The open office

talking horse The “open office environment” is everywhere these days.

No private space, no closed doors, everyone working side by side in a collaborative utopia. Coworkers can see/hear what each other is doing and spontaneously contribute insights. New ideas, models, and projects are hatched on the spot. It’s amazing how this approach has caught fire. (70% of offices use it now!)

It’s amazing because it’s a dopey idea.

Wait! I know what you’re thinking: you can’t overlook the benefits of people constantly peering over your shoulder, loudly interrupting your work, and offering unsolicited judgments. Besides, what are stairwells good for, if not for holding private discussions?

As it turns out, evidence abounds that productivity suffers when people can’t find private space. A New Yorker article convincingly makes the case here that open office layouts destroy job performance. The predictable results are: reduced creativity, concentration, sense of control, motivation, and job satisfaction; damage to interpersonal relationships; and increased stress and sick time from noise, commotion, and interruption. (Other than that, it’s a nifty idea.) Articles in Fast Company here and The Huffington Post here confirm this.

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Not so happy together: business lessons from turtles

You think you’ve had problems with managers? Check out the clip below, which hilariously illustrates the problems that rock bands have had with their management.

In this short video, Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan) of the Turtles lament the fact that their battles with seven managers kept the band from being financially successful—despite many chart hits, including “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Happy Together,” “You Baby,” and “She’d Rather Be With Me.”

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John Lennon, American immigrant

[Given that October 9 is the 74th anniversary of Lennon’s birth I thought I would reprise this post from 2010. It's worth emphasizing here that innovators attract innovators. Lennon chose the US for his home—and notably NYC—so he could get close to the most creative hearts and minds in his field. Not limited to the US of course, the innovation cauldrons of our great cities beckon to us all.]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This week marks another anniversary of the birth of John Lennon, arguably the most influential rock musician of the last century (a proposition I’m happy to discuss in the comments page).

Lennon of course was the founder of The Beatles and, in its early days, its leader and most prolific songwriter. The Beatles, as you may have heard, were the most successful pop music entity in history—a daringly imaginative British rock band that hit artistic and commercial peaks that have never been matched, in part because of Lennon’s disruptive creativity.

Lennon was also an international peace activist who generated headlines of his own with his anti-war protests and performances, before and after the Beatles’ dissolution.

But Lennon, like so many larger-than-life pop personalities, was a bundle of contradictions. This peace advocate was a brawler in his youth and, at times, an abuser of friends and lovers alike. (He was not a pleasant drunk.)

He could write the most sublime acclamations of the human spirit (“Across the Universe,” “Imagine”) and the most sentimental of love songs (“This Boy,” “If I Fell”), yet also the harshest put-downs (“Sexy Sadie,” “How Do You Sleep?”).

But his biggest contradiction has been overlooked by critics and fans.

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Who works for whom?


[I was starting to write about a topic that’s been on my mind a lot, when I discovered that I had already written about this in detail six years ago!]

I’ve been reminded of late what I dislike about traditional business: the antediluvian notion that the team or group works for management, rather than the other way around.

I suppose that’s come to be accepted because in most companies managers actually do the hiring. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

In fact, in my first dozen years of business I was exposed to a different model. Every organization or business team that I worked for hired—and fired—its management. (The team usually did the recruiting as well.) The team made the decision about who was going to manage it, and it was cloudlessly clear who worked for whom. The business team in this case was a rock & roll band.

Here’s how it works in the world of R&R…

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I love everybody

DSC00712 I guess this would qualify as a business lesson from rock: Don’t speak critically of celebrities if you’re talking to a stranger.

I was in Shanghai years ago giving a talk when a management consultant—who heard of the book I was writing about rock bands—asked me what I thought of a certain Detroit-based rock singer from the mid-60s. Without thinking, I said something dismissive like, “He and his band were ok. Nothing particularly original.” Then I found out that this consultant once played keyboard with the band.

It reminded me of the old Southwest Airlines ad: “Want to get away?”

Of course I tried my best back-and-fill maneuvers, commenting on the things I liked about the singer and band, but it was too little too late.

I suppose the larger lesson is: don’t speak ill of anyone (or any business) if you’re talking to someone you don’t know.

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Eight days a week

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As an amateur Beatles historian I sometimes wake up in the morning wondering what the Fabs were doing on this calendar day decades ago. (Hey, we all have our quirks. At least this one doesn’t require supervision.) Today I started poking around to find out what they were up to on September 17th in the years before they became the biggest band on the planet.

It turns out that there’s an amazing online resource for this, The Beatles Bible, which has chronicled where the Fabs were playing—and anything else of Beatles importance—on nearly every day of their existence! Here’s what I discovered:

    On 9/17/60 they played the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany, the 32nd of 48 consecutive nights there. They had to perform four and a half hours each weekday night, beginning their first set at 8 pm and ending their last set at 2 am. (Longer hours on the weekend.)
    On 9/17/61 they performed at the Hambleton Hall in Liverpool, in the middle of a 33-gig month.
    On 9/17/62 they played a lunchtime concert at the Cavern Club in Liverpool—their 234th appearance there. This was also in the middle of a 33-gig month.

What jumps out from this itinerary snapshot—and the broader schedule the website displays—is that these guys were busting their hump for years! I have written about what workaholics these lads were—not exactly the cartoon stereotype of rock musicians who “love to do work at nothing all day,” as brayed by Bachman-Turner Overdrive in “Taking Care of Business.” But I hadn’t grasped the extent of it.

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