Contract - May 2011 - (Page 72)
gimme some slack!
Can design save us from eﬃciency?
By Scott Francisco, director of discove , HLW International
“…She’s fast, and thorough, and sharp as a tack, She’s touring the facility, she’s picking up slack…” – Cake “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks …Unless you have food” – Anon
My ﬁrst dog Rupert taught me many life lessons over our 16 years together exploring forests, creeks, and our suburban neighborhood on garbage-day morning. The lesson I remember most is: You can’t teach a dog not to take food oﬀ the table, as long as he keeps getting the meat. Rupert was an expert—chops oﬀ the grill, a Sunday roast of beef, once even a whole turkey. He knew it was wrong to sneak up onto the table behind our backs. But the rewards were always greater than the punishment. No amount of ﬁnger wagging, harsh looks, or newspaper-spankings could add up to a whole roast of beef. Our indust of late has a lot in common with Rupert. We know there are problems with our behavior, yet we constantly are rewarded for repeating it. The meat of our day is “picking up slack”—sniﬃng out ineﬃciencies that can be analyzed and “measurably reduced.” The more slack we ﬁnd and eliminate—with clever strategies, designs, furniture, or technology—the more we are rewarded with new projects, fees, and credibility. How can we resist? Even as today’s most revered business thinkers declare that slack is essential to a sustainable economy, we sneak up on the table and grab the meat. Are we, like Rupert, hard-wired for short-term survival? In his latest book “Drive (Penguin Group, 2009),” Daniel Pink shows that human motivations are ve diﬀerent from Rupert’s. According to Pink, the essence of human creativity and ingenuity is our ability to see beyond immediate and short-term rewards, to look into both the past and future of multiple possibilities, and then decide where we want to go and how to get there. We don’t have to take the meat. In a time when eve one is t ing to do more with less, slack is an easy target. No one wants to waste resources on something that isn’t needed in a business, government, or our own homes. But is there a diﬀerence between slack and waste? The recent confusion between these concepts may be detrimental to both culture and creativity—the twin engines of our economy. In these challenging times, the design indust can lead the way past the dead-end obsession with short-term eﬃciency and begin nurturing some slack before it’s too late.
A Short Histo
Twentieth centu America was a dangerous place for slack as Taylorism (scientiﬁc management) and mass-production swept the nation. But it also was a time of incredible invention, and the design of radically new things opened up new spaces and possibilities: The airplane, moving picture, telephone, and rocket ship were not attempts at greater eﬃciency, but were brand new things. Innovation and eﬃciency were not so easily confused. At the same time during this period, a tremendous amount of slack was preserved in the sheer physicality of daily life. In many ways people lived like they had for centuries. They talked to each other on the street, knew their neighbors, read books, wrote letters, played musical instruments, and went to work in a physical place with people, tools, materials, and machines. Then things went digital. With almost all aspects of daily life integrated into one central informational language, a whole new era in slackhunting opened up. New technologies have made it possible to measure and commodify most of what had been protected by physical space and time: Pauses in conversation at the dinner table (BlackBer ™), letters to friends and lovers (Gmail™), gossip (Twitter™), scribbles in the margins of a favorite books (Kindle™), our preferences, our ideas, our location— even friendship itself (Facebook™)—now could be measured, sold, and subjected to the “eﬃciency” once reserved for indust . Here in turbulent 2011, innovation has become a common pseudonym for eﬃciency: smaller, faster, cheaper, and more interconnected. You don’t really need to talk to a real person, those ﬁve minutes of down time, those airplane meals, or that quiet place to think, do you? Slack eliminated. Reward earned! But we also are seeing the impacts of slack depletion. The many “crashes” around the world—technical, environmental, and ﬁnancial—are examples of hyper-eﬃcient but increasingly fragile systems with low margins and minimal redundancy. While increasing consumption, we have decreased our reserves of knowledge, skills, money, time, and space. This means less opportunity to adapt and take risks—or for creativity to thrive.
Design and Eﬃciency
Rather than the design indust resisting this trend and focusing on our core strengths of inventiveness, intuition, and insight, we have o en followed suit: “The workplace can be eﬃcient too! We have measurement, analytics, and data!” (continued on page 74)
contract may 2011
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Contract - May 2011
Contract - May 2011
Resources: Salone Internazionale Del Mobile
Exhibition: Neocon® Preview
Focus: Timeless Tradition
Focus: In the Nude
Green: Does It Cost More to Build Green?
Practice: Gimme Some Slack!
Process: Cultural Connection
Process: Productive, People-Friendly Places
Contract - May 2011