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How to Supercharge Design Thinking - Part Two with Janet M. Harvey

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

As we prepare for our webinar with Janet M. Harvey, here is the second part of our in-depth interview. In this, she breaks down specifics of her methodology and what you can expect during the webinar. This is a hands-on event (via webcam) that will provide actionable insights you can apply to your work. Click here for Part One.

Mike Skaar: Janet, as we exit the pandemic, the world and the workplace are both transforming and changing more dramatically than at any time I've seen in my lifetime. What do you think are some of the more specific things that people who are attending your August 3rd webinar will learn that directly impact their work and their perspectives?

Janet M. Harvey: So I'm going to give you two words this time to add to what we discussed in Part One about experience. Those words are: mindset shift. In my work, this is the most underdeveloped human capacity, personally and professionally. I've been doing this work for a really long time and I've had lots of leaders say to me, "Well, that's just not how we do things around here. We couldn't possibly have a remote workforce. There would be no way to take care of ensuring productivity and results on time and good stewardship of assets."

Well, they've had the pleasant surprise that all of those things improved despite people navigating their fear and stress associated with the pandemic and the resulting need to perform work remotely. Notice that this shift in mindset was required by everyone, the boss, the team member and anyone responsible for those teams to continue producing excellent experiences for their customers.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story just last week calling the opportunity to perform work on a remote basis the new bonus for signing onto an organization. Allstate Corporation did a study of their 23,000 jobs and said 50% of them could go remote. Adobe did an analysis, and found 75% of their jobs could go remote, 24% could go hybrid and 1%, the execs and some customer field offices might be the ones that need to be in a company provided physical space.

Another interesting view from the news arises from companies who were quick to mandate a return to company provided physical space.

Personnel want to know the space is safe and will remain safe as a result of actions the company implemented to do so.

If that’s not been made clear, employees are switching jobs rather than comply. This is part of what’s fueling the “great resignation of 2021” that has been in the press.

Designers by nature produce creative solutions that respond to a changing workplace. For example, redefining the cafeteria to a wellness center that provides so much more than food, or meeting spaces that can be reconfigured for size and sound by anyone using it in a matter of minutes.

That ingenuity will be invaluable in the future of work, which continues to emerge now as we are, maybe, on the other side of the pandemic. I say maybe, because the mindset shift is altering the foundation of work in the hearts and minds of the workforce, employee and boss alike.

So, what is the mindset shift necessary in the world of design? One central question, back to our word experience, is what are the many variations of the work environment that need creating?

That question reveals a complex set of simultaneous equations to consider that incorporate physical space, access to technology, facilitating organic and formal connections among people and generating harmony that bridges that diversity of people and the diverse ways they will attend meetings, events, and workstreams.

I sense that there's a new entry into the industry in terms of being able to provide an “office in a box” for remote employees that simplifies and accelerates the onboarding process and therefore productivity in the role.

An up-side to doing this applies to what have been called third party suppliers and vendors who may achieve greater synergy and alignment by being granted a more equitable access that is similar to what their customers teams use.

The mindset shift for many employees to want to “work from anywhere” raises the stakes on more sophisticated telecommunication and videography installed in company-provided physical spaces, easily accessible from any type of physical space outside of the ‘hub’ called headquarters or the regional office.

The future reality for all companies is to operate on a 24 hour by 7 day clock, seamlessly forwarding results in a continuous workstream. Multinational companies have been doing this for a while, with teams who ‘pass the baton’ by time zone.

I had an organization where I had teams in three dramatically different time zones. They would make a package of all of the work and submit it into the cloud. And the next team would open up the package the next morning and start their day, not missing a beat, carrying the baton forward.

Even five years ago that was the exception, accomplished only by very large companies with lots of money and lots of infrastructure. The capability to enable a continuous workday while simultaneously empowering flexible locations and schedules will become the norm.

Let’s examine this phenomenon from a leader’s perspective.

Leaders exercise a lot of accountability. Most see themselves as responsible for controlling outcomes and making things predictable. These qualities actually work across purposes. The flexibility of a remote and hybrid workforce offers much more creativity.

When we can pay more attention to results and less attention to the process by which they happen, we are able to acknowledge and reward the people who are stepping forward and using initiative.

Leaders create better quality connections because their energy frees up from trying to micromanage the process. So while our industries are different, the oversight of leading and managing work getting done and in an effective way is common.

The future of work is going to require everyone making a mindset shift that deepens their faith and trust that people, when given clarity about purpose and values and the meaning of their work, will move forward effectively.

There's one more piece here. Gen Z currently comprises 53 million in the US workforce, and there are close to 60 million more who will come into the workforce over the next five years. They are not really interested in anything we've done before, collaboration is key.

The day of the individual contributor out-shining everyone else and elevating in the organization as a result is going away in favor of people who can join, exit and rejoin work streams at lightning speed and bring the best of who they are all the time. They expect their boss to make it possible to have that kind of autonomy.

So, what does that mean for designing experiences and workplace environments? That means my spaces that I'm in must be able to transform with me. I might be in the design phase of one project in one meeting and an hour later be in an implementation planning meeting and an hour after that planning a celebration meeting.

So, I have to have the tools to do the different stages of work. Well, that's all about what's in my environment. So the shift in mindset is there's no single purpose. There's multi-purpose, there are needs for technology to be super easy for the users and not have to be a tech wizard in order to know how to run your office from your chair, from your car, from your elevator, from your guest house, from your vacation space. Gen Z is going to demand that level of agility.

Mike: Let’s apply this knowledge specifically to the webinar. Can you tell me at least one proprietary take away that attendees could expect to learn?

Janet: One of the tools I thought I'd give everyone a chance to play with a little bit while we're in session, and take away to use later, is a process of reflection. It’s one of the things that is at a premium inside of our daily lives today. Somehow or another, we forgot our boundaries of managing our calendar instead of calendaring our priorities. And the 12 hour day of back to back Zooming is not a sustainable proposition.

For those people who do go back to the company office space, the time walking down the hall and having moments to chit chat with each other will feel great. Yet not everyone will be there with us.

Our habits and preferences for how work happens are being challenged by our teammates, by our peers, by our boss, and, frankly, by our family who's kind of gotten used to having some us at home.

The reflection tool is an opportunity to examine current projects to identify the places where we’re feeling stuck or challenged or uncertain, and the issues that are slowing things down, the points of friction.

What are the habits that are causing that? What preferences might be keeping a traditional process in a place leading us to say, "Well, I can't do that"? The assessment in that question reveals potentially limiting assumptions and bias. Once reflection reveals what we are choosing, most often unconsciously, we can deliberately flip our thinking.

For example, the questions change to "What's the habit change that might let me break through where I'm feeling stuck in this process? And how might I need to renegotiate with some people where it's clear we have assumptions and bias operating, and it's not going to move us forward?” So it's a reflection tool first. And secondly, a way to do some breakthrough thinking.

Mike: I like that. Well, if we look beyond the webinar and when we go back to the real world, how would you coach architects and designers to envision the future of the workplace?

Janet: The style of coaching that I do, I call generative work. And really, it's not a very fancy word. If you look it up in the dictionary, you're going to see that there are four capacities to being generative. One is very clear, you're creating things and then, you're producing what is created in a fashion that someone wants and does purchase.

The creative process starts with originating some new thinking, imagining a possibility that someone will find useful.

The capacity that many of us skip over, because we think it's only possible with discretionary time that we don’t have much of, is learning. Without learning, we get caught in our habits and preferences.

Those habits and preferences shield us from anticipating and proactively adjusting as things change in our environment. We do things out of what I call the rear view mirror, as opposed to looking out the front windshield and realizing, "Oh, there's something new in my environment."

A lesson that is a byproduct of the pandemic is learning how to see disruptors of our comfortable habits and preferences as opportunities to learn how to modify the way we do our work. Being generative is first and foremost, a mindset shift. It's secondly, learning to drop into all four of those capacities - originating, creating, learning and producing. Most people are pretty good at two out of the four.

For example, I find designers are really good at originating and creating, and not as confident with producing new contracts and customers and figuring out how come they didn't. The capacities to continuously learn and produce are usually what they're growing into, or they hire people to do it for them.

As we get more distributed in the workplace and working across global boundaries, the ability to be agile and spontaneous in our use of all four of those capacities becomes more important.

Generative coaching for individuals and teams creates awareness about natural strengths and what are the opportunities to grow into. From that self-awareness and self-learning, coaching is useful to build the missing capabilities and gain the courage and confidence to apply in our lives, personally and professionally.

Mike: Janet, thank you for this wonderful conversation. I am so looking forward to hosting you for our webinar on August 3rd at 12:00pm PST.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since we concluded this webinar, Janet has graciously made her deck available to everyone for downloading. Click the arrow below.

Download Supercharge Your Design Thinking Webinar Deck
Download PDF • 1.81MB

About the Author

Mike Skaar continues to move Knak Group forward as an industry leader in supporting progressive workplace design, innovation, and strategies to facilitate collaboration. He has been privileged to work on projects around the globe with leading architects and designers from California to the Pacific Rim. His success comes from appreciating the balance of work and life. His passions include travel, snowboarding, community service, and he has attended Burning Man 21 times and counting. Mike holds an MBA from Arizona State University and completed additional post-graduate work in international business at UCLA.

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