I've been working this week with a architecture company on redesigning office space. Hand in hand with the physical refurbishment of the building we are aiming to change the way people work and interact with each other. (I hesitate to use the words 'we are aiming to change the culture' but that is how others are describing it).
So I'm learning the new, to me, vocabulary of architecture, construction, engineering, and space planning. And working out, with that team how to use the physical space to shape the patterns of organizational life
Doing this work I've been recommended to read A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series), by Christopher Alexander.
I've taken a look at this and read some sample pages. The authors suggest reading it hand in hand with their other book The Timeless Way of Building.
I haven't read either yet, but the person who recommended the Pattern Language one had some lovely phrases to describe it. He said that the book would help understand how people "sift themselves into work patterns", and "understand what lends itself to a social dynamic". In both cases he was talking in relation to the physical layout of the space.
What I have done is take a look at some other comments about the book, A Pattern Language. NPR's interview with him opens with the comment on the book
"In it, he argued for injecting personal, emotional and spiritual qualities into manmade structures, streets and cities. Alexander's book challenged the architectural establishment and derided much that's been built over the past century as "deadly."
Now, Alexander has issued the final volume of his four-volume tome, The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe, which expands on his basic question: how do we build places and structures that are filled with life? Theorizing that order is inherent in both nature and manmade spaces, Alexander attempts to define and understand the essence of a "living" structure.
Another reviewer of the book notes that
"The scope of the book is incredible. It sets out, in plain terms, to empower people to design, build and shape their own surroundings. It does this by creating a "pattern language", a kind of generative grammar with 253 patterns that can be used to make things. The patterns move from big town scale patterns (e.g. The Distribution of Towns, Magic of the City, Web of Shopping, Nine per Cent Parking), via medium building scale patterns (e.g. Wings of Light, Intimacy Gradient, Staircase as a Stage) to small construction scale patterns (e.g. Structure follows Social Spaces, Low Sill, Filtered Light, Different Chairs)."
So that book is now ordered -it's not available on Kindle.
Also this week I've been recommended The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization and have no need to actually buy this as the recommender lent me her copy. I just have to read it. On first glance it's got an interesting structure as each chapter is related to a role or persona e.g.The Hurdler, The Collaborator, the Cross-Pollinator who act as a perspective from which to view concepts of innovation. The fact that it is written by Thomas Kelley from IDEO, may make it more recommendable than if it had been authored by less of an industry celebrity, but I'll reserve judgment on that till I've actually read it.
Someone else recommended The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers by Keith R. McFarland. I looked at this one on Amazon and was put off by the extraordinary bouncy meaningless language that tries to hook you in by being 'clever'. One chapter, for example, is titled "Enlisting Insultants", and another "Navigating the Business Bermuda Triangle". It will take some discipline on my part to actually take a look at the contents and not dismiss the book out of hand.
For me patterns of written language are strikingly important, I guess in a similar way that patterns of architectural language are important to Christopher Alexander.