Teamwork ‘Fashion’ May Be Out of Style

The Economist: “Teams are as old as civilisation, of course: even Jesus had 12 co-workers. But a new report by Deloitte, “Global Human Capital Trends”, based on a survey of more than 7,000 executives in over 130 countries, suggests that the fashion for teamwork has reached a new high. Almost half of those surveyed said their companies were either in the middle of restructuring or about to embark on it; and for the most part, restructuring meant putting more emphasis on teams.”

“Deloitte argues that a new organisational form is on the rise: a network of teams is replacing the conventional hierarchy. The fashion for teams is driven by a sense that the old way of organising people is too rigid for both the modern marketplace and the expectations of employees.” However: “Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School of Management in Illinois warns that, ‘Teams are not always the answer—teams may provide insight, creativity and knowledge in a way that a person working independently cannot; but teamwork may also lead to confusion, delay and poor decision-making.'”

“Teams work best if their members have a strong common culture. This is hard to achieve when, as is now the case in many big firms, a large proportion of staff are temporary contractors … Team-building skills are in short supply: Deloitte reports that only 12% of the executives they contacted feel they understand the way people work together in networks and only 21% feel confident in their ability to build cross-functional teams. Slackly managed teams can become hotbeds of distraction—employees routinely complain that they can’t get their work done because they are forced to spend too much time in meetings or compelled to work in noisy offices.”

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Saturn & The Great Cosmic Joke

Remember Saturn? Jean Thompson does, in The New York Times: “The dealerships offered no-haggle pricing, and emphasized customer-friendly service. When you bought a Saturn, back in those palmy days, the dealer took a picture of you posing next to your new vehicle, wearing a Saturn hat, and perhaps a Saturn T-shirt. You were part of the Saturn family. Yes! There were even Saturn Homecomings where owners drove their cars back to Spring Hill to celebrate the Saturn experience.”

“But G.M. didn’t do right by Saturn. All the upbeat advertising in the world couldn’t seem to make up for some design missteps and lack of resources. The last Saturn was manufactured in 2009.” Jean has been driving her then-new Saturn since 2001. Now, she writes: “For so long the car has been my Millennium Falcon, my African Queen. Those battered but indomitable embodiments of disreputable romance, with hidden reserves of performance for anyone skilled enough to pilot them … One recent morning the emergency brake light came on and a warning began chiming, one last spasm of its softening automotive brain.”

She continues: “It’s only a car, and there’s no point in being sentimental. After all, the universe is organized around the principle of entropy. Systems decay, institutions and landmarks we took for granted vanish, swept over a precipice: the Saturn brand, the Republican Party, the glaciers of Greenland. Ah, love, let us be true to one another! Let us make our stand against the implacable forces that hasten the end of all worthy things. Let us fight the good fight, look our fate unflinchingly in the eye, die with a hammer in our hands. Let us go car shopping.”

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Narrative Games: Changing Stories By Breaking Rules

“Two innovative recent board games—Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories—make narrative a central feature of their designs,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Every play of a game unfolds differently; unlike in a book or movie, the ending isn’t set … From the players’ decisions evolves a narrative or story, with important choices, dramatic tension, surprises and turning points.”

“Pandemic Legacy is a new incarnation of the modern classic Pandemic, a cooperative game in which the players take on the roles of public-health workers and collaborate to vanquish a set of diseases that have spread across the globe.” After each game, players “open a factory-sealed envelope that reveals instructions on how to modify the game before their next play. The board, pieces, cards and even the rules themselves may change.”

In T.I.M.E. Stories, “players are time-traveling agents who have to enter alternate realities (such as 1920s Paris) and solve mysteries to save the world. Once your team wins, you can’t play again—that’s the end of the story.”

“Traditionally, a game is defined by its rules. If you don’t let pawns turn into queens, you aren’t playing chess, and if you make captures optional, you aren’t playing checkers. The success of Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories shows that this rule itself was made to be broken.”

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The ReUse Store: Like a ‘Bizarro RadioShack’

The Wall Street Journal: “The city’s most peculiar electronics store may be the shop housed in a brightly painted cinder block warehouse in an industrial section of Brooklyn. There, customers waiting in a metal-cage entrance must ring a bell to summon the attendant.”

“Welcome to the ReUse store at the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse, where every amp and smartphone for sale is some fellow New Yorker’s castoff. The program, run by the nonprofit Lower East Side Ecology Center, collected and recycled more than 1 million pounds of used electronics last year. It funds its operations—at least in part—by refurbishing and selling everything from laptops to speaker wire.”

“Customers range from parents buying laptops for their kids to artists seeking cheap electronics for their high-concept fantasies … One might imagine the ReUse store looking like a thrift-store version of a Best Buy. The reality is more of a bizarro RadioShack. There are countless peripherals and accessories, stacks of old speakers, bins filled with remotes and shelves of VHS tapes. There are also great bargains.”

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Go Cubes: Technology As a Lifestyle Brand

“This year SXSW … feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand. … physical products that aren’t so much dominated by new technology, but instead informed by the theories and practices that have ruled the tech business.”

For example: “Go Cubes, the caffeine-infused gummy snacks that have been compared to candied nuggets of cocaine,” from a company called Nootrobox, makers of “supplements that the founders say enhance human cognitive capabilities … The company grew out of an online movement of ‘biohackers’ — people who congregate on sites like Reddit to discuss how a variety of foods and other chemicals, from caffeine to street drugs to Alzheimer’s medicine from Russia, alter their focus, memory and other cognitive abilities. Nootrobox aims to find the most effective of these compounds — and only the ones deemed legal and safe for use in the United States — and turn them into consumer products.”

“Traditional coffee is an inconsistent product, they argue — each cup may have significantly more or less caffeine than the last — and it can have undesirable side effects, like jitteriness. Go Cubes … are meant to address these shortcomings. The cubes are more portable than coffee, they offer a precise measure of caffeine, and because they include some ingredients meant to modulate caffeine’s sharpest effects, they produce a more focused high. The cubes run about $1.70 for the price of two that are meant to equate to a cup of coffee.”

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Nike’s Blue Ribbon Studio: The ‘Ultimate Creative Indulgence’

“On the western edge of the Nike campus there is a glass and steel building that is not like the others,” reports The New York Times. “It is not named after an athlete, like the John McEnroe building, where the executive offices are, or the Tiger Woods, where the conference center is. It is not all blond wood and long corridors, as are the rest of the structures.”

“Rather, it is an airy, loftlike space called Blue Ribbon Design Studio, which opened just a year ago. It is full of bolts of fabric and sewing machines, silk-screen printers and other creative tools, and looks like nothing so much as ‘art school but better,’ according to Ryan Noon, who directs it … The space even has its own scent, which Mr. Noon created and named ‘Freedom of the Creative Mind,’ a combination of canvas, gesso, sawed wood and ‘sexy Nike designer sweat,’ he said. Also its own uniform: graphic light blue and white smocks, ‘like what they wear in couture ateliers.'”

“Blue Ribbon was built, he said, because Nike realized that its designers needed an unstructured space where they could just play around and make things — almost anything they wanted. It is the ultimate creative indulgence.”

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John Maeda: Three Kinds of Design

John Maeda, a design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, highlights three kinds of design, reports Wired: There’s design (‘classical design’), business (‘design thinking’), and technology (‘computational design’).”

“The last two have to do with creating products with empathy for the customer, and keeping pace with current paradigms in technology, respectively. They also tend to have more reach. Where classic design might impact a million active users, design thinking and computational design stand to affect hundreds of millions.”

“What’s more, classic design projects tend to be finite; whether it’s a building or a page layout, once they’re built, they’re done. In business or technology design, the product is always evolving.” Maeda says the three categories “are co-dependent” but that design thinking and computational design are where the growth is.

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Aston Martin vs. McLaren: Luxury vs. Technology

The Economist offers a study in contrast between two British plates: Aston Martin and McLaren. “Both carmakers are in the business of hurtling drivers towards 200mph. Yet with their respective focus on luxury and advanced engineering, they are relying on contrasting British strengths.”

“McLarens are wild-looking mid-engined sports machines that harness the firm’s skills in engineering to adapt racetrack materials, such as carbon fibre, and high-tech gizmos to make a car as at home on the circuit as the open road … Aston is first a ‘design company’ … Performance and handling are important but the aim is to make the ‘most beautiful car on the road.’ To do so, Aston has remodelled itself as a luxury-goods firm, emphasising design and craftsmanship that are a British speciality, while trying to extend the brand.”

“McLaren, meanwhile, strives to make its cars the most technically advanced. Last year the firm renamed itself the McLaren Technology Group to emphasise the importance of innovation … Ron Dennis, the firm’s boss, is convinced that its tech business will be its biggest and most important part in years to come. It already serves oil-and-gas, health-care and financial-services firms. Using skills honed in analysing the vast quantities of data generated by motor racing, it is developing analytics software for the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.”

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Chevy Sets Limit on Teen Spirit

Engadget: “With the 2016 edition, the Chevy Malibu has added a new setting called Teen Driver. Once enabled, the feature lives in the infotainment system in the dash and warns underage drivers when they exceed a predetermined speed limit. At that point, it kills sound from the stereo until the front seat belts are buckled, enables all the safety features like traction control and generates a report card for the whole trip.”

“It’s basically a computer narc tucked behind a four-digit PIN … parents can use the report card to make decisions about future access to the car and use it as an opportunity to talk about their kids’ driving habits. And because it offers up hard evidence — such as when a safety system like stability control was activated and the top speed — a parent has the information necessary to make that conversation count.”

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