Can mature companies still be invasive when it comes to innovation?

Henry King wrote a good article talking about eight principles that business/design innovators can learn from invasive species. He concludes by talking about qualities that businesses need to stay invasive. However, he does not cite any cases of companies that have avoided falling into the “defend market share” mode once they succeed as market innovators. When asked about this, he replied,

Although I’m not a Steve Jobs devotee I do think that Apple is perhaps more innovative now than it’s ever been and has very successfully invaded at least three industries in the last decade: media distribution, which the record companies used to own; media consumption, which Sony used to own; and mobile telephony, which Motorola and Nokia used to own (although this is still a new industry and therefore more dynamic than most).  And they’re playing around with TV.  A question for them is what they’ll do about gaming, but regardless I’d count Apple as a contemporary case study in ongoing invasiveness.

I’ve talked with Kraft and I don’t think I’d put them in the innovative category.  They have organizational structures in place that tend to encourage incremental innovation (a new pizza topping! a thicker cheese slice!) and discourage transformational innovations.  P&G are more interesting and a better candidate largely because of their Connect and Develop initiative that exploits under-utilized resources, namely the skills of anyone and everyone outside of P&G’s own walls.  Another interesting group is Tata, the Indian conglomerate that has made significant innovation recently in hotels and cars.

Mature organizations nearly always optimize around increasing the efficiency of their existing operations (increasing sales while reducing costs).  This is reflected in org structures, compensation and incentives, leadership styles, team skills and capabilities, and new product development processes.  It turns out, however, that all of these things that explicitly encourage efficiency have the tendency to discourage innovation.  Even ideas like “best practices” tend to promote efficiency rather than innovation.  So much of our work is aimed at helping them become ambidextrous (to use the term coined by Tushman and O’Reilly in their paper Ambidextrous Organizations), able to devote most of their attention to efficiency while simultaneously fostering effectiveness/innovation.

Case Precedent: Tempe Transportation Center

The Tempe Transportation Center, opened on December 28, 2008, serves the Phoenix Arizona community by connecting light rail and several regional bus lines. It is located blocks away from Arizona State University. The building includes retail, a transit store, bicycle storage (with repair and accessories), a community room, and transit operations center.

According to Architectural Record,

The brief initially called for a large bus plaza and a 5,000-square-foot building with restrooms and a ticket counter. The program evolved, however, as the light-rail project gained momentum and the surrounding district saw a burst of construction activity. Ultimately, the architects were charged with conceiving a bus plaza and a multistory building containing offices for the city’s transit division, leasable commercial space, a community room, and an indoor bike garage with shower facilities. “This place was an opportunity to show people that we can have alternatives to the car,” explains Bonnie Richardson, AIA, principal planner and architect for the City of Tempe’s transportation department. After teaming up for an RFQ, Otak and Architekton won the commission in 2004 and worked in tandem on the design.

Figuring out how to accommodate a steady stream of buses — approximately 300 a day — in a relatively tight space was “the first piece of the puzzle,” explains Ron Dean, an architect with Otak. The design team stretched a 52-foot-wide, curved driveway, lined by 13 bus shelters, across nearly the entire width of the 2.7-acre, triangular site. To the north is the light-rail stop, where a train arrives every 10 minutes during peak hours.

Edging the western portion of the site is a three-story, steel-framed box that reaches toward the street and houses most of the center’s programmatic elements. Its design is sensible and straightforward. Tucked farther back, however, is a 2,400-square-foot wing that was envisioned as “an expressive, sculptural counterpoint,” describes John Kane, FAIA, Architekton design principal. Its faceted roof is made of pearlescent aluminum-composite panels that appear gold in the morning and sage green in the afternoon.

This elevated wing, which contains the community room, rests on pilotis, forming a ground-level plaza with seating, landscaped beds, and gabion walls filled with glass slag and multicolored LEDs. At night, the walls, designed by artist Lorna Jordan, glow brightly and enliven the center. During the day, the deeply shaded plaza provides refuge from the scorching summer heat.

The sun is always a vital concern in Phoenix. In the case of the transit building, the architects couldn’t employ the optimal east-west orientation due to the bus plaza. And so, “every facade we considered, we were thinking about how to mitigate solar exposure,” says Dean. They clad most of the rectilinear volume in low-E, insulated glass and used various shading strategies. On the east, for instance, 18 motorized screens, each approximately 10 by 17 feet, are programmed to deploy at dawn and retract at noon. On the west, where the building core is located, the architects opted for an opaque facade with slit windows. Here, a ribbed concrete-masonry skin not only refers to the adjacent building (a police station) but also “provides a thermal break,” Kane explains.

The interior design feels modern and fresh. The finishes and furnishings were chosen for their ecofriendly attributes, from bamboo office doors to countertops made of recycled paper. Thanks to ample glazing and a fairly narrow floor plate, “You don’t have to turn on the lights” during the day, Kane says, adding that the facility is projected to consume about 50 percent less energy than a comparable building. Other sustainable features include an underfloor air-distribution system, a graywater-recycling system, and a green roof.

The building is seeking Platinum LEED certification. According to the project manager Parsons,

Tempe actively supports LEED-certified projects. As such, the TTC was designed to use 52% less energy, and it is one of the first buildings of its kind to be submitted for LEED platinum certification to the U.S. Green Building Council. It is currently awaiting LEED platinum confirmation.

Designed to blend in to the Tempe landscape, the center was oriented on the site to preserve its featured views of the adjacent Hayden Butte, a historically significant geological formation and culturally significant site to Native Americans of Hohokam origin. The arid climate of the Sonoran Desert influenced the development of the project, which incorporates many sustainable features:

  • Green roof with desert landscaping
  • 12,000-gallon rainwater recovery cistern
  • Graywater recovery and recycling system
  • Mechanical/retractable shading devices
  • Solar water heating
  • Underfloor ventilation system
  • Lighting controls
  • Bicycle station with showers
  • No-flush waterless urinals
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures

To create and support the public’s awareness of the project’s sustainability strategies, the TTC also features a Green Touchscreen dashboard detailing the building’s energy consumption, water use, and other environmentally important features.

Cost: $18.1 million

Project Division Site Visits

Two sites have been proposed for the new Division circle line train station. The station would have to accommodate at least two lines – the existing blue line and the new circle line – and serve as a transfer point to bus lines 9, 56 and 70. The blue line is two levels underground and the new circle line would probably be one level above ground to connect to existing infrastructure on other above ground lines. Bus transfers would occur at the street level.

Site A is across Division from the current blue line exit. It is an abandoned building next to Wendy’s with a small parking lot between the two. Advantages to Site A include the following: (1a) close to existing blue line station, minimizing underground excavation for a transfer to the circle line, (2a) near the center of night life, making it a convenient access point and (3a) less foot traffic than Site B, reducing the risk of injury during the construction period. Disadvantages to Site A include the following: (1d) near a busy car traffic intersection, which may raise safety issues and (2d) located in a slightly less “nice” area, which may compromise passenger security.

Site B is a Staples on Ashland, north of Division. It is located in an outdoor shopping center that also contains a Jewel-Osco and a Kmart. It is about one block away from the current blue line station. Advantages to Site B include the following: (1a) close to shopping, alleviating the need to walk another block to get to access public transportation and (2a) located in a slightly better area where private security can patrol the shopping center. Disadvantages to Site B include the following: (1d) higher cost of construction in tearing down a larger, occupied building and building longer underground infrastructure to connect to the blue line and (2d) wide street crossing at Ashland makes it inconvenient to access bus 9 going north and it is one block removed from lines 56 and 70, making it less of a transportation hub.

Between the two sites, my inclination is towards Site A. However, a third possibility exists in renovating the abandoned MB Bank building. It is above one of the current blue line entrances, minimizing underground excavation. It could house an upper level indoor boarding platform without as much new construction. The extra space could be used for a store such as Trader Joe’s. It could offer a direct entrance to the business offices next door. Finally, it is close to bus lines 6, 56 and 70, making it a convenient transfer hub.

Cradle to Cradle Silliness

Not to denigrate the cradle to cradle movement which touts the end of one life as the beginning of another life cycle, but this fish tank is hilarious. The Japanese have invented a deep fryer where hot oil floats above a tank of water. Inside the water are fish that eat the Panko breadcrumbs settling from the fryer. In turn, when the fish die and float to the surface, they get fried and fed to the cat.

Project Division Demographic Research

Successful architecture, like successful music, creates a strong sense of community.

The area surrounding Division station is undergoing gentrification. Every other building is for lease and businesses that remain do not appear to be doing well. Compare MB bank’s traditional building to the modern attachment beside it labeled, “Wicker Park’s most exciting new project” and you will find one company’s vision of the caliber of people who deserve to live in this up-and-coming neighborhood.

Walk down North Marshfield Avenue and you’ll notice every third house is dilapidated and for sale while every other house has been upgraded with fresh facades that infuse elements of modernism to the neighborhood’s brick laden aesthetic.

South of Division on Milwaukee, the streets are lined with cheap taco stands and bars. Within a block of the Holy Trinity High School is a Planned Parenthood. North of Division and West of Ashland on Milwaukee some buildings are show signs of new life. Past the community mural celebrating the working class is Tocco, a contemporary bar and pizzeria.

Further down the road is the heart of Wicker Park where trendy shops and small eateries are vibrant in spite of the Sunday morning.

At the heart of this divide is a triangle island that is enclosed by Ashland, Milwaukee and Division. At this juncture, busses 9, 56, and 70 come and go, delivering and picking up predominately blue collar passengers. The homeless congregate around a fountain on this Sunday morning. They sift through garbage collected from the alleys. “Yeah, $4 for 2 pounds,” one says.

On one of the circular benches, a weathered white man strikes up a conversation with an African American. Both appear homeless. A taxi drops off an older couple with luggage for the blue line towards O’Hare. An upper middle class couple push a baby carriage through the Hispanics lining up for the 56 bus.

Around the fountain is text in raised metal letters: For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart. It suggests that this was once a working class neighborhood. Before the recession, did boarded up buildings once house thriving businesses? When people lost their jobs and couldn’t afford mortgages, did the upper middle class seize an opportunity to purchase and rehabilitate affordable housing?

I asked one of the garbage sifters what he was going to do with all this garbage. He said, “We’re gonna use what we’re gonna use and the rest we’re gonna throw away.” Middle class waste finds a second life. The end of one life cycle becomes the beginning of another. So it goes with the housing, businesses and face of the neighborhood. This is the design challenge for the proposed Division circle line station: How can architecture integrate a transitory neighborhood that includes elements of wealth and poverty?

Design Trends in Furniture 2007-2010

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The Cradle to Cradle Challenge

The industrial revolution changed the way people interacted with the earth because people wanted to subscribe to that change. The industrial revolution brought about mass produced conveniences that people wanted. Some would argue that this caused irreparable damage to the environment. If we are to argue that a new design revolution is taking root, this so-called “cradle to cradle movement,” what makes it so compelling that people will want to subscribe?

In “Upsizing,” Gunter Pauli tries to establish Generative Science as that solution. The author introduces this topic in the context of Darwin and Entropy. He argues that Darwin viewed evolution too narrowly by studying individual species in isolation when survival in nature depends on species integration within the broader ecological system. When we view nature as a system, we realize that there is more cooperation across species than competition. The death of one becomes the food for another. Entropy views life as a linear path towards chaos. It is a predominately Western mindset that encourages people to consume as much as they can during their lifetime. It is narrow in its view. From the standpoint of one person, things move from order to disorder as the body ages. But this does not have to hold true for the broader system of humanity. Generative Science embraces an Eastern mindset that considers the entire life cycle. By engineering the “waste” of one product to become the food for another process in a constructive manner, the cradle to cradle method encourages a healthier form of sustainable design than conservation techniques that only mitigate ecological damage.

McDonough and Braungart elaborate on Generative Science in “The Extravagant Gesture: Nature, Design, and the Transformation of Human Industry” by presenting the case for how cradle to cradle design needs to be celebratory of its local environment. They identify two forms of “nutrients” in cradle to cradle design: biological, which come from directly natural processes, and technical, which come from closed loops of reuse for materials that nature cannot absorb. Reclaiming and upcycling materials to create improved products occurs in the textiles industry. BASF uses a transformative process to rematerialize (rather than dematerialize as in the case of paper recycling) nylon 6 to make it an improved fiber.

Products need to adapt to the local environment. For example, the chemicals needed in soap depend on the hardness of water and the use of that soap. The environment’s needs from the runoff of soap water differ by region. National soap manufacturers do not take these considerations into account and simply add more chemicals to override local conditions. Locally produced detergents would be better suited for the community and promote local employment. Yet these extravagant gestures do not typify America because of the overarching economics. Cradle to cradle is touted as better, but only in isolated cases does it seem economically feasible.

This is the challenge we must face. How can we find solutions that incorporate the constraints of a broader ecological system into our design? What kinds of materials become suitable biological and technical waste for the environments of our target audience? Moreover, how do we make our solutions sufficiently compelling that consumers will want to buy into a cradle to cradle lifestyle? If we can’t compete on price, we must compete on feature set. This begs the question, “What aspects of the local environment can we leverage in biology or technology to lower the production cost or enrich the meaning of our products?”