Work and lifestyle on the cutting edge. In discussions with contemporary figures we review the assertions, clichés and ideals which circulate around work environments. This time Désirée Schellerer und Angelika Molk asked Thomas Fundneider and Markus Peschl, the Knowledge and Innovation Architects, some questions. In this interview, they tell us about spaces which allow innovation and the fear of the new. Furthermore, they show us what makes an office into an oasis in the wilderness.
DI Thomas Fundneider, MBA
is Managing Director of theLivingCore and an expert for innovation and strategy. He uses his varied experience in setting up innovation culture within organisations to create sustainable impact for his clients. He also teaches at several European universities.
Univ. Prof. Dr. DI Markus F. Peschl
is Professor for the Philosophy of Science and Cognitive Science at the University of Vienna. His research focus is in the interdisciplinary area of creating knowledge in cognition, science and organisations, knowledge management, enabling spaces and (radical) innovation.
Our magazine deals this month with the topic of "New". On the one hand, "new" has a positive connotation and stands for progress, change and improvement. On the other hand, there is always also a bit of scepticism. How do you see it, specifically based on your research work?
Markus Peschl: It is a curious thing with the "new". It gives us awe and joy, yet at the same time it triggers a certain basic fear since we are suddenly confronted with something that does not fit into any of the categories known to us. You then often reach the point where you have to make a decision: Do I pursue this new thing or do I rather leave it alone. Innovators, entrepreneurs or more artistic people want to track and experience this new thing. The initial awe leads the way to more questions. This brings you closer to an understanding but also to the insight that certain things simply have to remain open, they cannot be explained. And this is exactly where the potential can be found for creatively handling these insights and making way for potential innovations.
Is there a difference between innovation and "new things"? And if so, how would you define it?
MP: Innovation is when something new is implemented into something that shows success and effect. New things that have success in their environment are innovations.
Mr Fundneider, Mr Peschl, you refer to yourself as Knowledge and Innovation Architects. Can you explain what those are for us?
Thomas Fundneider: We chose this term since it combines the areas we are dealing with. We are interested in finding out how new knowledge is created and how innovation can be organised in a company and how you can build a culture of innovation. On the other hand, we see ourselves as architects. If an architect plans a family home it is important that he knows the requirements and desires of his clients. It is also important to establish a relationship of trust - the client trusts the architect that the house not only meets all the technical requirements but that it is also functional and appealing. It is similar in our work. We have to understand what makes an organisation, what it does as its core function and what it wants to achieve. Based on this, we create an overall concept that is then implemented with the company and other specialists. Our roll is to provide a common theme that indicates the direction towards further development.
An exciting term from your work is "enabling spaces". This refers to work environments which are tailor-made to organisations and their staff and allow productivity and creativity. What does this look like in your office? Are your work environments "enabling spaces"?
TF: Yes, compared with many other places of work that we see. Our projects mainly deal with the concept that helps us to appreciate which type of work we do and which places we seek out to carry out this work. We have implemented this very well in our daily work.
MP: "Enabling spaces" are rooms or environments which allow good work. This not only includes office space, but also different locations. We look for environments which provide the suitable space for the relevant activity and enable good work.
Are there any places or locations where you have particularly enjoyed working?
MP: Café Korb for example. I work there depending on what I've got to do, with my laptop, book etc. Or even better: I read the newspaper.
TF: I am really quite happy at the theLivingCore office. I find it exciting to work in contradictory spaces. Our office is located on the Mariahilferstraße, which is very busy and this is counteracted with the pleasant calmness of the office.
MP: Exactly, the office as an oasis in the wilderness.
With the innovation technology "LEAP", you have developed a tool that structures the innovation process. Can you quickly explain this to us?
MP: Primarily it deals with disruptive, radical innovations which change things fundamentally. The interesting aspect of the LEAP process is that it starts the thought process in the future which is different to other innovation strategies. "Learning from the future as it emerges" as it were. LEAP is not based on the results of creativity techniques such as brainstorming, but on a deep understanding and exploration of potential.
TF: If I start in the past and derive the future from it, I will remain heavily stuck in my thought patterns (e.g. my product). It may get a new colour, but not a new meaning. In order to achieve the latter, I have to start at a different point. The LEAP process is in parts very artistic, it is an anticipation of what people would like to have in the future. And based on this anticipation, you return to the NOW and try to create a new business model or a new offering.
Does this mean that you are trying to fathom potential and create new things based on the future?
MP: Yes, exactly. The LEAP process means to really allow new things, to give radically new ideas enough space to develop. For this purpose, thought patterns have to be broken up and new space for growth has to be allowed. The process starts with strong reflection and brain work. Only after this step will any action start.
TF: Extrapolate into the future, this is possible for most but to master this reverse process is much harder. At the beginning there is also no in-depth specification of what the end result will be, this would make the whole process impossible since it would limit the space too much.
Is innovation possible for every company?
MP: In general yes. Openness and willingness to change are mainly necessary. The LEAP innovation approach is a very genuine process, independent from the size of the company or the sector. The process is naturally more complex and lasts between 4 to 8 months. And for a one man show it probably would not be the right thing.
Do you have a “primary workspace”, and – if yes – where is it?
MP: There is maybe a nominal one, as an address, but in the way I work I don't have one.
TF: For me this is different. It is important to have a location, an address which is stable and gives security.
MP: The office as a social shelter.
TF: Yes, exactly. Cooperation with others is influenced strongly by actually getting together. You can do certain work away from each other, but it is important to now and then also do something together. In the office, we have different areas which I use differently depending on the activity. I like to create strategic development, workshop concept and similar outside the office like in a café or other public spaces.
The office as a space: What significance do you assign to it?
TF: It provides security and identification. For some activities you need the right space or location as a tool. Also the opportunity to fill a space, to remain at it for longer period, to make it your own... that is very important.
Do you prefer to work alone or with others?
MP: That depends entirely on the people. And on the work mode. There are things that you absolutely have to do by yourself. The intellectual penetration of topics has to be done individually as a first step. We call this deep thinking. This phase requires also a certain protection. Only after this step should you engage with others. There is not much benefit and creates too much friction if you start as a team right from the start of a task.
Are there certain rituals that you consider important in your everyday office routine? Either routines that you have consciously set or ones that come to you now that you think about it?
TF: A ritual that is important to me is to have time to focus on a piece of work. To switch off emails in order to avoid interruption. This also requires mutual respect. This is well established in our team.
MP: We never sit next to each other on planes, despite the fact that we often fly together.
TF: This ritual is, you could say, being alone with someone else or in a team.
MP: And the concious choice of work place depending on the type of work is also a ritual.
Which innovations have made the biggest change to your "office life"?
MP: I would like to ask the question the other way round. What has remained the same despite all those technical changes. I think that the physical, solid, material aspects gain again more importance in office life. The virtuality hype is gone. You could describe this as a reverse innovation. Something seemingly old reappears as a new quality after you have lived in the opposite for while.
TF: This is also important for the office topic. If an office is designed well, then you can feel those physical values.
What is the most important tool for your work?
My head. (in unison)
Your favourite activity in the context of work?
MP: Thinking. Asking questions Interaction with other people, experience new things and exploring them (either together or individually).
TF: Thinking about new things and then implementing them. To take aim, to accept responsibility and to follow up on what you have developed.
The thing you most wish for in an office?
MP: Calm. Working without constant temptation, with little distraction.
TF: I am really quite satisfied.
Thank you for the interview.