Can’t we still enjoy a good old fashioned family rug sale?

We’ve all been there: our mother hurriedly vacates the four-bedroom house she’s been living in for 40 years and packs enough oriental rugs in the moving truck to carpet Lower Manhattan.

Whatcha gonna do? Sell those puppies!

Or, try to sell them.

Nice, huh?

It seems that on the Ikea-encrusted plastic fantastic landscape of home decor today, classy handmade oriental wool rugs are not a hot item. Since July, I’ve emailed dozens of my more domestically inclined friends about them, posted them on the neighborhood Yahoo group twice, flyered our local food coops and cafes with their visages, and enlisted fellow travelers to spread the word through their workplaces. Last night, I finally resorted to Craigslist.

The results? One sale, everyone! One measly sale.

Esteemed readers, please don’t tell me taste is dead—especially in a place known for its preoccupation with style! Please don’t tell me the Young People of Today, walking around in their skinny pants with their double-digit lattes, don’t care about aesthetics, or don’t want to splurge on nice things. Even worse, don’t tell me that the Old People of Today left their dignity in the checkout line at Target and forgot what they were always nagging us about when we just wanted to play Nintendo: the importance of craftsmanship, the wisdom of buying things that last, the value of maintaining tradition and culture.

Or, hey, if you do want to tell me these things, go ahead. I’ll steel myself. But you know what would really salve the wound? If you wanted to buy a rug! All reasonable offers entertained.

I co-authored a white paper!

You can probably tell by the excited tone of that title that I’ve never worked for the government (except as a census-taker! those were good times) or for any other organization that produces white papers. Therefore, my first experience with writing one was exciting and heady. And it made me Google “what is a white paper?”

I think I get it now, and that’s a good thing, because my name is on it—right there on page 12 of “Unoffice the Office: Emerging Opportunities to Advance the Human-centered Workplace,” which I helped my client PLASTARC to author for their client west elm WORKSPACE (so many caps!).

West Elm Workspace Unoffice the Office White Paper

Here ’tis!

While you might not imagine that reading a good 10 straight pages of social science research about how best to design workplace interiors would be a good use of your time, I just might beg to differ! Take, for example, this golden nugget about the roots of “collaboration” and “community,” two big buzzwords in the workplace world today:

Great inspiration for this research can come from one particularly multipurpose and unifying item of furniture: the ubiquitous kitchen table. In our homes, this one object is the literal and figurative epicenter of activity for both individual and collaborative work. We don’t have different tables for each task we do; we just clear the surface off and start something else! Why does this method work, and work so easily?

Building on the basic hierarchy of human needs described by Abraham Maslow in the 1940s, modern psychologists have posited that spiritual and cultural values must be integrated into design to give individuals a sense of a space’s meaning and of “collective well-being”—a combination of social cohesion, a sense of community and rootedness, and the presence of enduring links to place. Collective well-being is a broad and essential goal of workplace design, but it’s not a complicated one to meet.

Within families, individuals feel a sense of shared values and a sense of rootedness; at our kitchen tables, we feel the presence of an enduring place, one we can rely on to support whatever work we’re doing, be it individual or group-based. We can translate this community-centric spatial model—this central activity hub for meeting, talking, learning, creating (and, of course, eating)—from the home to the workplace by providing employees with functional, multipurpose, group-sized amenities. Simple furnishings that are easy to transform radiate a sense of residential familiarity that can do wonders for engendering professional cooperation.

See? Not boring!

Perhaps just as importantly, I think we steered clear of That White Paper Guy’s top ten “worst practices.” (Whether you’re going by the photo at the top left of him with short hair, or the one at the bottom of him with longer hair, I do not want to get on this pink-shirted fellow’s bad side!)

PLASTARC: Shifting workplace metrics from ‘square feet and inches’ to ‘occupant satisfaction and performance’

Five senses icons

I’m no doctor, but I know a worthwhile mission when I read it.

For the past nearly-year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and corporate real estate strategy firm, on many of their communications. PLASTARC was founded by the inimitable Melissa Marsh, who’s dedicated her career to making workplaces work better for people.

Dr. Nancy Mroczek singing, by Paul Taggart

Dr. Nancy Mroczek: No relation to PLASTARC (that I’m aware of), but I shoehorned in a tangential connection below

Recently, PLASTARC began archiving their newsletters on their website (always a great idea, in my book), and I have to say I was impressed when I had a flip through them. Yes, I did have a lot to do with writing them, but that’s not the only reason! The ideas they grew from are all PLASTARC, and all interesting, whether or not you’re an architect, HR manager, or real estate nerd. Here’s a sampling of topics and tidbits:

  • Multisensory design: “Heeding multiple dimensions of sensory experience both complicates and enables the task of designing human-centric spaces; it opens exciting opportunities for leveraging workplace design strategies in increasingly nuanced ways.”
  • Activity based working: “The social-centric economic structures of Europe have brought us many fresh workplace ideas, including the German-born Bürolandschaft concept, which intended to bring more organic desk groupings and elements of privacy to assembly line-style open offices with identical desks—but instead wound up spawning the now dreaded cubicle.”
  • Workplace community management: “We’re constantly learning from coworking, where the best community managers often hail from backgrounds in education, political science, and even community organizing.”
  • Smart buildings: “PLASTARC sees this moment as the beginning of a golden age in which technology enables building design to focus almost exclusively on serving and sustaining human experience.”
  • The social data era: “Soon, we’ll be able to understand as much about the demand for work environments and architectural features as we do right now about the demand for products in a grocery store. With these unique skills and methods, we are moving from analysis to prediction of both the desirability and utility of space.”

Dang, that’s enough brain food for a week of lunch breaks! Thanks, PLASTARC.

If you’re hungry for more thought leadership on the future of workplace, subscribe to their newsletter and await the next knowledge drop. This month’s topic: SCIENCE.

Last week’s Mashable Social Good Summit was pointless

I’m sort of cringing at that snippy, click bait-y title, but it really was not good.

I’d heard about this annual social good event for the past few years, but hadn’t had occasion to go. Then a friend of mine, who’s launching a new design and social good conference in Portland next year, asked if I would attend this year’s program in her stead and give her notes.

I was genuinely interested. Also, I’m sure I don’t need to say that when you offer a freelance writer a free ticket to something, she’ll always go. So I went.

A (good) freelance writer will also always try to show-not-tell you about their experience. So here’s what I saw, as reported to my notebook during the event:

At least they had one of those celebrity backdrops you could stand in front of.

At least they had one of those celebrity backdrops you could stand in front of.

  • “Objectively meaningless two-minute video where the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal flags are waving around groups of ethnically-diverse children.”
  • “Opening ceremony = brief introductions to each of the SDGs by celebrities Victoria Beckham, the clock/”bomb” kid, Adrian Grenier, a taped speech by Jennifer Lopez… This is not helpful or interesting! Just a parade of celebrities.”
  • “The Digital Media Lounge appears to be a room with a bunch of tables where people are using laptops and there’s a screen projecting the live program happening in the auditorium. The lounge is where the coffee and snacks are, too, which was not explained to us before.”
  • “Did the conference website crash, or is the wifi in here just getting deluged? Been 10 minutes and it hasn’t loaded.”
  • “Moderator: ‘These kids will be leading this summit 15 years from now.’ Yawn.”
  • “Panel participant: ‘Social media is used by young people, who are going to be the ones driving change for the next decades, so we need to use and pay attention to social.’ Is this news??”
  • “There is a panel called ‘Champions of the Earth.’ “
  • “I see people with pizza, and I smell pizza. I guess we got pizza! No instructions or explanations. It’s like a secret!”
  • “I’m not sure who’s here, or why. There was no chance to network—other than waiting in line for the bathroom, which I did—and I’m left with no sense of who would come to this. Starting to think it was just a bunch of UN moles!!”
  • “Closing remarks were compassionately brief. We were asked to leave the auditorium immediately afterward.”

I could go on, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone, exactly. And there were some gems:

A deservedly tired Bill McKibben spoke about, among other things, the similarities between tobacco and oil companies when their jigs have been up.

Moxie Marlinspike issued the very interesting thought that laws should be difficult to enforce: “How would we know that public opinion and demand was swaying in support of same-sex marriages if no one had ever seen an ‘illegal’ same-sex relationship in public? Same goes for marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado. We need to see how people act outside of what they’re told to do by laws in order to see what they’re really like; what they really want and need.”

Lara Logan was a tough and smart moderator who brought needed rigor and vigor to her discussions.

But overall, I was surprised by how much time and care went into something that wound up being so banal and providing such little value. My peanut gallery tips to conference organizers of the future:

  • Make it concrete, not conceptual. Statistics and stories can be useful; platitudes are not.
  • For the love of god, build time to network into your schedule. No one wants to go to a conference, sit for six hours, then go home. Networking is half the point.
  • Either tell us to bring a lunch, or tell us there will be food (and preferably what and where and when, too). Also for the love of god.

That’s it. No hard feelings, Mashable (although I can’t recall seeing anything on your site that’s really grabbed me, either). Just… sayin’.