A Place for Thinking

Anonymous meeting roomIt’s a Saturday morning. I’m in an anonymous meeting room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago, hosting a morning workshop as part of our monthly All Hands Meeting of Diamond Technology Partners. It was 1994 and we could still fit in a single medium-sized conference room. A few years later we would fill the main ballroom. 

That morning’s workshop was a seminar on software architecture and design with Alan Kay. If you’re in the world of software, you likely know who Alan is and you’ve certainly benefited from his work regardless. Alan was on our Board courtesy of a long concatenation of events that I had helped launch seven years earlier. This was the first time we met face-to-face. 

The workshop far exceeded my expectations. I’ve turned into something of a fanboy of Alan, his work, and his thinking. A search for his name on my blog will hint at my obsession.

What strikes me today is the contrast between the anonymity of the physical space we met in and the impact of the thinking space we collectively created that morning. 

Work and place have been tightly coupled; factories, shops, auditoriums, studios, garrets. We tell students to set aside a special place for studying. We design spaces to better fit them to the work to be done. 

How well do we do that design when the work to be done is thinking? When all the tools and material an individual knowledge worker might need are available through the keyboard and screen on their lap? When a team of thinkers have no need to meet in the same physical space?

Virtual teams have become popular in many organizations. Students and teachers have been trying to cope with these questions over the last year. But our knowledge base is still pretty thin. We don’t know how to translate the power of place from the physical to the virtual in any reliable or systematic way. 

There’s work to be done.

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