Thought Starters

How do you design for a business that is in constant flux?

Our world is changing faster that we can imagine.

We live in interesting times.

November’s Fast Company feature article is about a phenomenon coined by Robert Safian as Generation Flux. The headline drew me in purely because of the word chaos. Chaos in the business world does seem like a paradox as Robert so aptly pointed out. The article examines how the leadership from established companies like Nike, Cisco and Intuit to newbie influencers like Hearsay, Box and Foursquare are changing the way they view business practice in today’s world.

We live in a time of chaos the title shouts.

The idea of chaos, in this context, is the rebirth of the organizational hierarchy as it responds to new technology and innovation within the changing tide of business today. The article recognises that business shifts radically over short periods of time and traditional models of success such as a top down hierarchy are losing pace against an inclusionary approach of collaboration, flexibility and the agility realized through acceptance of change as a cultural norm. Organizations that are structured with the ability to make quick course corrections in response to shifts in the market are starting to outpace their competition.

Generation Flux seems to be equated to organized chaos.

The article is compelling (click here) and offers some interesting examples of how companies are not only winning the battle but setting the stage for the business of the future.

Where does an Interior Designer’s interest lie in this concept of organized chaos?

Simply, can this brand of chaos be organized?

The idea that these companies are relying on their employees to drive change, innovation and generate ideas from all levels of the organization permeates this article. Many of these companies demonstrate why a traditional hierarchical top down organization can experience difficulty when sharing ideas and opening communication channels. It becomes clear that an inclusionary culture is a necessity to drive innovation.

There are some great examples of the challenges that present themselves when new ideas make their way through an organization from a variety of positions.

Communication becomes the catalyst for change.

The idea that employees can openly challenge ideas and are empowered to act on challenges they experience in their field of view is deemed to build a culture of collaborative trust. Recognizing organizations are made up of a broad variety of personality types breaking down silos appears as a key driver to the success of a highly collaborate environment. Isolating people in traditional divisions (marketing, accounting, sales, etc) limits the recognition of the diversity of skills, personalities and work styles critical to the success of a truly innovative environment. Insulating ideas by department is a concept that appears to be ineffective for a Generation Flux company.

The antithesis is described as a shared consciousness.

The idea that the culture of these companies is inclusionary and contribution from a variety of sources is valued makes for an interesting spatial design problem. The notion of a one size fits all office environment no longer seems appropriate in this arena.

Imagine a company that reorganizes its structure at the drop of a hat in order to innovate. What’s it going to take to design a work space that responds to their unpredictable needs?

The idea that these companies weave change into their DNA presents interesting problems for traditional space planning methods. How do we make it easy for these companies to work in physical environments that allow them to be flexible, change at a moment’s notice or reconfigure and shift gears to respond to a new innovation?

How do we plan space for a company whose culture is one of reinvention?

Traditional planning practice will no longer work.

Interior Designers understand hierarchy the same way as traditional business does.

We have spent years organizing people into offices, in cubes surrounded by meeting rooms, open and casual spaces all centered on a traditional structure; skills delivering the needs of departments with specific goals to meet an organizations business operation.

This new Generation Flux is different.

Known planning practices could hinder these types of organizations more than help them.

As designers we need to be able to understand these models and throw away the trends that have been adopted over the years. We will no longer be able to solely utilize traditional methodologies such as in-boarding private offices, creating collaboration zones, creating neighbourhoods or rely on traditional planning adjacencies. The business operations of these organizations won’t be able to function in physical space that relies on traditional hierarchical thinking.

Instead we have to think along the lines of constant change.

Flexibility is clearly the key ingredient to effective space design but how does a physical space respond to the constantly changing needs of an organization?

Imagine groups of individuals migrating through a company’s offices as they need, gathering for projects, disbanding, moving between spaces as requirements change and responding to the shifting needs of a market.

I can only be chaos.

We have always understood that each organization’s needs are unique and it is the one constant that will never change. We also know now that one size does not fit all. Whether understood and applied or not it will always hold true through all aspects of an organizations culture right down to the individual even more now than ever.

We need to plan for change.

Interior Designers have to fully grasp the concept of flexibility.

In more ways than one we need to understand how these unique organizations operate in order to provide responsible solutions to their space needs. We have to look at design differently, be open to radical thinking, understand the culture of change and understand that our way of working through design solutions needs to align with that of the organization for which we are working.

Designers need think about their planning methodologies in a very different way.

The departure from highly specialized people being the sole contributor within their field of work seems to be on the chopping block in many of these organizations. The notion that innovation can be borne from a chance encounter, a problem solved in another area of the business or accepting ideas from someone whose role is unrelated to the specific problem is a powerful thought. Valuing experience in conjunction with academia is not a new concept but one that permeates the attitudes of these Generation Flux companies.

Interior Designers need to think in the same way.

We will no longer be able to rely on known planning principles. In depth observation necessary to gain a deep understanding of the culture of these organizations will drive the planning process. A much greater amount of time will be required in discovery than in implementation. A fundamental shift driven by discovery will change how designers approach the process for implementing physical space solutions.

The ability to be flexible in approach will drive the success of the physical space to meet the needs of these organizations.

What works today may not work tomorrow.

Modular solutions may suit an organization like this initially but even modularity may not yield the solution necessary to suit a Generation Flux organization. Office space may take on a whole new meaning. It may be a paradigm shift from what bricks and mortar solutions have previously yielded; a paradigm shift in step with the DNA of a Generation Flux organization.

Security, technology infrastructure and circulation will be the only constants.

The rest is up for grabs.

We will be tested.

It is an exciting time.




Over to you:

What have you experienced out there is the business world? Are many more companies changing faster than before to stay ahead of the curve? How do you plan for change?



About this Author: Ralph Dopping (199 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday:


I've spent a lot of time thinking about the changing publishing industry. I think that these ideas, if implemented, could save one or a few of the Big Six (or is it 5 now?). Imagine a manuscript, with four people sitting around a table, the line editor, the copy editor, the author and the cover artist. I would imagine that they could finish a process that takes 18 months in two or three days. They could also save a bunch of money by moving from NYC to Des Moines, and then hiring you to design their book making pits of creativity!

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Caitlin Kelly
Caitlin Kelly

I'm firmly convinced -- as a journalist in a dying/radically changed industry -- that the most valuable skill anyone has in any field now is the ability to learn new skills effectively and quickly, and turn, beautifully, on a dime. In the past few years I've jumped into multiple projects with zero experience in them because I needed income, (as many of my journalism markets went out of business or cut their fees too low), and clients were (luckily) willing to trust me and my skills. All but one have turned out well, and the one that didn't was a mis-match, not a reflection of my weak skills.


Anyone who expects the world to stand still while they use 5 or 10 or 15 yr old skills and ideas is toast. Doctors know this, as medical knowledge doubles (or something like that) every few years and they know that continuing education is essential throughout their careers. It's wearying, but exciting.

rdopping moderator

 @ExtremelyAvg Hey Brian, thanks for taking this one on. Ha, I always find when I write opinion pieces directed strictly at the industry I get a ton of shares but very little engagement. Maybe blogging can benefit from this as well but without a direct correlation or pithy anecdotes the engagement drops off radically. Ah, well. Funny how the two people who did respond to this are both writers; literary and journalistic. Interesting in itself.


Love your idea. I know very little about the traditional book publishing process but I hear self-publishing is turning the industry on its ear. You have self-published. What do you think about self-publishing changing the industry?

rdopping moderator

Geez  @Caitlin Kelly  sorry it took me so long to reply here. Agreed. You can stand by and watch the world go by or you can get on the train and work your way up to the engine. Crappy analogy but it works for me.


Thanks for your thoughts here. Appreciated.


 @rdopping I think that self publishers have demonstrated that it is possible to bring a quality book to market and reach an audience without going through New York. Do the Big Six still have something to offer? Sure (not really), but who wants to get 15% (-5% of that for agent), when 70% is available to the self publisher. Nearly all people who get published by the Big Six receive zero marketing support. They are expected to do all the work anyway, so those same people might as well keep all the profits.  That is my view.