Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Arlene Blum: Earth Day Hero

There are two ways you may have heard of Arlene Blum, as a consumer product safety researcher focusing on the removal of toxic chemicals or as a mountain climber.  Either way, it is clear she is up for big challenges.

With a PhD in biophysical chemistry from U.C. Berkeley, she co-authored a ground breaking research paper that led to a federal ban on flame retardants in kid's pajamas.  The ban removed both brominated and chlorinated Tris from use, a major environmental safety achievement in the late 70's.  Around the same time, she also became well known in the international mountaineering world, when she led the first all women ascent on Annapurna in Nepal, at 26,545 feet, one of the top ten tallest mountains, and statistically rated most dangerous.

Eight years ago she founded the Green Science Policy Institute at U.C. Berkeley and launched a series of campus seminars on "The Fire Retardant Dilemma."  The Institute's stated purpose is to provide unbiased scientific data to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate informed decision making about the use of chemical in consumer products.  Their primary focus has been the modification of flammability requirements for the California Technical Bulletin, TB-117, which regulates furniture flame resistance, and AB-127 which Governor Brown signed in 2013 directing the State Fire Marshal to review code requirements regarding flame retardants in foam building insulation.  These actions are fueled by her published research that has shown that code required flame retardants used in furniture and foam building insulation do not provide the intended fire safety.  Further, the research shows that the retardants result in toxic smoke in the event of a fire, and that their long term environmental and human effects are or may be persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic.  This evidence should influence policy and architectural practices, particularly with regard to the selection and specification of furniture and building insulation products.

Arlene's research and advocacy about the impact of these chemicals (more info in this U.C. Berkeley news article), show her to be a relentless and tireless fighter to improve the environment.  She is my nominee for a true, Earth Day Hero, and someone we should all recognize and learn from.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Interaction or Interruption?

I recently tweeted links to a discussion on the HDR Blog regarding solitude and collaboration in the workplace.  Some of the research cited there, was from a Steelcase study, Balancing 'We' and 'Me': The Best Collaborative Spaces also Support Solitudepublished in the Harvard Business Review last October.  Here are some of the arguments and evidence for more private working environments that balance we and me.

'The open office has a lot of critics these days.  But it remains the dominant form of workplace design for a reason:  It can foster collaboration, promote learning, and nurture a strong culture.  It's the right idea; unfortunately, it's often poorly executed - even as a way to support collaboration.
Organizations responded by shifting their real estate allocations towards open spaces that support collaboration and shrinking areas for individual work.  But the pendulum may have swung too far:  Our research now suggests that once again, people feel a pressing need for more privacy, not only to do heads-down work but to cope with the intensity of how work happens today.
While privacy means different things in different cultures, our study showed that workplace satisfaction and engagement are deeply connected to a sense of control over one's environment.
As organizations come to understand the need for privacy at work, they must also recognize that privacy does not compromise collaboration.  By improving privacy you can actually enrich and strengthen collaborative activities.
Open offices are not inherently good or bad.  The key to successful workspaces is to empower individuals by giving them choices that allow control over their work environment.' 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Truth about Breakthrough Strategies

While this title appears a bit bold, the blog that came out recently from Strategy+Business does offer some good and straight forward advice regarding innovation and breakthrough strategies.  Much has been written about the approaches and environments that support design innovation, but I think this piece is an excellent summary.  The article offers a number of innovation stories and strategies and, while each strategy is distinctive, they all share common characteristics which can be boiled down to four points.

1.  All appear to have started with flashes of insight prompted by working on big problems.
2.  Research indicates that innovative strategies are sparked by precedents from unexpected places.
3.  Breakthrough strategies always involve a 'creative combination'.
4.  Breakthrough strategies are created by people, not companies.

This quote from the end of the story ties it all together.

'So what does all this tell us about breakthrough strategies?  They rarely come from a typical strategic planning effort.  Nor do they typically result from the common practice of generating and evaluating strategic options. ...  Instead, they start with individuals working on big, specific challenges who find novel ideas in unexpected places, creatively combine them into innovative strategies, and personally take those strategies to fruition--against all odds.'