So Much for Science and Rationality

On the opening day (11/7/13) of its IPO, Twitter shares (TWTR) traded up from its offer price of $26/share to $45/share.  By contrast, Facebook (FB) opened (5/12/13) at $42/share and promptly began to train downward for many months.  Facebook has since then been trading up for several months ($47 today), which is indeed good to see.  However, the contrasting stories of the initial IPOs paint an interesting picture.

Twitter is yet to post a profit, and reports around $650 million a year in revenue.  Facebook, by contrast, reports almost $2B a quarter in revenue, and has been profitable for three straight years.  So, if one were to base share price and company potential on numbers and data, Twitter is a fraction of the company that Facebook is.  But so much for science and rationality.

It boils down to investor mood, sentient, and emotion.  Investors were skeptical and still on the sidelines at the time that Facebook went public.  This week, when Twitter went public, investor mood is all champagne and bubbly.  Markets have been up for weeks, the Dow reaching record highs almost daily.  But this does not mean that Twitter has greater potential as a company going forward.

Such is the nature of much decision making in the corporate world. For all of the bluster and infographics about the importance of data and big data, humans are still primarily an emotional species.  We aspire for rationality, but we have to learn it and fake it.  Our default setting, for better or worse, is emotion. Recognizing such a simple thing would save us a lot of time and angst.

Source: Drew Jones Daily Drip

The Lonely Frontier

It is cliche to say, but change is never easy.  The kinds of organizational changes I am advocating in my new book- The Fifth Age of Work– are far from easy.  The comfort of familiarity and tradition should never be underestimated.  Established tradition and known routines make the world easier to understand and navigate.  Yet, established traditions and known routines also bring us some of the most stultifying and inhumane cultural practices in the world- subjugation of women (“well, that’s just our tradition”), slavery, the caste system, etc.

Moving forward into unknown futures and frontiers is always scary.  Just imagine what it felt like for early American pioneers when they left their families in Europe and moved out to the prairies of Nebraska. Willa Cather’s world was stark, beautiful, and lonely.  Frontiers always are.  The world of work and organizations that is emerging is also frightening.  Asking established professionals to significantly change their worlds is challenging, to say the least.

“Hey, I know you  used to have a huge office with a big oak desk and two personal assistants, but now we’ve taken that away and you need to work in the cafe with all of the other folks!”

Naturally, few people will want to do this.  However, we are at the cusp of a new frontier, and the comfort of tradition is no longer a good enough excuse for not embarking on the journey and crossing into the unknown.  It’s what I call the difference between slingshots, which propel in one direction into the future, and boomerangs, which go out a bit and then return to where you started.  No question, people do get hurt by rocks flung by slingshots.  But tradition for the sake of tradition, I contend, hurts many more people.


Source: Drew Jones Daily Drip

Guest Post: Thoughts on Corporate Coworking

The following is a guest post from Dennis Tardan, an outspoken and passionate member of the Conjunctured community. We’ve had conversations at length about the ideas inherent within our Corporate Coworking initiative and the dialogue has resonated so much with him that we invited him to share his thoughts here on the blog. Thank you Dennis! 

I am a communication coach.  As I navigate the corporate work environments around the world, I find there to be a distinct drop of energy whenever I walk onto the offices, onto the floors, into the cube farms of my varied clients.  These clients range from the largest corporations on the planet to small and medium-size firms who have created a physical footprint where what they define as “work” is accomplished.

I know this is not the intention.  But it is the reality.  I don’t know how long it takes for the spirit and the energy of the original venture to begin attenuating but I’ve seen it happen over and over.  It drains until there is a general malaise that is to some degree or another soul-sucking.

You hear people talking about “having” to go to work or “working for the weekend” or “so very glad the day is over” and other endless permutations and combinations of TGI whatever.  Some of that is just the wail of the human carp, a hybrid life-form that it is so easy for us to morph into in challenging times.

However, I’ve come to believe some problem is structural and environmental.  The office/open office/cube farm formats that organizations enshrine as work places in an attempt to have some control over the time and energy of their workers, I believe is not conducive to the creativity and collaboration necessary for companies to thrive in the 21st century.

We need better solutions.  Corporate Coworking is one of those ideas that I believe can be applied to many office environments to release pent up creative energy and help workers and management at all levels innovate through increased collaboration and communication.

Historians of the 20th century who study the industrial progress and innovation of the post-World War II boom in the United States understand how much innovation came out of having “water-cooler conversations”.  Over and over, people of different disciplines and levels in the corporate hierarchies would meet at the actual water cooler.  They would chat and informally discuss a problem or challenge they might be having.  Just sharing the situation and getting an outside perspective, time and time again, would lead the sharer to thinking of a solution or a to going in new direction.  Eureka!  They would return to their offices, or drafting boards, or manufacturing floor with an idea that was a game changer.

The “water cooler effect” has been studied and documented.  Now, by integrating the concept of Corporate Coworking into already established work environs, desperately needed creativity, collaboration and innovation can experienced!  Want to know more?  So glad you asked.   Drew Jones, David Walker and Thomas Heatherly are taking their Conjunctured Coworking concept to the corporate world.  The world will never be the same!

If you’re interested in doing a guest blog post on the Conjunctured blog, let us know

What is Leadership Today?

Today my new book- The Fifth Age of Work– has finally arrived.  In the book I outline the various points of convergence between the growing world of freelancers and small businesses, on the one hand, and a rapidly transforming corporate world, on the other.  For firms interested in thriving in the Fifth Age, as opposed to just hanging on to previously fought battles, a new form of leadership will be required.  While I’m not sure exactly what that will look like, I am beginning to cultivate some ideas.

For starters, Gen Y does not do alpha males.  Gone are the days where someone rises to the top because he is tall, in shape, and used to play high school football.  Today, men and women who have hard technical chops (design, engineering, analytics) are the ones who get respect, not the blokes who are good at golf or who kicked ass in the Dale Carnegie program.  Also, a much higher premium is now being placed on collaborative influence over individual influence.  As IBM CEO Ginni Rometty recently said, people are now being valued for what they share, not for what they know.  This may seem like a small and simple point, but I suspect as we go forward this observation will become increasingly profound.

As I said above, I’m not altogether sure where this leadership bus is heading, but I suspect it is heading to some place we haven’t been before. Probably wise to buckle up and keep our eyes open!

Source: Drew Jones Daily Drip

Activity Based Work

macquarie 2

Veldhoen + Company, the Dutch workplace consultancy that pioneered Activity Based Work, is one of the most important companies you’ve never heard of.  ABW is, essentially, mass scale corporate coworking. Everyone in the company, including the CEO and other top managers, gets a laptop and a locker for storage.  People choose workspaces that fit the work they are doing that day, not a fixed space that assumes that work everyday is the same.  Sounds radical, but really it is quite simple.

As the folks at Veldhoen say, ABW is about much more that redesigning physical spaces. A major knock-on effect of ABW is cultural transformation. Top management is accessible. No one is hidden behind oak desks and personal assistants.  Many time-consuming meetings are eliminated. Openness and transparency are nourished, and flatter and more egalitarian organizations evolve.

These are all good things, if you value these things. However, if you want to keep power and decision-making authority in the hands of the few, then ABW is probably not for you. In order to find out if ABW is right for your company, maybe you should just ask your employees!


Y Leadership

This fall my new book, The Fifth Age of Work, will be published by Night Owls Press.  The book tracks the parallel evolution of the independent, freelancer economy, on the one hand, and the rapid transformation of mainstream firms, on the other.  At the heart of the book is the idea that, in the relatively near future, Gen Y knowledge workers will no longer be content to work in Baby Boomer-age organizations that insist on traditional forms of structure, design, and management.  Rather, top talent in the near future will demand:

  • Maximum choice and flexibility
  • Involvement in meaningful work
  • Smart and challenging colleagues
  • Opportunities to innovate and grow
  • Authentic and believable leadership

We know this because it is already happening.  Traditionalist managers who doubt this will only be able to operate with their head in the sand for so long!

Theory Y

But how does a firm go about planning for and leading Gen Y talent?  The answer, ironically, was provided some 50 years ago.  Douglas McGregor’s book, The Human Side of Enterprise, outlined a fundamental difference in how managers view people and their potential.  One the one hand was Theory X, which suggested that people are inherently lazy, shiftless, don’t like to work, and need to be managed with punishments and rewards and carrots and sticks.  On the other hand was Theory Y, which suggested that, left to their own devices, people naturally like to work, and that if you give them trust and a long-leash, they will generate the outcomes that a company desires.

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that, despite all of the rhetoric about decentralization and the flattening organization, most companies today remain locked within a Theory X managerial approach.  Lip service is often paid to flexibility and choice, but in practice such words evaporate into fear and control.  As I suggest above, though, Theory X management will be a non-starter in the near future.

But what comes next?

Y Leadership

Gen Y will demand a fundamentally new and generationally relevant leadership approach.  Respected and effective leaders in the near future won’t be tall, dark, and handsome white men who went to the top business schools.  Rather, they will be technologists, engineers, and designers who are technical experts, people who gain respect from peers because of their chops and their humility.  Leadership will be a team activity, where the alpha male model of yesterday will seem more and more abusive and out of place in a networked, collaborative economy.  As IBM’s Ginni Rometty says recently, “success will be measured not by what you know, but by what you share.”  One-way commands of yesterday’s organization are giving way to more of a Starfish model of leadership, where different people have influence in different situations depending on content and context.


Of course, in practice it is never quite so simple.  However, the general movement towards ‘Y’ principles is undeniable.

Gen Y x Theory Y = Y Leadership

Among other things, this will likely mean that fewer of tomorrow’s leaders will be MBAs.  Rather, they will be engineers, designers, scientists, athletes, artists, and social scientists who figure out how to make something they are passionate about INTO a business.  Companies like GE are already doing this, from the inside-out.  Yesterday’s standard B-school model of leadership, bequeathed to us originally by Dale Carnegie himself, will eventually seem like a quaint relic from the 1950s.  “How to win friends and influence people” (Theory X) will be replaced by “How to create value collaboratively to enhance user experiences” (Theory Y).



At the Crossroads

Standing at the Crossroads!

There is something about Austin, Texas, and there is something about Conjunctured, though I’m still not sure what that something is.  However, here we are, and both Austin and Conjunctured sit as crossroads for people in local, national, and global communities.  Not a week goes by here at Conjunctured when someone from out of town doesn’t come by for a visit and an opportunity to connect.  Then there is SXSW, during which the world comes to Austin (and to Conjunctured too).

Glocal Community

From our vantage point here at Conjunctured, we have seen the global coworking movement go from a handful of small spaces (in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, and Austin) into a sure enough global phenomenon.  Some places fade out while others come online.  Given the movement’s growth, it now hosts a much broader cross section of people.  We are no longer just local outposts for freelancers seeking a place to work.  Thriving coworking spaces now have corporate telecommuters sitting next to freelancers and small businesses, and often have corporate sponsors of various sorts.  In short, at 2,500 spaces worldwide, coworking is going mainstream.  But what does this mean?

This will mean different things to different people, of course, but for us it means that we now find ourselves intersected with the broader world.  We have become a nexus, a crossroads, of a whole host of organizations and people.  We are not entirely sure where these relationships will go next, but we are eager to start making new things happen.

Our Crossroads

Thus, here we are at a crossroads.  Rather than just staying home in our cozy house in East Austin, we have committed to opening the design and cultural values of coworking into the broader world.  We are inviting other folks, folks who are not indigenous to coworking, into the space to share the experience with them. We are opening up to the outside, explicitly, and encouraging an exchange between people from different walks of life.  We want to spread the space and values of coworking to companies, government organizations, schools, and hotels, to wherever the velvet community of coworking can make the world a better place.

Freelancers. Corporates. Musicians. Governments.  Educators.  Our doors are open!  Hopefully yours are too?

Employee Experience Design: Corporate Coworking, Part V

Over the past two weeks we have been writing about our new foray into corporate coworking.  We’ve been chatting about leadership and community, which sit at the center of any organization or social movement.  When we move the conversation from coworking in its native environment to coworking in a corporate environment (or Activity Based Work), we are no longer talking about freelancers or small businesses, per se.  We are talking about employees.  Full time employees who work for a single company.

It might turn out that, whether we call it Activity Based Work or corporate coworking, the real beneficiaries  of integrating more human-centered approaches to work will turn out to be corporate employees who are required to show up daily to work in uninspiring, sterile officescapes.  If any category of modern knowledge workers needs a dose of coworking energy, it is people who are stuck in the corporate cage.

Employee Experience Design (EXD)?

These observations come from my background in anthropology.  Across the corporate landscape, there are anthropologists that work as consumer researchers, both as employees and consultants, for some of the largest consumer brands in the world.  Firms such as Ethnographic Research Inc., Ethnographic Solutions, Conifer Research, and Pacific Ethnography, conduct ethnographic research for companies seeking to better understand the customer experience.  Carried out under the umbrella of designing for customer experience, this research falls within the broad category of user experience design ( UXD).  UXD, while drawn from human-computer interactivity, is used more generally to talk about the way brands ‘dive deep’ into customer experiences.  The goal: to understand customer needs and unarticulated needs, so that the sponsoring firms can sell more products.  Nothing in the world wrong with this.

However, it is worth asking a basic question: If anthropologists are indeed helpful in uncovering hidden meanings and values in researching customer experience, why is this ethnographic inquiry rarely (if ever) applied to understanding the experiences of a company’s employees?  That is, if the methodology is effective, then surely such research can be used to better understand, and design for, the working experiences of one’s employees. After all, just about every company in the world writes shiny platitudes in their annual reports about how ‘important our employees are,’ or how ‘we are only as strong as our people,’ or how ‘we treat our people with respect and have a culture of integrity.’ blah blah blah.

The answer, sadly, is that most (though definitely not all) companies really don’t care.  Customers have money to spend and can potentially bring money into the business, while employees, despite all of the candyfloss language to the contrary, are (in the eyes of most companies) just a cost.  Why spend money worrying about something that, at the end of the day, is just costing us money?

Cynical, perhaps.  Wrong, no.


However, if new and more human-centered workplace solutions, such as corporate coworking, were integrated into the larger grid of corporate work, there is no question that the experiences of workers would be improved.  This also must include flexibility options so that workers who, for example, have children, can spend time with them when needed.  Also, reducing the cost and waste of commuting will improve the quality of the work experience for employees in companies that have the &*#@ to adopt new, human-centered solutions.

We don’t assume that firms will start spending money lavishly on employees or on ethnographers to study employees.  Rather, in ABW and corporate coworking, improved employee experiences (EXD) do not have to be costly.  They are, actually, quite simple.  The challenge is to commit, get started, and see what happens.  Your employees will thank you!

Co-mmunity: Corporate Coworking Part, IV

Earlier in the week I wrote here about the concept of co-leadership as part of the social dynamic that has made coworking a successful movement over the past seven years.  Even more fundamental to the movement, though, is community.  While perhaps the notion of community has been so overused by so many people in the past decade that it has started to lose some of its meaning, there can be no question that it is the foundation of the coworking movement.

Marissa Mayer was probably right

Not too long ago Marissa Mayer made headlines when she demanded that those Yahoo! employees who had been untethered from the office were being required to come back to the hive and work at the office.  The reaction to her decision was quite strong, with some accusing her of being out of step with the vibe of the industry and the times.  Her reasoning, though, seems to make a lot of sense.  Communication, collaboration, and innovation very often happen within and between people who are co-present in the same space.  This is the stuff of whiteboards, Post-it-Notes, prototypes and mock-ups, and the myriad iterative steps on the long road of innovation.  Despite all of the promises to the contrary, online collaboration platforms (Asana, Mavenlink, and Base Camp) simply don’t stack up to the experience of people sharing and working in the same physical space.


Working ‘home alone,’ as many advocates of coworking have argued for years, can be quite a drag.  Zappos’ Tony Hsieh weighed in on Mayer’s policy change, suggesting that it’s not working from home that is the problem, but rather that working at home alone is the problem.  This is not to suggest, and I am not suggesting, that all work needs to be collaborative, group work.  In her brilliant book (Quiet) and TED talk, Susan Cain argues very persuasively for the the value of introverts and the importance of quiet, heads down work.  The original kernel of an insight that can become an actionable innovation often has its origin in the mind of an individual.  From there, though, to get that idea out into the world, usually requires a team effort.

So, to suggest that all work needs to be done remotely, as advocates of ROWE might suggest, or that all work should be done at the office, as others might suggest, probably oversimplifies the issue.  What is really needed is balance, because some days it is nice to work from home in your pajamas. Especially if you are not feeling well.

But at the heart of thriving, innovative companies (W.L. Gore, Semco, Google, 3M) lie communities of people interacting in physical spaces.  This is nothing new to the coworking world.  We are all about co-presence.  Heck, even when we don’t know much about what the person next to us is working on, we somehow thrive off of their energy.  Parallel collaboration, or something.

What we see in the corporate coworking model we are designing is a venue and platform for injecting more opportunities for communities to develop and flourish inside large firms.  This might mean us encouraging some firms to incorporate more flex-work policies that extend greater choice to their people.  But for sure this will also include our suggestion that, while on campus, as many workers as possible spend time in the on-site coworking space, jamming alongside colleagues.

For this process to be truly helpful for companies, there will need to be accommodation for private, quiet, solo- work as much as there is for open, collaborative work.  This is one of the key lessons we are learning about coworking in its native habitat- variety and flexibility are essential for creating a balanced work environment.

Maybe Yahoo! will revisit this one day soon, and begin to incorporate more flexibility and variety, and perhaps even corporate coworking, into its larger workforce/workspace management process.

Co-Leadership: Corporate Coworking, Part III

Co-Leadership is the third installment in our series on ‘corporate coworking.’  In Part I we introduce the notion of corporate coworking to a broader audience.  We have been kicking this around for a while, and apparently so have others in the world of HR (see John Sullivan’s parallel but rather different take on corporate coworking here).  In Part II, we talk about the cultural dimension of working (and coworking) in corporate organizations.  Today, in Part III, we explore the leadership dimension of the changing world of work as it is informed by coworking.

Across the coworking world, numerous innovative leaders have been busy pioneering, quite literally, an entirely new approach to leadership.  David Walker here at Conjunctured, Tony Bacigalupo at New Work City (NYC), Alex Hillman at Indy Hall (Philly), Jacob Sayles and Susan Evans at Office Nomads, Roman Gelfer at Sandbox Suites, among others, have successfully created and nurtured this new organizational form for many years now.  It is sometimes easy to forget that as recently as 2006 coworking (as we all know it today) didn’t even exist.  Talk about making shit up as we go along!

Defining (C0) Leadership

While the intricacies of a person’s leadership style are quite personal and unique, what each of these pioneers has in common is an ability to build thriving, organic communities without overly taking center stage.  The leadership success that they’ve had stems from an egalitarianism that is for the most part alien to the corporate world.  As David Berreby put it most eloquently over a decade ago in his Strategy & Business article, “The Hunter-Gatherers of the Knowledge Economy,” gone are the days of the alpha male lording over the tribe.  Counterdominant behavior is now the norm, and consensus and sharing have replaced hierarchical notions of leadership.  Even Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, gets it. In a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she suggests that in today’s organizations a “person’s value lies not in what she/he knows, but in what he/she shares.”  Such a mantra has also been at the center of the success of coworking over the past seven years.  Which leads to the question: How do we define such a leadership style?

Arguably, by putting words to it we might in fact be spoiling it, so apologies in advance.  However, I strongly believe that, in the same way that the ‘organizational form’ of coworking is a model that the corporate world desperately needs if it is to ever be fully humanized, the style of leadership that has driven the success of coworking is equally important.


For this, I refer to what is happening in coworking as co-leadership.  One would think that this is already a highly developed notion, but not so.  David Heenan and Warren Bennis’ book, Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships, is a nod in the right direction, but doesn’t go near far enough.  What I am talking about here isn’t about two or more people leading an organization together, but rather ‘leadership being an emergent social dynamic that is merely the result of the context co-created by a group of people.’  Perhaps at the center of the context are visionaries like David, Jacob, Tony, Susan, and Alex, but their visions are advanced not through traditionally defined leadership, but rather through the sharing that Ginni Rometty talks about.  This isn’t “servant leadership,” either, which usually has as its goal the purely financial success of a firm or organization, even if that is achieved in a more humble manner.

Co-leadership, as it seems to be evolving in the coworking world today, is different.  It reflects the counterdominant values of today’s Gen Flux, where Silent Gen and Baby Boomer assumptions of power and authority no longer hold.  That said, this is, even if it is a totally different animal, a form of leadership nonetheless.  Perhaps un-leadership is better than co-leadership.  Either way, it is clear that, in light of the cultural values that are rising to the surface in a highly networked global culture, such an approach is effective.  Yet another of many lessons that the rest of the world can (and should) learn from the world of coworking.