I read that Taiichi Ohno would draw a circle on the floor and make his new disciples stand in it and observe how things really worked. He would make them stay there until they had a strong understanding of the business. I think it was in the book ‘The Machine that Changed the World’ in which I first read the story. It has stuck with me.
Now I would never suggest anything quite as draconian but it demonstrates that first-hand experience is the best way to learn something. So when I was thinking about the technology for our new building it felt like the right thing to do. I needed to go an observe how things happen in the real world (or the prototype as model railway enthusiasts call it).
I wanted to understand how people would move through the building and so I started in reception. Ok, I didn’t draw a circle or use any chalk but I picked up my laptop and went and sat there, in the existing one. I watched as the people came and went. I saw how they interacted with those on the desk and I thought about the pinch points where technology could have made a difference. I had tried doing this previously in my mind, without the visit and was able to add several things to my list. It was really useful except that everyone came up and asked me if I didn’t have a desk to work from. Very droll. They are used to my little ways.
I then went and sat in one of the meeting rooms and went through the same process before making my way back to the main office.
Abstract thought is not easy. I can imagine sitting on a beach with the sun beating down and a cold glass of beer in my hand but I can’t imagine the way the sand lies or the way the people interact around me. I can’t really feel the warmth on my skin or the fresh taste of the beer without being there yet I can meet the experience half way.
Sitting in reception isn’t the same as talking to the receptionist and sitting in a meeting room is not the same as being in a meeting. I sit in enough of those though to feel that experience. But it was better than nothing. It helped me to imagine better. I ended up with a series of fresh perspectives.