Five Days in a Navigation Center™ Environment
Employing the Environment in Support of the Creative Process

by Bryan S. Coffman

The first prototype DesignShop® Event, held in the early 1980's employed a refrigerator door as a WorkWall™ for use with dry erase markers. That way people could add, modify and eliminate ideas in rapid succession as they moved through the creative process. The ideas could be expressed in color on a white background, much like using paper, and unlike the inverted contrast scheme presented by traditional blackboards. The technology rapidly improved and the first Radiant Wall was introduced using sheets of porcelain steel laminated onto hollow core doors which were mounted onto an existing structural wall. It measured roughly sixteen feet long and stood nearly seven feet high including the baseboard.

The Radiant Wall allowed a group of people to diagram and annotate large scale, complex problems in a single display that was visible to all at once and easily editable. No other system to date has provided these three features: large scale, simultaneous visual and physical access by a large group, and editability. Flip charts are too small. Rolls of butcher paper are uneditable and won't allow information to keep pace with the rate of change inherent in the creative process. Traditional blackboards are usually too small or the wrong aspect ratio--they're wide and short, making it difficult to make connections between sets of information (not to mention the whole screeching fingernail phenomenon. . .). The WorkWall was a radical invention, and most people who used one became dependent upon it as a support to their individual and collective creativity and productivity.

A state-of-the-art Radiant Wall located at MG Taylor Corporation's Cambridge knOwhere store. The wall is composed of ten curved four-foot panels with six vertical feet of working surface, or 240 square feet of work surface for the entire wall. A video and teleconferencing bay occupies the center of the wall. The wall includes a technology chase built into the base and rolls on wheels for flexible positioning.
(photograph by Cole Bellamy)

The first Management Center, built in Boulder, Colorado, provided WorkWalls not only for use by large groups, but in break-out areas as well. Virtually every wall in the facility could accept markers or magnets to aid individuals, teams, and large groups in expressing and sharing ideas. Yet, it wasn't enough to merely supply expanses of writable wall space. The configuration of the walls in the space must support a flexible group process. And the furniture that the Crew and participants use must serve the process as well.

If MG Taylor could systematize an approach to creating group genius, it would require a synthesis between architecture and furniture with the WorkWalls forming the link between the two. The Boulder Management Center accomplished precisely this in 2,300 square feet that could accommodate 30 participants and a Crew of 12. A three or five day DesignShop event could lead a group to innovative outcomes that would have normally consumed months of elapsed time back in the traditional organizational environment. The radical results were made possible through diligent management of the 7 Domains. DesignShop events coordinated group process, environment, education, knowledge, technology, projects and the venture itself as an interdependent whole.

Floor plan of the Taylor Associates, Inc. Management Center in Boulder, Colorado, 1984. Orange lines indicate location of WorkWalls.

It's possible to generate innovative results in any environment, from the waiting area in an airport to a traditional, cluttered conference room complete with the huge table that keeps everyone seated and apart from one another. After all, resilience and adaptability define the human spirit. But if simply any environment will do, then why engage in lengthy planning processes and spend untold millions on the design and construction of environments for people to transact business within? Why? Because environment matters. The structure of a space creates and enforces certain behaviors. The structure of a space promotes or assaults individual health. The structure of a space allows or inhibits interaction. Most of the spaces in which we work require the expenditure of tremendous energy to make them in the least part supportive of the collaborative process: we are productive in spite of our environments.

MG Taylor has devoted twenty years to the problem of designing environments that release group genius. The expression of this work may be seen in our Management Centers, knOwhere stores, and NavCenter environments. It's a combination of furniture and architecture that yields results in health, productivity and innovation unattainable by any other method we know.

By way of illustration, I present on the following links a story of Sam, a fictional Transition Manager working in an equally fictional Navigation Center. Like most Transition Managers in the MG Taylor network, he maintains a personal Journal--an illustrated and annotated record of designs, plans, ideas, and learning. I track five entries in his Journal that refer in particular to how Sam employs the environment and WorkFurniture in the course of his work.

Click Here to View the First Journal Entry

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