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Do Something Great Today!
by Rowan Gibson

In his book Game Over, David Sheff tells the story of a game designer at Nintendo who once asked his boss the question “What should I make?” Mr. Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was Nintendo’s chief executive at the time, gave him a simple reply: “Make something great”.

I remember Tom Peters, the world’s most famous (and infamous!) management guru, relating this story at a seminar a few years ago. It struck me right there and then that business is no longer about fulfilling a customer’s expectations, it’s about doing something so unexpectedly marvelous, so surprising and refreshing, that customers would no longer dream of going to the competition. And if you look at some of the corporate success stories of recent years, time and time again you find that the companies who stand out are those who have created a totally new customer experience. Something that has completely reinvented the rules of the game.

So the message today is that if we want to be successful in the 21st century, we are going to have to do something GREAT for our customers. Something that really makes a difference in a world where products, services and brands are looking increasingly similar. Something that in some way touches and even changes our customers’ lives.

Is that too much of a challenge for most organizations? I don’t think so. But we have to accept that the people in those organizations will only do great things if they feel motivated and inspired to do so. Which means that we have to create the kind of conditions inside our companies that generate positive energy. That’s why workplace design has become such a hot issue today.

Frank Duffy, the renowned architect and expert on office life, told me recently that “We’ve reached an important moment in business history, because we’ve realized that the design of offices can actually help to change the very nature of organizations.”

For most of the past century, offices tended to reflect the set of virtues that were vital for success in the industrial era; things like scale, efficiency, diligence, replication. Today, we need workplaces that help organizations to develop a new set of virtues: speed, flexibility, creativity and cost-effectiveness. And the good news is that they can actually do that. There are now numerous examples of exciting workplaces where imagination, teamwork, and experimentation can really flourish. Where time and costs have been reduced. And where the physical space has become a catalyst for creating a new, post-industrial corporate culture.

But I think that what we have seen so far represents just the tip of the iceberg. In the years ahead, as more and more companies recognize the transforming power of office design, I believe that we are going to see many organizations making great gains in human performance. Once their people start to work in a more inspiring, more motivating work environment - once they feel truly valued and part of a great team - they are going to find a lot more meaning and fulfillment in their work. And, according to effectiveness expert Stephen Covey, “that’s when you release the human potential and all that tremendous energy and creative power that is hidden inside people waiting to be unleashed.” That’s when we begin to go beyond status quo performance - beyond business as usual. Just as Goethe put it all those years ago, ‘Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is; treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be.’

I find this prospect very exciting. We are living at a point in time where we have a unique opportunity to reinvent the business organization itself - which, after all, is the most important social structure on the planet. It is critical, let’s not forget, to how we spend 10 or 12 hours of our life every day. It is also critical to our capacity to create wealth and therefore to fund our social issues - our social agendas - around the world. So when we talk about profoundly changing our views on what a company is and how it works, we are addressing an issue of momentous proportions. We are talking about fundamentally changing the fabric of society. And a lot of developments are currently pointing in that direction.

Anyway, my hope for the immediate future is that the corporate world will wake up to the fantastic opportunities that lie before us. It has to become clear to management that the companies who are creating most of the new wealth are not those who are focused on optimizing their operational efficiency to the extreme. It is those who are creating things that bring incredible new value to customers. Things that are compelling and exciting and surprising and wonderful. So, as business strategist Gary Hamel puts it, the issue has become ‘How can we stimulate and value and celebrate the creativity and the experimentation that seems so critical to creating wealth today?’

The physical office environment is definitely where I would start. I have seen a redesigned workplace do wonders for a previously dull organization, where today you will find a vibrant, energetic, high performance culture. So let’s rise to the challenge of our times and create the kind of offices where people will feel compelled to amaze and dazzle their customers. Where the battle cry every morning is inspired by what Nintendo’s chief executive once told to that game designer. Let’s ‘Do Something Great Today!’

Rowan Gibson is founder and chairman of a company which helps organisations to rethink core strategies, and author of the international bestseller Rethinking the Future.

Copyright Rowan Gibson. All Rights Reserved.

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