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There’s lots of chatter now about transparency and collaboration. About trying to get us to work and think together in a power-of-us, socially-networked, Facebook-MySpace kind of way. We’re told to think outside the box. But we work in the box.
On a recent trip to Microsoft, I saw offices—whose walls were smothered in workplace graffiti, mental riffs, and punch lists —that looked like something out of A Beautiful Mind. John Nash in Redmond.
Only these etchings parsed out; they were a fascinating window onto Microsoft’s workers’ minds. You got to see their brains on the wall.
That’s why savvy workplace planners of the future are all over the idea of turning all the vast unused real estate in our offices—our blank walls—into a new working asset. A place for the knowledge worker’s mental thrummings made visible.
At Microsoft, new offices have floor-to-ceiling whiteboards and glass walls where people can dump their work in a transparent and collaborative way. This is a much more efficient way to transmit urgent information to co-workers than email or IM. Consider this missive I saw on one door: “Do Not Wake Sleeping Product Managers. It Spoils Their Creativity.” Wall writing can also lead to new business models, such as the Microsoft thoroughfare whose wall was marked with the following: “Tollway. $10.”
Interesting. Most workplace codes at most big companies prohibit defacing pristine walls. Some even require permission for hanging up a picture. But think about it. The walls could be a great reflection of what’s on our minds. Isn’t such mental social networking the whole point? Also: what a branding opportunity! Isn’t the bandwidth of your human capital something you literally want to show off?
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