Leaving no turn unstoned

“A drama critic is a man who leaves no turn unstoned.” (George Bernard Shaw)

As the recognition grows that the workplace – when well designed, created, maintained and adapted – is able to make a positive contribution to a range of clichés (productivity – this year’s star draw – innovation, creativity, wellbeing, wellness, motivation, inspiration, engagement, development, attraction and retention amongst others), in rough proportion so too grows the number of people talking, presenting, writing and commenting on the subject.

Partial to lobbing a fizzer on a Sunday to generate some discussion, I tweeted that I find it amazing how many of these often-heard folk have never actually created any workspace. The most excellent @antonyslumbers (an expert in a fair few things) replied that many a theatre critic had never written a play. Their encyclopaedic knowledge of who wrote and starred in what, and their ability to quote from the most obscure of creations is no doubt astounding. Yet they will unlikely have experienced the writer’s creative anguish, anxiety, self-doubt and self-recrimination in the smallest of hours that night offers…..unless of course they’re a failed writer.

Yet in the world of workplace we don’t call our non-participative commentators “critics”, without stopping to wonder why, we call them “experts”. A terminology change may be overdue.

In creating a workplace, in all but the smallest of organisations the “how” – the journey and process – conceals an assault course of challenges beneath the expected tasks that those commentators who have never created any space themselves will not have experienced, in order to arrive at the outcome they see, the “what”. Even professions closer to the core of a project, strategy consultants and designers included, are rarely tested in this manner.

Awaiting both the suspecting and unsuspecting dramatis personae are – in no particular order and by no means exclusively – formal organisational and reporting structures, informal and often obscure channels of influence, financial constraints and the curse of “value engineering” (most often manifested as slash and burn), mid-stream changes of strategy and direction, changes in external circumstances and the business landscape, competition between the agenda of “the organisation”, business units and individuals, perceptions that teams are “different”, procurement rules and corporate governance, tape of all colours (red, black and yellow, and hopefully not blue and white), the supply chain, the involvement of closely-related parties (“my husband/wife/miniature dachshund knows a bit about interior design”), organisational culture, history and experience (as interpreted in a multitude of ways, to suit), jealousies, envies, rivalries, luck, co-ordination and lack of it, and the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of communication, both ways.

Of course you can’t model all of this. You just have to know it’s out there, that in some degree and at times you least expect you’re going to have to deal with it.

Like all creative endeavours, workplace needs critics and commentators. They maintain focus, honesty, challenge, all with the emotion carefully extracted. They can be relatively objective and analytical, they can disseminate awareness, benchmark, compare. They’ll win at Workplace Trivial Pursuit, which, don’t worry, isn’t a thing. Workplace needs the experts in their field too – design, project management and the rest.

But the workplace experts – they’re the ones pacing the house at 3am, feeling like the loneliest person in the world, wondering how they’re going to make it work.

And who make it work.


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