Split Decision: Bezos Goes Bananas

The Wall Street Journal: “It started with a brainstorm from founder and CEO Jeff Bezos that Amazon should offer everyone near its headquarters—not just employees—healthy, eco-friendly snacks as a public service. After considering oranges, Amazon picked bananas, and opened its first Community Banana Stand in late 2015. It has since expanded to two stands on its corporate campus, which sprawls across several blocks in downtown Seattle, and says it has given out more than 1.7 million free bananas.”

“The response has been split. Most Amazonians like them. Other workers say it is now hard to find bananas in stock at nearby grocery stores. And some eateries in a two-block radius of the stands are feeling squished.”

“Amazon has traditionally been more frugal with its perks than other tech companies, which offer dry cleaning, haircuts, cold-brew coffee, nap pods and in-house yoga classes, among other things … Most visitors take two. Others take close to a dozen, claiming they have hungry co-workers—never, of course, that they hanker to bake banana bread after work. Some post photos on Instagram feeding the bananas to their dogs. The stand offers dog treats for four-legged friends.”

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New HQs Capture Corporate Culture

The Economist: “Throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley, cash-rich technology firms have built or are erecting bold, futuristic headquarters that convey their brands to employees and customers … The exteriors of the new buildings will attract most attention, but it is their interiors that should be watched more closely … The big idea championed by the industry is the concept of working in various spaces around an office rather than at a fixed workstation.”

“A fluid working environment is meant to allow for more chance encounters, which could spur new ideas and spark unexpected collaborations … Young workers are thought to be more productive in these varied environments, which are reminiscent of the way people study and live at university. One drawback, however, is that finding colleagues can be difficult. Employees need to locate each other through text messages and messaging apps.”

“The data that firms can collect on their employees’ whereabouts and activities are bound to become ever more detailed … it is not hard to imagine how such data could create a culture of surveillance, where employees feel constantly monitored … A less controversial trend is for unusual office interiors. These can distinguish companies in the minds of their employees, act as a recruiting tool and also give staff a reason to come into the office rather than work from home … The effect of all this is that the typical office at a technology firm is becoming a prosperous, self-contained village. Employees have fewer reasons than ever to leave.”

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Whole Foods: Now Just Another Big Box?

The Wall Street Journal: “Whole Foods Market Inc. wants to cut prices without sacrificing the local products that define its healthy image … Some smaller suppliers and industry consultants say the shift to a more centralized distribution structure and other changes risk compromising Whole Foods’ ability to keep stocked with the latest foodie trends and hot local brands.”

“Many of the changes are being spearheaded by Don Clark, a former Target Corp. executive … The data analytics, centralized purchasing and strict shelf management he brought from Target could save money that Whole Foods can use to lower its relatively high prices … Whole Foods has long divided its 462 stores into 11 regions, each with distinct product offerings like local maple syrup and gourmet pickles. A quarter of Whole Foods shoppers that visited the chain in the past month did so for items they couldn’t find elsewhere, according to a survey by Kantar Retail.”

“Whole Foods co-founder and Chief Executive John Mackey said … his new strategy strikes a balance between the remaining autonomy of regional executives and an easier process for national brands to pitch their products just once at Whole Foods’ Austin, Texas, headquarters. That streamlining will lead to lower prices, he said … But smaller brands and people who work with them say they have less incentive to put up with a more impersonal Whole Foods … And some big brands say Whole Foods’ regionalized approach made it tough to negotiate a nationwide strategy for their brands.”

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Dyson: The Apple of Appliances?

The New York Times: “Not many consumer electronics brands would spend almost two decades — and tens of millions of dollars — building a vacuum cleaner that retails for more than a top-of-the-line laptop. But combining an almost obsessive eye for design and engineering, the privately held Dyson has cornered the nonglamorous market of high-end vacuum cleaners, lights and hair dryers — and in the process bucked the technology truism that companies rarely make money in the difficult arena of hardware.”

“Dyson has shown an uncanny ability to mint money. Its latest robot cleaner, which is selling briskly, exemplifies that and puts Dyson in rarefied company alongside Apple as one of the few tech companies worldwide to consistently profit from consumer gadgets Dyson is moving beyond vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and air purifiers. The company said it would spend more than $2 billion on battery technology, machine learning and other high-tech wizardry to create new products, many of which remain under wraps behind tight security at its headquarters.”

“At Dyson’s headquarters … prototypes were covered in tarps while large areas of the open-plan offices were off limits. Photographs of engineers’ computer screens were prohibited, and machinery in some of the research labs was obscured with black trash bags.” Mario Cosci of Dyson comments: “It’s a little like a brainwashing atmosphere. When you work every day with people who are driven, you can’t swim against it.”

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Uber Economics: Managing Driver Behavior

The New York Times: “Even as Uber talks up its determination to treat drivers more humanely, it is engaged in an extraordinary behind-the-scenes experiment in behavioral science to manipulate them in the service of its corporate growth … using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work.”

“To keep drivers on the road, the company has exploited some people’s tendency to set earnings goals — alerting them that they are ever so close to hitting a precious target when they try to log off. It has even concocted an algorithm similar to a Netflix feature that automatically loads the next program, which many experts believe encourages binge-watching. In Uber’s case, this means sending drivers their next fare opportunity before their current ride is even over.”

Uber spokesman Michael Amodeo comments: “We show drivers areas of high demand or incentivize them to drive more. But any driver can stop work literally at the tap of a button — the decision whether or not to drive is 100 percent theirs.”

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A Straight Line to the ‘Circular Design’ Economy

Quartz: “Our modern industrial economy was based on a straight line—a linear progression of make, use, dispose … But what would happen if we took that line and bent it into a circle? What if the stuff we created never outlived its use? What if its constituent parts could be used as raw material for the next generation? That’s the promise of circular design.”

“Take Tesla, for example … Electric vehicles are powered by renewables, and when you’re not driving, your car can join a Tesla fleet that carries out various tasks and pays you for the favor, thereby offsetting your cost. Instead of just sitting there like a lump of steel in your garage when not in use, your car can also perform personal tasks for you when in autonomous mode, like driving your mother back to her assisted-living facility or delivering a gift to a friend.”

“On the consumer level, several startups are making it easy for buyers to tap into the circular-design economy. Stuffstr, for example, makes keeping products such as mobile phones or game consoles in circulation easy. You log your purchases in the app, and when they’ve outlived their use, it does the work of selling, donating, or giving them away … Spacious transforms restaurants that are closed during the day into co-working spaces, saving both the restaurant and the co-working spaces lease money.”

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The 4 Strengths of Office Introverts

Quartz: “There’s no doubt that extroverts can make excellent employees. But introverts have their own unique strengths. Consider the four qualities identified by leaders from companies including Apple, Microsoft, and SAP as essential for strong employees: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.”

1) Creativity: “Extroverts are great at driving conversations and contributing to brainstorming sessions. Introverts, meanwhile, tend to listen closely to others and carefully observe as events unfold. This means that they can often perceive problems with greater clarity, depth, and objectivity.” 2) Critical Thinking: “Laura Helgoe, in her book Introvert Power, argues that introverts are naturally drawn to the solitude and persistence required for deep work and have experienced its power throughout their lives. And the biggest impediments to deep work are a frenzy of interruptions in the name of constant connection—something introverts are known to avoid.”

3) Collaboration: “Introverted leaders are most likely to succeed on teams dominated by extroverts. The introvert in charge will ask good questions, encourage novel thinking, and help the team to establish a shared, coherent vision of how to carry the work forward. Extroverted leaders, meanwhile, have a knack for energizing a more introverted team and helping them to make rapid progress.” 4) Communication: “In essence, introverts have a strong tendency to actively reflect upon and refine their own thinking. Such intense and ongoing metacognitive reflection provides greater access to the memory of what it was like before they gained their new knowledge. This provides valuable insight for them as to figure out how to help others grasp new information or skills.”

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Client-Centric Offices: Like a Hotel Lobby

The Wall Street Journal: “A number of businesses in the New York area are designing offices with a focus on creating less formal meeting environments for clients, ranging from couches and stools in office cafes to small meeting rooms and game areas … Today, a visit from a client might involve not just a meeting or two but also an extra hour to have coffee or plug into the free Wi-Fi and work. In some cases, companies even encourage clients to bring clients of their own.”

“Morningstar Inc.’s offices at 4 World Trade Center were planned with a variety of spaces to work in and meet … Clients can access informal areas that include Wi-Fi, a cafe, high-backed couches, chairs around coffee tables, a semi-enclosed auditorium and spectacular views of One World Trade Center and the city. Among the goals was to create a space where employees could connect with clients directly. The designers found that Morningstar’s customers started spending more time there between meetings or before traveling to the airport.”

Lenny Beaudoin of CBRE Group comments: “A great office is starting to look like a hotel lobby, and a great hotel lobby is starting to look like a place where work can get done.”

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REI: A Community of Customers

The Atlantic: “REI is a retail cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its members. The company has created somewhat of a community by offering memberships, offering its over 6 million active members a dividend for future purchases at REI and one vote in an annual board of directors election for $20. That might seem innovative, but perhaps what’s more surprising is that, in many ways, REI is just practicing old-school retail wisdom.”

CEO Jerry Stritzke comments: I would say it’s a compelling competitive advantage, and as we look to the future, I think that idea of having a community organized around a shared passion—in this case a love of a life lived outside—is really important. That aspect of the co-op is a big thing. We gave away over $9 million dollars to a number of nonprofits partners. That’s playing a central role in advocating for what we’re passionate about, and being in that community.”

And: “The last thing is it’s a long-term perspective … To really be able to look out and ask, what does it mean to be vibrant, to be compelling over a three-, five-, 10-year horizon? That’s phenomenally important.”

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Should Workplaces Be More Like Nightclubs?

Quartz: Why do we strike up more spontaneous conversations with people in bars than we do in the workplace? The answer isn’t alcohol—it’s the eye height you engage with people at … By this logic, in order to facilitate communication and collaboration, we should make our workplaces more like bars. Without the drinking.”

“Eye-to-eye, face-to-face connections are critical to workplace success; they are the basis for building common ground, trust, and facilitating the flow of ideas. Yet so many workplaces are designed to be a divided plane between those sitting, standing, and walking. When someone is sitting down, they are roughly 12 inches below the eye height of someone walking by—and this elevation segregation means everything to workplace productivity and conviviality.”

“We need our furniture to be as adaptable as we are; a transparent armor that protects us without ever getting in the way of inspired times. Our workplace furniture should therefore take advantage of the social power of face-to-face interactions. And all it takes is 12 inches.”

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