MEREDITH Strategy & Design

We design great places and spaces that enhance the experience of  work. 
Our purpose is to help companies and organizations of every scale
more effectively achieve their goals
and capture value from what they and their people do.

Jim at meredithstrategyanddesign dot com

(248) 238-8480

The M-Shaped Strategy Weekly – on the no-hour workweek and other items of interest

A few of the things that we found interesting this week

The story of the success of Slack, the team messaging platform, may carry some good lessons for others in other businesses – responding to customer issues and delivering fixes immediately, paying attention to the unique metrics that define your business, keeping the user interaction simple and seamless, amplifying what makes you special, teach users why they need your product, and make active listening a core competency.

This excerpt from Walter Isaacson's book, The Innovators, makes the case that innovation is not a sudden breakthrough but is instead the result of multiple layers and iterations of development by  different people leveraging the work of others who had preceded them.

One of the emerging models of startup support is the concept of venture building. Venture builders pool ideas from their own internal resources and networks and then fund the ones that seem to have the most promise. "In its most basic form, the venture-building company is a holding company that owns equity in the various corporate entities it helped created. The most successful venture builders are, however, much more operational and hands-on than holding companies."

The most responsive companies are the ones that place purpose over profit, empower rather than control, appreciate emergent processes over planning, leverage networks rather than hierarchies, value adaptivity over efficiency and transparency over privacy, at least according to the Undercurrent List of the Most Responsive Companies of 2014.

There seems to be a lot of concern these days, initially voiced by Peter Theil, that "innovation" no longer connotes big changing moves. Nicholas Carr, however, believes its just that today's innovations are taking place at a different place in the Hierarchy of Innovation.

If you are trying to grow your business, Uber and Buzzfeed offer some good strategies – 1. Centralize data science but decentralize data gathering and decision-making; 2. Build a “closed-loop culture”; 3. Understand the accounting system for your industry; 4. Test and question everything, even your business model; and 5. Build internal tools.

I would have thought that the freight industry wold be among the most efficient by now. Apparently not, so a startup called Transfix is trying to become the "Uber for trucks,"

The problem, apparently, is embedded in the terms – "management" is vertical and "agile" is horizontal. That is, in organizations seeking to reap the benefits of agile development processes, management anxiety builds. Agile uses "self-organizing teams that work in an iterative fashion and deliver continuous additional value directly to customers."

White plastic chairs – "the most perfectly designed product" – are taking over the world.

And it looks like the 40-hour week is again under examination. We hope yours was good!

M-Shaped Strategy Weekly for week ending 4 October 2104

In our own work...

I was reminded this week of a quote from Clay Shirky – Institutions will try to preserve the problems to which they are the solution.

In our case, it was the kickoff "team" meeting in which client, architect and construction manager come together to plan the project forward. We advanced the value of our design, the CM advanced all the ways that they could save money, and the client reinforced both purpose and constraint. We all heard what the other said, but we moved forward without, yet, relaxing our tendency to preserve the problems to which we are the solution. 

I think that each of us left the meeting with the awareness that we were doing just what we came to the meeting to not do.

There was a lot of conversation after the meeting about what the next meeting should do. I was reminded of a cynical portrayal of some of our corporate clients who hold the-meeting-before-the-meeting, hold the-meeting, and then hold the-meeting-after-the-meeting. I now see it is good practice – not as politics, but as a way to prepare for openness to the behaviors that express each of our roles and responsibilities and the ways to calibrate them to mutual success and achievement.  


In other places...

In a world that is a mess and in which technocrats with 20th century thinking are incapable of conceiving and delivering 21st century solutions, new leadership with new sensitivities are required. 

The top cities in the world (most not American) are characterized by a willingness to spend for the future, making investments in infrastructure and citizen entitlements. The American Dream is threatened without similar policies and philosophies. 

Careful listening and humble inquiry may be best practices on the way to differential learning – slowing down the tendency to act on assumptions to gain the insights that accelerate team and organizational performance. 

Do ideas matter? Yes. Believing in them changes reality. 

We live in a time of rising placelessness

This looks like an interesting assessment of Tony Hsieh's placemaking experiment in Las Vegas. 

The path to a successful transition to an open office workspace takes a lot more work than physical planning. 

Some emergent ideas for the next generation office built around three scenarios for the future

Some excellent suggestions for going beyond the brainstorm to generate creative and innovative ideas. 

And, finally, some excellent writing and advice about what starting a startup is like and why you should delay it, from the always excellent paul Graham. 

M-Shaped Strategy Weekly for September 13-20, 2014

Things read

Ben Waber and others have been doing some very interesting work using sensors to track activity in the workplace. In this article for the Harvard Business Review, Ben and colleagues connect the design or the workplace to the performance of the people in the organization. His research suggests "a future in which we must aggressively change the definition of what workspace is, from where work is done to how it’s done, and then design spaces—physical and digital— around that. The office of the past was a literal box of cubicles and desks, meeting rooms and common spaces. In the office of the future, we’ll be thinking and working outside it."

This is a rather fascinating analysis of the industries plagued by uncertainty. The authors offer insights on the companies and industries that characterize each quadrant of the above graph. 

Discussing the future of capitalism in this HBR article, Steve Denning makes the observation that the "creative economy" is the economy of the future. "It doesn’t have to be invented: it’s already under way. Its practices represent a paradigm shift in the strict sense laid down by Thomas Kuhn: it’s a different way of thinking, speaking, and acting in the world."

There's a great collection of articles in the MIT Technology Review advanced manufacturing and its role as a key economic driver of the future. Freed from its dependence on labor, manufacturing can now take place anywhere and is increasingly linked to innovation. "Manufacturing will make its most essential economic contribution as an incubator of innovation: the place where new ideas become new products. 

Roger Martin explore the history of executive compensation and its influence on the shift of value from labor to capital in his article, The Rise (and Likely Fall) of the Talent Economy. Concerned about the inequalities this has generated, he makes an appeal to investors to favor value creation. 

Jeremy Paxton in The Guardian writes a passionate argument against the open office. He says, "Such offices tell us what our bosses think of us – that we are employed to fulfil a mechanical task and we are interchangeable." We are surprised that these arguments are still out there, but they do help to more accurately calibrate our practice to the expectations of the status quo. 

I like reading Peter Theil. I do not agree with his politics, but always learn something from his arguments. He has a new book out, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. Shane Parrish outlines eight learnings from the book

And, of course, during the week of iPhone 6, the Apple Watch, and Apple Pay, this interview with Tim Cook

And the continuous search for the most successful ways to manage scarce time. This model from How the Most Successful Business People Manage Their Time, offers this: 

  1. Do a time log. See how long things take and when your best windows are.
  2. Plan the whole week. Focus on your core competency and what makes you happy.
  3. Have a morning ritual that gets you closer to your long term goals.
  4. Set 3-5 anchor events for the weekend.
  5. Plan something fun for Sunday night.

M-Shaped Strategy Weekly for 12/29/13

Every week we read or capture a large variety of articles and other information that we find relevant to what we are up to. Here are some of the things we found interesting this week –

A platform thinking approach to building a business – Yep.

Electric cars may hold solution for power storage – From one grid to another.

Yes, 2013 was the year of the platform. And there’s more to come in 2014 – Confused of Calcutta is frequently very good.

The Lost World – Fossils of the future – Looking at issues in the environment.

Bob Peck’s Top 10 Disruptive Themes for 2014 – The Reformed Broker looks ahead

2013 was a lost year for tech – A lament on the lost traction in the industry that drives everything else.

Algorithms Won’t Replace Managers, But Will Change Everything About What They Do – Related to platform thinking, above.

33 Dramatic Predictions for 2030 – Futurist covers his bases.

Complete 2013 Roundup – Venkat Rao is very interesting.

The Ideas that Shaped Management in 2013 – What HBR thinks about management.

Who am I to judge – An excellent introduction to Pope Francis.

24 books you've probably never heard of but that will probably change your life – Maybe.

Saving suburbia – On neighborhood diversity.

Okay, maybe that's enough for now.