April 18, 2013 | permalink
(Originally published at Co.Exist on April 18, 2013).
Although it sounds like a scene from Ocean’s 14—100 Tesla S sedans cruising the Strip, eventually converging on Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s downtown penthouse—Project 100 is the latest plank in Hsieh’s $350 million Downtown Project, his privately-funded plan to simultaneously revitalize downtown Las Vegas and evolve his company. Project 100 is the code name for an ambitious new car-, bike-, and bus-sharing service with the fleet of Teslas (ordered late last month for $62,400 apiece and up) at its core.
Members can expect to pay $400 per month (less than it costs to lease a Tesla S, even using Tesla CEO’s Elon Musk’s fuzzy accounting) for a metropolitan transit system comprised of the aforementioned Tesla sedans, equipped with professional drivers (a la Uber), 100 short-range electric vehicles you drive yourself (like Zipcar), 100 bikes (reminiscent of London’s and New York’s bike-sharing systems), and shuttle buses with 100 stops across the metropolitan Vegas area. A smart phone app will calculate the proximity and availability of each depending on factors like membership level and supply-and-demand. The range of options might look like this:
1.Be picked up by a driver in a Tesla in 3 minutes.
2. Drive yourself in a low range electric vehicle that’s 0.2 miles away
3. Grab a bike that’s 0.1 miles away.
4. Hop on the party bus that will be near you in 4 minutes.
“We’re asking members to get rid of their cars,” according to Project 100’s FAQ, and to replace it with an app.
The project fills a niche in Hsieh’s larger vision for Vegas, which is based on what he calls “the three Cs”: community, collisions and co-learning. Building a downtown community in Zappos’ image requires airlifting entrepreneurs lured by Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund, budgeting $50 million for education—including a thousand Teach For America staff and alumni—and moving 1,200 Zappos employees from their suburban campus into the former City Hall this fall.
“Collisions” refers to their serendipitous meetings in the streets, and in the Downtown Project’s own coworking chain, Work In Progress, which features the Las Vegas branch of the tech incubator General Assembly (another Vegas Tech Fund investment). And that, in turn, leads to the sharing of good ideas (i.e. co-learning). Living in downtown, Hsieh likes to say, “will make you smarter.”
Project 100 is designed to make those downtown collisions more accessible to non-residents:
We see an opportunity to hack density and use tools like Project 100 to equalize the time it takes someone who lives two miles away to get to and from a certain bar or restaurant within the time it takes someone who lives five blocks away. This is how we’ll do it and we think it’s a model that will scale in Las Vegas and in other cities.
Yes, it’s built to scale. The Downtown Project eschewed bringing Uber or Zipcar to town in favor of building its own technology with the help of Vegas startup Local Motion. Although pricing has yet to be announced, the project’s Zach Ware (also a co-founder of Work In Progress and Hsieh’s right-hand man) says the system will be run at a profit, underscoring the fact that the Downtown Project is neither a public agency nor a public-private partnership, but a private entity that both understands the benefits and the business opportunities of good urbanism. It might be the first, but it won’t be the last—Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert is planning a similarly radical transformation of downtown Detroit—and soon it might be coming to the city near you.
April 05, 2013 | permalink
WHEN Yahoo banned its employees from working from home in February, the reasons it gave had less to do with productivity than serendipity. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” explained the accompanying memo. The message was clear: doing your best work solo can’t compete with lingering around the coffee machine waiting for inspiration — in the form of a colleague — to strike.
That same day, Google provided details of its new campus in Mountain View, Calif., to Vanity Fair. Buildings resembling bent rectangles were designed, in the words of the search giant’s real estate chief, to maximize “casual collisions of the work force.” Rooftop cafes will offer additional opportunities for close encounters, and no one in the complex will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk away from one another. “You can’t schedule innovation,” he said, as Google knows well, attributing the genesis of such projects as Gmail, Google News and Street View to engineers having fortuitous conversations at lunch.
Silicon Valley is obsessed with serendipity, the reigning buzzword at last month’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival. The term, coined by the British aristocrat Horace Walpole in a 1754 letter, long referred to a fortunate accidental discovery. Today serendipity is regarded as close kin to creativity — the mysterious means by which new ideas enter the world. But are hallway collisions really the best way to stoke innovation?
As Yahoo and Google see it, serendipity is largely a byproduct of social networks. Close-knit teams do well at tackling the challenges in front of them, but lack the connections to spot complementary ideas elsewhere in the company. The University of Chicago sociologist Ronald S. Burt calls these organizational gaps “structural holes.” In a 2004 study of 673 managers at the defense contractor Raytheon, Mr. Burt found that managers who serendipitously bridged such gaps were more likely to generate good ideas (and advance professionally as a result). “This is not creativity born of genius,” he wrote. “It is creativity as an import-export business.” In such cases, serendipity is the spontaneous plugging of these holes, over which good ideas flow.
Whereas Mr. Burt painstakingly assembled his analysis by hand, today sites like Facebook and LinkedIn contain enough information to do so automatically. Last month, researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University detailed how they were able to construct social network maps of a half-dozen technology companies — including one with more than 50,000 employees — in a matter of hours using readily available data. Armed with such maps, says Michael Fire, the paper’s lead author, managers can spot isolated teams and structural holes, tweaking the organizational structure in real time. Rather than wait for their employees to cross paths, they could simply make the necessary introductions.
One reason structural holes persist is our overwhelming preference for face-to-face interactions. Almost 40 years ago, Thomas J. Allen, a professor of management and engineering at M.I.T., found that colleagues who are out of sight are frequently out of mind — we are four times as likely to communicate regularly with someone sitting six feet away from us as we are with someone 60 feet away, and almost never with colleagues in separate buildings or floors.
And we get a particular intellectual charge from sharing ideas in person. In a paper published last year, researchers at Arizona State University used sensors and surveys to study creativity within teams. Participants felt most creative on days spent in motion meeting people, not working for long stretches at their desks.
The sensors in the A.S.U. study were supplied by Sociometric Solutions, a spinoff company of the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Human Dynamics Laboratory that uses “sociometric badges” to measure workers’ movements, speech and conversational partners. One discovery, says Ben Waber, a co-founder of the company and a visiting scientist at M.I.T., was that employees who ate at cafeteria tables designed for 12 were more productive than those at tables for four, thanks to more chance conversations and larger social networks. That, along with things like companywide lunch hours and the cafes Google is so fond of, can boost individual productivity by as much as 25 percent.
“If you just think of serendipity as an interaction with an unintended outcome, you can orchestrate pleasant surprises,” says Scott Doorley, a creative director at Stanford University’s Institute of Design. He and his colleague Scott Witthoft have instituted simple measures like positioning couches near doorways and stocking rooms with multiple types of seating to encourage lingering conversations.
Dr. Waber goes further in his forthcoming book “People Analytics,” envisioning a sensor-strewn office that reconfigures itself each morning courtesy of algorithms that plug any nagging structural holes by reassigning seats. “We’re still in the very early stages of engineering serendipity,” he says. What comes next may make the data-driven Googleplex look touchy-feely by comparison.
Greg Lindsay is a visiting scholar at the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University and co-author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.”
March 27, 2013 | permalink
Last spring, I was invited by Intel futurist Brian David Johnson to address Intel’s Future of Work summit in Haifa, Israel alongside Unwired Ventures’ Philip Ross, the Manpower Group’s David Arkless, and Intel’s own Tony Salvador. The resulting discussions were distilled into a whitie paper, “The Future of Knowledge Work,” and published last fall. From the executive summary:
1. The definition of an employee is on the cusp of a transformation. Employee attitudes and expectations for flexibility will influence where, when, and how people work.
2. Dynamic and agile team structures will become the norm, and the default mode of employment will look more like a gun for hire (contractor) than employment structures of the past.
3. The location of work will vary widely. Offices will serve as temporary anchor points for human interaction rather than daily travel destinations. Office as a Service (OaaS) will become a strategic tool to land employees in the right place, at the right time.
4. Smart systems will emerge and collaborate with humans, changing the nature of work, and driving a re-imagination of work content and work process.
5. A second wave of consumerization via services, “Servicification”, will usher in changes to corporate IT organizations in a way more impactful then the first. The magnitude and speed of disruption will be propelled by short software development cycles and simplicity in wide deployment of services and apps quickly. Hardware changes driven by the iPhone and iPad in the first wave of consumerization will seem long-lived in comparison.
Download the whole thing here.
March 20, 2013 | permalink
(Originally published on March 20, 2013 by Fast Company’s Co.Exist.)
A young monarch, impressed by the handful of expatriates who call his backward kingdom home and desperately coveting their wealth, decrees a new global capital from scratch, nakedly aping the rich ones he had visited in the West. Drafting an army of slave labor, he orders canals, palaces and a harbor built in a miserable climate—one that requires importing the city’s entire population. The story of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum in a nutshell? Try Russia’s Peter the Great and St. Petersburg, founded nearly three centuries earlier in 1703.
Journalist Daniel Brook draws a straight line between the two, through another pair of instant metropolises, Shanghai and Mumbai, in his new book A History of Future Cities. The four are as much “ideas” as places, he argues—Eastern cities in agrarian backwaters that copied the West architecturally in hopes of borrowing their modernity. To whatever extent they’ve succeeded, they point the way forward for the next urban billion. “A city like Berlin, with its neoclassical parliament and museum buildings, is no different than St. Petersburg,” Brook writes. “Berlin feels less Disneyfied than St. Petersburg only because the ruse has worked.”
“I’m more sympathetic to Jane Jacobs and democratic urbanism than the wholesale destruction of the past,” he says. “But a city also needs the unhinged ambition of a Robert Moses. The book is the story of all these people who were laughed at, and places that weren’t taken seriously. What’s interesting about Dubai is that we are living through another of these eras—‘Haha, look at these silly Arabs and their giant buildings,’ which is exactly the reaction the Russians got, and how the London and Paris papers described Shanghai.”
Brooks’ account focuses as much on each city’s “legal architecture” as its skyscrapers, whether it’s Peter’s shaving of his noblemen’s beards and mustaches, the colonialist institutions of the British Raj, state capitalist China, or the free zones of Dubai. Whereas master builders such as Moses or Le Corbusier were the only ones who dared build cities from scratch, today the task falls to McKinsey or PricewaterhouseCoopers consultants.
“Is McKinsey doing a better job of designing these places than Oscar Niemeyer [the primary architect of Brasiliá] or Le Corbusier?” Brook asks rhetorically. “I think they’re doing an equally bad job. Any place that aspires to be instantly modern implements the fashions of the day—the intellectual, political, and economic fashions—to the most extreme extent possible. This explains the Dubai real estate crash: A bunch of bankers in the West invented credit derivatives, and nobody ate more of them than Dubai. It speaks volumes about the intellectual fashions of today. Consultants are the ones building cities; in the 1950s, visionary architects did.”
March 13, 2013 | permalink
A month ago, I had the pleasure of recruiting six teams — from Studio Gang Architects, MIT DUSP, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Columbia’s Studio-X, Open Plans, and Fast Company — to play the new version of SimCity, to see what the professionals could do in light of the game’s limitations. What we discovered is that old habits die hard. You can read Fast Company’s lengthy report here.
March 02, 2013 | permalink
(Originally published at Next City on February 28, 2013.)
Yahoo’s decision to revoke its employees’ right to work from home has enraged urbanists and feminists alike. The memo explaining the decision — issued last Friday and subsequently leaked to the tech reporting website All Things D — cited the need to be “physically together” to turn the faltering search giant around:
To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.
Without meaning to, Yahoo has ignited a debate about proximity’s role in innovation and work/life balance — both fueled in part by the persona of its 37-year-old CEO, Marissa Mayer, who is seen as both a feminist role model (she took over the company while pregnant with her first child), and as the most prominent Googler-in-exile, remaking her new company in her old control-freak image. Working-from-home mothers have accused Mayer of dragging them back to the Stone Age, while the sociologist Richard Florida has spent this week fulminating about Silicon Valley’s “nerdistans” and their crimes against both cities and the creative class.
“Amazing leap,” he tweeted. “Work from home = low productivity + low interaction. Work from office = high productivity + hi[gh] interaction. MEASURE IT.”
Some have. MIT Media Lab visiting scientist Ben Waber and a team from IBM closely measured the output of 161 programmers working across 20 teams. Remote groups were 8 percent less likely than teams working in close proximity to communicate about critical bottlenecks in the code, leading to delays.
“For Yahoo, then, this means their workforce becomes about 3 percent more effective with the stroke of a pen,” Waber wrote on his blog Tuesday.
February 25, 2013 | permalink
(Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Fast Company.)
Rising beside an industrial canal near Stratford, the site of last summer’s Olympic Games, a slender wooden tower marks the spot of London’s most ambitious redevelopment scheme. At its base is Dane’s Yard Kitchen, a smart new restaurant tucked inside a former ink factory,filled this afternoonwith a multi-ethnic throng of families enjoying a late lunch.
“This place was abandoned for 60 years before Ikea put money into it,” the bartender says, waving at the concrete walls and minimalist fixtures. “They’re going to build shops, schools, theaters, a hotel,” along with flats to accommodate 6,000 people in the 26 acres of what will come to be known as Strand East, all at an estimated cost of around a half-billion dollars. Clearly, this is Ikea on a different scale than anything we’re used to.
February 12, 2013 | permalink
(This article appears in the March 2013 issue of Fast Company.)
In 2011, when the electronics firm Plantronics redesigned its headquarters in Santa Cruz, California, executives decided to remove the desks for a third of the firm’s 500 local staff. Employees were given a choice: They could work daily from home; they could commute to headquarters; or they could join one of three Bay Area locations of NextSpace, a four-year-old company that runs a chain of work spaces buzzing with freelancers, salespeople, and entrepreneurs. A dozen or so opted to work regularly at a NextSpace branch tucked inside a former bank building in downtown San Jose, where a sign outside screams working alone sucks. Inside were all the comforts of a typical Silicon Valley office, including strong Wi-Fi, stronger coffee, plush couches, individual workstations, communal tables, and the keyboard clatter of 70 people working alone together.
Plantronics is engaged in “coworking”—that is, toiling alongside someone who isn’t a colleague. In the past few years, the population of these spaces has moved beyond assorted freelancers and the newly unemployed to something far less marginal. “People are burrowing into their social networks in addition to their organizations,” says Chris Mach, a global workplace strategist for AT&T. Mach is placing dozens of his company’s best researchers, product developers, and technologists in coworking hubs across the country, and he has invited startups and partners such as Ericsson to work alongside them. The goals: spot talent, inspire creativity, and get products to market faster.
There are now an estimated 90,000 coworkers worldwide, nearly half of whom are in the United States. The number of dedicated spaces for them has doubled every year since 2005, to more than 1,800 locations, reported Deskmag, as of last summer. NextSpace plans to open 25 offices across the United States over the next five years. A startup named Serendipity Labs in Rye, New York, will offer corporate memberships in more than 200 U.S. locations. WeWork, with 3,000 members in nine buildings across three cities, tags itself as “The Physical Social Network.”
Plantronics and AT&T are part of a vanguard of corporations placing employees in such spaces. According to the Deskmag survey, nearly one in 10 coworkers are employed by large or medium-size businesses. Accenture, PwC, and Capgemini have all deployed teams to various spaces; so has Twitter in Detroit. In London, Google is backing Campus, a seven-story complex that reserves one floor for Google employees and two for coworking facilities. Google is less interested in saving rent than in meeting smart people. “For companies that seek to acquire a lot of talent, something like this makes a lot of sense,” says Elizabeth Varley, CEO of TechHub, an entrepreneurs’ collective and another Campus tenant.
Proximity also seems to stimulate innovation. A recent study of some 35,000 academic papers found that the best, most-widely cited research came from coauthors sitting less than 10 meters apart. “How closely they worked mattered as much, if not more, than their affiliation,” says the study’s author, Isaac Kohane of Harvard Medical School. Coworking’s combination of casual relationships and shared spaces, he suggests, can lead to some of an employee’s most fruitful collaborations.
February 08, 2013 | permalink
(Originally published at Fast Company’s Co.Design on February 8, 2013.)
Zappos has a cubicle problem. The online retailer is famous for its fanatical devotion to both customer service and corporate “cultural fit,” going so far as to pay insufficiently committed new hires as much as $2,000 to leave. The epicenter of this cult is the Zappos headquarters in suburban Las Vegas, where beneath the glitter and confetti piled on every surface (Zappos Family Core Value #4: “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness”) in the name of boosting morale (#7: Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit) are vanilla cubicles that wouldn’t look out of place at Dunder Mifflin. Which would be fine, were it not for item #6 on the company’s list of prime directives: “Pursue Growth and Learning.” Cubes are not exactly optimal for that.
Which is why the cubes will be cast aside when Zappos moves downtown this fall to new digs in the former City Hall after a $60 million renovation. In addition to his 10 core values guiding the company’s cultural evolution, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh has added three Cs: collision, community, and co-learning. Hsieh’s big bet is that exposing his employees to serendipity—within both the office and the city—will ultimately make them smarter, happier, and more productive. That means: no hiding behind partitions.
Zappos isn’t scheduled to start moving into City Hall until September, but in the meantime, the company’s merchandising and design teams have already moved downtown into two floors of temporary office space doubling as a testbed for Hsieh and his lieutenants to put their theories into practice. Here’s what the rest of Zappos’ 1,200 employees have to look forward to:
1. POWER AND ETHERNET CORDS DANGLING FROM THE CEILING.
“The most important quality of this space is adaptability,” says Zach Ware, Hsieh’s right-hand when it comes to planning the move. “Ceiling power-and-data was something we had a hunch about, and so we went to Facebook”—which instituted the practice first—“and they confirmed we weren’t crazy. We had to convince every architect and every fire inspector—who insisted it would be a mess—this was okay. So you’ll notice that nothing in this space is tied down,” which means moving the desks of the resident merchandising, design, and creative teams is simple and constant.
2. TRADE PERSONAL SPACE FOR COMMON AREAS.
The original cubicle—the Action Office II from Herman Miller—was later denounced by one of its designers as perfect for employers “looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies.” But those cubes were spacious compared to the desks at Zappos’ downtown office, which offer just 70 square feet of personal space—barely a third of the industry standard. “We still have a responsibility to maximize our density,” Ware says, and that means trading personal space for more common areas, ranging from pods of oversized, high-backed couches to communal tables strategically positioned between groups.
“That wouldn’t happen in Henderson,” Ware says, pointing to one such table around which a gaggle of employees are eating cake. “I know for a fact that three or four different departments are represented there. They wouldn’t have collided if there wasn’t a space for doing that.”
3. MAKING YOU GO OUT OF YOUR WAY FOR THE GOOD OF THE COMPANY.
Zappos’ suburban campus is famous for its single set of doors—anyone leaving or returning from lunch is bound to run into a colleague. Downtown employees are spread across two floors, which—as decades of research by MIT’s Thomas Allen and others attest—means they might as well work in separate cities as far as seeing each other on a daily basis is concerned. Zappos’ kludge is simple but effective—employees must check in on one floor and forage for lunch on the other. It will keep them circulating until the company manages to build an internal stairwell.
4. WORK WITH STRANGERS, NOT YOUR COLLEAGUES.
Hsieh’s biggest bet is that Zappos has more to learn from smart people outside the company than inside it. To that end, Ware and a pair of colleagues plan to open this month the first of a trio of coworking spaces named Work in Progress, where employees might share desks—and tips—with the startups Hsieh is busy luring to Vegas. The company’s City Hall headquarters will open this fall with a free coworking space off the lobby, in hopes someone with the next billion-dollar idea just walks through the front door.
February 04, 2013 | permalink
At last, my talk on cities and serendipity at October’s TEDxDumbo has been posted online. My apologies for the sound drop and any other technical difficulties, and my thanks to Lorelei Bandrovschi for having me.
Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, and speaker. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company and an author of the international bestseller Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. He is also a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, and a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI).
Wired (UK) | October 2013
Next American City | August 2013
The New York Times | April 2013
Fast Company | March 2013
Fast Company | March 2013
Fast Company | December 2012/January 2013
WSJ | November 2012
Fast Company | June 2012
Next American City | May 2012
The New York Times | Feburary 2012
Departures | October 2011
Travel + Leisure | October 2011
The New York Times | September 2011
World Policy Journal | Fall 2011
Advertising Age | September 2011
Open Skies | July 2011
WSJ | May 2011
WSJ | February 2011
The New York Times | February 2011
Advertising Age | November 2010
December 11, 2013
December 10, 2013
December 05, 2013
November 29, 2013