The Anthropology of Work

From the blog

Far Beyond the Cubicle

On Thursday of last week I was fortunate enough to participate in a panel discussion about the future of work and corporate coworking at Workspring in Chicago.  Using my new book, The Fifth Age of Workas a jumping off point, we had a panel of some really amazing folks threading together questions from the audience.  John Pipino, of Doblin, and Sam Rosen of Desktime and One Design, brought their deep experiences in managing innovation to the table, while Danielle Galmore of Steelcase served as moderator.

The conversation was wide ranging and hopefully provocative for the attendees.  In sum, we talked about the possibility/process of bringing the openness and flow of the coworking movement to corporate environments.  Issues of culture and network security quickly arose, as well as issues surrounding innovation and accountability.  It was quite awesome to learn that Kraft foods has already been innovating in this direction for some time.  Change, it turns out, is possible.

However, at the center of the discussion was Steelcase.  During the after-event discussions I learned that not only Doblin, one of the companies represented on the panel, but also several other Chicago-based firms working at the intersection of design, culture, and innovation, got their start with Steelcase as an anchor client.  That is, going back many years, Steelcase has been curious about and committed to the future of work in ways unparalleled in the rest of the industry.  Indeed, their Workspring spaces, a hybrid coworking space/corporate create-space, is just another in a long line of commitments to innovation in the company’s history.

It comes as no surprise to me, though perhaps it may to others, that Steelcase has long been an investor and part owner in perhaps the most successful innovation agency in the world- IDEO.  While this is not widely known, and the ownership structure is being revised over time, it underscores Steelcase’s abiding commitment to innovation, creativity, and design.  So, before making the quick association between Steelcase and your cubicle, think again.  Yes, they did that, but their work today goes far beyond the cubicle.


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