Dave Sohigian

22Oct/052

Layover = In the Bubble

I missed my 5PM flight from LAX to Portland, so I am sitting for a few hours in the airport. It has provided me some time to continue reading "In The Bubble" by John Thakara which is turning out to be very stimulating. I am not really sure where he is going with his discussions about the social and environmental impact of design (industrial design in particular) but it is fascinating.

Thakara rightly points out that we are all designers - that is the nature of being a human - trying to create our world. He describes the shortfalls of our speed focused society. In fact, he derisively uses the phrase "Further, Faster" which was actually the motto of one of the companies I used to work for. Each chapter takes on a different aspect of design and starts by pointing out the current challenges we face and then points to some designed solutions. I find the arguments regarding the challenges we face compelling, but the solutions less so - perhaps they will get better as I read further.

For example, in the second chapter, "Speed", he describes our current infatuation with faster delivery and the un predicted side effects of this obsession. The ability to move people and goods over greater distances both faster and more cheaply has resulted in massive waste of resources. Thackara proposes that much of our focus on speed is related to our fixed notion of time - clock-based absolute time that determines our patterns and expectations. Although he mainly contrasts our situation with historical examples of time management (before the clock) the way he framed the issue got me to thinking about the nature of time in my life.

Like most people, I work according to a schedule. Even when I was not working, my day was divided by the clock (drop the kids off at 8:30 and 8:45, appointment at 10 AM, Lunch at 12, pickup at 12:45 etc…) and the world around me functioned in a similar manner. These times do not really account for the cycles of my life - what if I the kids are tired at 8:30, or I feel like taking a nap at 2:30PM during the middle of my workday? These things are just unacceptable and we learn from an early age to live by the clock rather than our natural rhythms. It is easy to say that our natural rhythms are just nostalgia for a bygone era, but our physiological patterns have not really changed that much in the last few hundred years (although the stress we put on those systems has).

So what is the solution? Could a company really function if it took into account the circadian rhythms of it's employees by encouraging sleeping when you are tired, meeting when you feel social, focusing when you feel analytical and creating when you felt inspired? How would you design a workspace that encouraged this kind of natural flow? Maybe that is where Thackara is headed…

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  1. Actually, I think Microsoft, maybe for only a time (late 80’s early 90’s), allowed some of their employees to work when they were inspired and gave them 24 hour access to their work areas. This I know because my cousin was a seed out of MIT first to Apple then to Microsoft where he was a something of a programmer/developer type and told me he simply had deadlines to meet but could do his work whenever he chose and did so at all hours of the day or night (whenever an idea would come to him) except for meetings etc. that were scheduled. My cousin loved the flexibility and he was very successful in his job. He later moved on to Expedia.com in the start up phase and remains there more successful than ever. I wish I had the flexibility in my job. I know I would get more done when I was inspired be it noon, midnight or anywhere in between. As long as I got my goals met what would be the problem?

  2. I really like the idea of returning to our circadian rhythms – this idea was floating around London when I worked in Peds Intensive care – mid 90’s. The toughest part of our 12.5 hour shift was from 2.30 to 4.30,day or night shift, particularly if we were not too busy. We did a small informal study with the night nurses to see if taking a short nap during those hours increased productivity or enhanced sleep during the day – overall, it worked, with a number of nurses stating that their levels of tiredness were reduced if they napped during the night. I wonder if the Framingham study looked at this at all?


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