After reading another article this week describing the backlash against the "open office environment" I've decided to reprise an earlier post I wrote on the subject. Despite the fact that most offices are now designed for it, it's been widely discredited as a DBF (Dumb Business Fad).
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 swell idea.) Articles in Fast Companyhere and The Huffington Posthere confirm this.
I was ready to move on after our discussion of VUCA last week—namely, the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity of life in today’s globalized marketplace.
But two days after I posted “My name is VUCA,” disruption and disorder made their presence felt on an international scale in the tragic Orlando nightclub shooting—which warrants a further comment.
Just to bring you up to speed (in case you make the mistake of not memorizing these scintillating BLFR posts): VUCA is used in business to make sense of the unpredictability of events. The digital revolution that has overturned the music industry is an example I’ve used to illustrate the world of VUCA. Nearly every aspect of musical performance, recording, sales, and marketing has been destabilized in recent years by these forces of turbulent change.
But after Orlando, it’s clear that VUCA is everywhere—and we better get used to it.
As mentioned previously, we would be advised to stop pretending we really understand what’s going on around us—economically, socially, politically. We don’t. And when we provide—or accept—magic-bullet answers to maddeningly complex problems we’re demonstrating our lack of understanding of the world we now inhabit.
Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity. Life in the 21st century.
The VUCA acronym was originally developed by the U.S. military to make sense of the post-Cold War multi-polar landscape of interdependent nations and economies. Since the financial crisis of 2008 the term has been co-opted by business leaders to delineate the unpredictability of market trends and forces. But it’s an apt description of all aspects of the world around us, as news headlines daily remind us.
In the music business there has always been volatility and uncertainty, but the advent of digital technology has taken disruption to new extremes. Traditional radio, bricks-and-mortar recording distribution, print advertising, etc. are all in various stages of decay. Disintermediation—the elimination of the middleman—has become a runaway train. (Coming soon, we hope: the ability to buy tickets for major concerts directly from the artist.)
Every now and then I remember a management practice that I discovered years ago playing in rock & roll bands. (You may be unaware that rock groups are incubators for highly sophisticated behavioral development techniques!)
I forgot about this until I came across a terrific new book—An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. In it authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey mention, almost in passing, an important principle of leadership development: “Continuously develop authority downward.” (This book will get a separate post soon to deal with its more important and controversial thesis that "people development" is the whole point of business!)
Developing authority downward is a message I've been preaching for decades, along with its corollary: "Do yourself out of a job." Train and coach others to do what you do, better than you do it! (Of course this doesn't fit every situation, but it should apply to nearly every manager or supervisor in a growing company.) If you get really good at giving your job away, you will almost certainly earn a new job that pays more and provides new ways to grow.
Back in my rock & roll days I spent more than a few late nights in gin mills and honky-tonks, downing beers with world experts on economic policy, foreign relations, and national security issues. Well, they sounded like world experts.
I was always impressed with the certainty and assurance with which these self-ordained authorities offered solutions to every societal problem imaginable. (I also wondered how these barroom denizens found the time to do the exhaustive research upon which their confident pronouncements had to be based.)
Likewise, in the public square today I am struck by the fact that candidates (at least one, anyway) for the highest office in the land can expatiate with total certainty on solutions to decades-old issues—without any apparent education in them.
As Paul Newman said in Cool Hand Luke, "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand." The band Walk Off The Earth seems to know how to do something with nothing.
Business leaders have said forever that a creative team on a tight budget will often out-innovate a team that has all the bucks it needs.
Take the music videos that WOTE effortlessly cranks out every month. The following clip of a popular James Bay song—performed in a bathroom!—shows what they can do on a zero budget. (This certainly raises the bar for singing in the shower.)