherings in a break room, these communication networks have the potential to reveal a lot more about the employees than an org chart.

He cites the work of Ronald Burt at the University of Chicago, who discusses “structural holes” in organizations. By studying informal communication, Burt’s been able to show how people who straddle different groups are actually more powerful than their titles would suggest. “How many years before they redesign [the organizational hierarchy],” he muses.

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September 09, 2014  |  permalink

Harvard Business Review: Workspaces That Move People


“Workspaces That Move People” is my new story in the October issue of Harvard Business Review. Written with Ben Waber and Jennifer Magnolfi, together we make the case that we are finally — finally — able to prove that: a) where and how you work define who you work with; b) who you work with drives group performance to a large extent, and c) we can finally start to map workspace performance metrics to organizational ones.

In a nutshell, it means we’re this close to finally designing (and then constantly redesigning) workspaces that actually help you do your job, rather than struggling against them. The key is deploying a new generation of sensors — in our phones, in our offices, or even worn around your neck (or your wrist) — that can collect the necessary breadth and depth of data. With that in hand, we can start to understand who we should really be working with, where, and why — a milestone that means the end of the office as we know it.

I had the pleasure of writing about Ben’s work in The New York Times and Jennifer’s work in Fast Company last year. I’ve been searching for ways to connect the pair’s ideas, and it was AMO’s Daniel Pittman who suggested we join forces and write an article about it. As with most of my recent work, this piece tries to tease out the implications of how real-time data and social network analysis will map onto physical space. What if you shouldn’t be working with your nominal colleagues, but with different teams at different offices — or even at different companies? Knowledge work has been confined to the office nearly a century; but now we have the means to disperse organizations across cities (which I hope will be as good for the cities in question as for the organizations).

The beginning of the piece is below; ready the entire thing at

In Silicon Valley, the tight correlation between personal interactions, performance, and innovation is an article of faith, and innovators are building cathedrals reflecting this. Google’s new campus is designed to maximize chance encounters. Facebook will soon put several thousand of its employees into a single mile-long room. Yahoo notoriously revoked mobile work privileges because, as the chief of human resources explained, “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions.” And Samsung recently unveiled plans for a new U.S. headquarters, designed in stark contrast to its traditionally hierarchical culture. Vast outdoor areas sandwiched between floors will lure workers into public spaces, where Samsung’s executives hope that engineers and salespeople will actually mingle. “The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor,” says Scott Birnbaum, a vice president of Samsung Semiconductor. The new building “is really designed to spark not just collaboration but that innovation you see when people collide.”

Faith is nice, but do executives have proof that this works? Social space like Samsung’s could be just another in a long line of fads and broken promises in workspace design: The “action office” becomes the cubicle. Cubicles are torn down for open plans, which leave introverts pining for private space. Quads. Hotel space. Couches. Rotating desk assignments. Standing desks. Treadmill desks. No desks. With apologies to Mark Twain, there’s no such thing as a new office design. We just take old ideas, put them into a kind of kaleidoscope, and turn. How do we know whether any of these approaches is effective? The key metric companies use to measure space—cost per square foot—is focused on efficiency. Few companies measure whether a space’s design helps or hurts performance, but they should. They have the means. The same sensors, activity trackers, smartphones, and social networks that they eagerly foist on customers to reveal their habits and behavior can be turned inward, on employees in their work environments, to learn whether it’s true that getting engineers and salespeople talking actually works.

We’ve already begun to collect this kind of performance data using a variety of tools, from simple network analytics to sociometric badges that capture interaction, communication, and location information. After deploying thousands of badges in workplaces ranging from pharmaceuticals, finance, and software companies to hospitals, we’ve begun to unlock the secrets of good office design in terms of density, proximity of people, and social nature. We’ve learned, for example, that face-to-face interactions are by far the most important activity in an office. Birnbaum is on to something when he talks about getting employees to “collide,” because our data suggest that creating collisions — chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization — improves performance.

We’ve also learned that spaces can even be designed to produce specific performance outcomes — productivity in one space, say, and increased innovation in another, or both in the same space but at different times. By combining the emerging data with organizational metrics such as total sales or number of new-product launches, we can demonstrate a workspace’s effect on the bottom line and then engineer the space to improve it. This will lead to profound changes in how we build our future workspaces. Here are a few:

Recognize office space as not just an amortized asset but a strategic tool for growth. The consulting and design firm Strategy Plus estimates that office utilization peaks at 42% on any given day. By that logic, the best way to manage cost per square foot is to remove “wasted” square feet. But the data we’re generating reveal that investments in re-engineering space for interactions over efficiency can increase sales or new-product launches.

Design offices to reflect how 21st-century digital work actually happens. The buildings we go to every day haven’t changed as much as have the tools we use to get work done. Merging digital communication patterns with physical space can increase the probability of interactions that lead to innovation and productivity.

Re-engineer offices to weave a building, a collection of buildings, or a variety of workspaces into the urban fabric. The office of the future will most likely include highly networked, shared, multipurpose spaces that redefine boundaries between companies and improve everyone’s performance.

Getting there won’t be easy. It will require collecting much more data to inform new design and management principles while engaging urban planners and municipal governments. It will also transform HR, IT, and facilities management from support functions to facilitators. But if companies can change their spaces to refl ect how people work, performance improvement will follow. Don’t take that on faith. There are data to prove it….

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August 31, 2014  |  permalink

“Revolution of the Present”

Three years ago, filmmaker Marc Lafia interviewed me for his documentary-in-progress, Revolution of the Present. At long last, the final cut has arrived (and embedded above for your viewing pleasure). What’s it all about? I’ll let Marc explain:

The hope was that network technology would bring us together, create a “global village,” make our political desires more coherent. But what’s happened is that our desires have become distributed, exploded into images and over screens our eyes relentlessly drop to view.

REVOLUTION OF THE PRESENT examines the strange effects — on cities, economies, people — of what we might call accelerated capitalism. Set against a visually striking array of sounds and images, 15 international thinkers speak to the complexity and oddity of this contemporary moment as they discuss what is and what can be.

Humanity seems to be stuck in the perpetual now that is our networked world. More countries are witnessing people taking to the streets in search of answers. Revolution of the Present, the film, features interviews with thought leaders designed to give meaning to our present and precarious condition. This historic journey allows us to us re-think our presumptions and narratives about the individual and society, the local and global, our politics and technology. This documentary analyzes why the opportunity to augment the scope of human action has become so atomized and diminished. Revolution of the Present is an invitation to join the conversation and help contribute to our collective understanding.

As Saskia Sassen, the renowned sociologist, states at the outset of the film, ‘we live in a time of unsettlement, so much so that we are even questioning the notion of the global, which is healthy.’ One could say that our film raises more questions than it answers, but this is our goal. Asking the right questions and going back to beginnings may be the very thing we need to do to understand the present, and to move forward from it with a healthy skepticism.

Revolution of the Present is structured as an engaging dinner conversation, there is no narrator telling you what to think, it is not a film of fear of the end time or accusation, it is an invitation to sit at the table and join an in depth conversation about our diverse and plural world.

If this film is a dinner conversation, then I’m the guest who’s had too much to drink. I hope you’ll stay for dessert.

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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

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

Next American City  |  May 2012

Chartered Territory

The New York Times  |  Feburary 2012

Designing a Fix for Housing

Departures  |  October 2011

Instant Cities

Travel + Leisure  |  October 2011

The Future of Travel

» See all articles


July 26, 2015

reSITE: Engineering Serendipity

July 10, 2015

The Cities Season (or: How I Spent My Summer Vacation)

July 06, 2015

Can Cities Really Save the World?

June 26, 2015

Seizing the Urban Moment

» More blog posts