Design Your Workspace With Steve Jobs In Mind

Steve Jobs, who radically transformed the architecture of computing (and almost everything else), is about to transform the culture and performance of Apple through physical architecture.

Jobs announced his retirement as CEO generating a flood of appreciations, appraisals and analysis, mostly focused on what it was that he has done thus far. However, in what seemed to be the last significant act before announcing his retirement, Jobs appeared before the Cupertino California city council to present his proposal for the next headquarters of Apple. I assume this is the catalytic tool he will put in place to have resonating influence and impact on this organization well into the future.

I was fascinated with the design of his proposal, but I was mostly impressed with the choice he and his architect had made of basic form. That is, Jobs presented his proposal as a direct rejection of a campus approach to planning and instead spoke of the need to get everybody in the same place. Jobs’s presentation implied a frustration with the dispersion of his staff among many buildings in the area. In announcing that he had bought the HP campus where he first entered the business, he also said he was going to demolish all of its buildings.

His proposal was a single building on a significantly re-greened site. Much of the resulting chat in press and blogs was around its “spaceship” appearance, but it perhaps was most like the iPod click-wheel, a circle of a building to house 13,000 people – in somewhat older professional jargon that seems oddly pejorative these days, a megastructure.

I focused on this because, with colleagues over the past few weeks, I’ve been engaged in a discussion around the subject of “master plan.” A client has asked us to advise them on the development of properties they have that currently house their R&D operations. They are a company who have moved from the manufacture of mechanical devices to the development of highly sophisticated, globally-networked devices. They are a company who, in other words, are perceived as a manufacturer of devices but are, instead, a technology platform.

I’ve been in this place before. At two ends of the spectrum of big organization with roots in gritty manufacturing but transforming themselves, I’ve designed corporate homes in campuses and in megastructures. I’ve noted this:

If you need to reinforce the capabilities and competencies of a discipline, the campus is a good form
If you want to integrate the thinking of many disciplines, the megastructure (a unified building) is a good form

I cannot imagine that Steve Jobs with his architect, Sir Norman Foster, did not engage in hours upon hours of debate about form, culture, communications, intentions, transformations and the future. I cannot imagine that Jobs presented the design of his new company home without having deliberated about transformation as much as he has done with everything else he’s generated.

I cannot imagine that Jobs did not see the physical architecture of the workplace as influential and transformational as he did the design of Apple’s physical products that changed whole industries.

So, imagine that – after transforming computing, communications, music and publishing, what’s in the works after 13,000 people go to work in this new building?

Have you thought about your workspace in the same way that Steve Jobs must have?

Join the global innovation community

Jim Meredith




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