Recently we published a review of Parthajeet Sarma's book "Work, Workers and Workplaces". This is the first ever book on "design thinking" for organizations and how it helps improve employees original thinking , thereby ultimately affecting company's performance, details here: http://www.thereaderscosmos.com/2018/10/book-review-work-workers-workplaces-by.html. So we decided to dig deeper into the concept and Parthajeets journey into understanding and working on the same. Here is the conversation that followed....
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I am an Architect who does not design buildings (J). Well, I graduated in Architecture from Sir J J College of Architecture in 1995, and later went on to do an MBA. I have always been fascinated by observing human behaviour and have felt the need to do things, which help improve human lives. This interest, coupled with my background in design, set the platform for me to design experiences for organisations in the workplace, that augment employee wellness and increase productivity. I work hand in hand with organisations, at a strategic level as a consultant, on workplace strategies that enhance human productivity.
Q. What motivated you to write the book on Workers and Workplaces?
A: Modern day workers go to work for more than ‘getting their work done’ or to access tools of work. They like to exchange ideas, socialize and engage with others who share values similar to theirs. In highly competitive business scenarios, only those organisations will do well, that can attract and retain the best of talent. To do so, the workplace needs to act like the exoskeleton of an organisation’s ethos and values. Space can condition the quality of thinking, and thus condition productivity. There is a direct linkage. I conduct workshops to familiarize executives about this. The book is an extension of this familiarization effort and is a summary of learnings that I have had over two decades.
Q. What was your first experience with design and its impact on your creativity?
A: In the nineties we graduated believing that good aesthetics can be used as a differentiator. Well, that worked for sometime. But soon thereafter, every new product or project became good looking; so good aesthetics could no more be used as a differentiator. Today we are at a stage where I see that designing an experience is far more impactful and fulfilling. We are now using similar design techniques that we learnt in the nineties, for mapping a customer user experience journey and helping organizations design such experiences. We are now looking at employees as internal customers of organisations in pretty much the same way that customer facing organisations look at their customers.
Q. How does design influence you now?
A: I now like to think that everything can be designed. Human behaviour can be designed. I focus on doing this, through designing experiences for organisations’ employees. This is very simple to understand through an analogy; you think of a visit to a place of worship; as you enter the space, the surrounding environment has an impact on your mind, on your thinking. It brings a certain change of mood. In ancient times, this change of mood was designed through the clever use of spaces, through sights, smells, sounds and touch.
Q. Why was it so that humans thought about a well designed home but not a workplace but are thinking of it now?
A: Well, you like a beautifully designed home, mainly because it makes you ‘feel’ good. It is only in recent times that human feelings have become important at the workplace, from an organisation’s perspective. So workplaces are designed in a manner that makes workers ‘feel good’; there are enough social science experiments that demonstrate that happiness = productivity. This recent shift is also because of the fact that most of the ‘non-emotional’, left-brained, repetitive work has been automated; so most humans today are increasingly doing more of such work that requires them to tap onto their emotional side. So feeling good and employee happiness is now paramount for organisations and hence this is leading to a whole new approach to the design of workplaces.
Q. What are the key elements of an ideal workspace?
A: The short answer to that is that one size does not fit all and the question may not be relevant today. This question would have been relevant 10-15 years back. A workspace today is no more a physical entity but a mix of the physical and the digital. Such a workspace needs to be reflective of an organisation’s ethos and values. The key is that it has to be human centric, and for that, organisations need to treat their workers as their customers. So a lot of the new workspaces are turning out to be a blend of different types of spaces, that respect the needs and aspirations of different types of people and of different types of work.
Q. Tell us about some experiments with design and creativity that you undertook?
A: What has brought a lot of joy is when we have let the end users design, instead of me taking the high horse of being the creative guy. I only facilitate the process. Every human is creative and in our engagement with corporates, we organize workshops that allow end-users to take an integrative role in shaping the design brief for management to follow. When you allow end users to be open about their aspirations, the most creative solutions emerge from there. This eventually leads to workplaces that ‘work for the workers’ instead of workplaces that win us awards or the client lead a promotion.
Q. What is the evolution needed in mindsets of businesses to incorporate design thinking?
A: In my mind, the biggest jump that organisations need to make is to truly believe that their employees are their internal customers who need to be valued as much, if not more, then their external customers. So the kind of effort which goes into designing customer experiences, especially by customer facing organisations, need to go into designing experiences for their employees as well.
Q. How does a novice get acquainted to this concept?
A: The book is a starting point. Beyond that, we conduct ‘learning by doing’ workshops that demonstrate the methods. What participants learn in the workshops stay with them as they ‘think with their hands’. The most popular workshop is the one we call ‘Co-creating the Future of Work’. For more on this, readers are encourage to contact me on +91 98202 21767 or email me at email@example.com
Q. What are your upcoming books/projects?
A: There is a plan to set up a global centre of excellence, which will help, co-create the future of work, right here in India. The idea is to get like minded organisations, researchers, academicians, social scientists and others who are researching the ‘future of work’, under one roof and co-create intellectual property that will help improve human lives at the workplace.
Q. How has the book been received?
A: The book seems to have been well received by corporate executives and even students and worshippers of innovation. I live, sleep and eat what I have written in the book, so in a way it is an extension of me. So, like-minded people are picking up the book and it has helped align the mutual thought process and grow the tribe of believers.
Q. A message for your readers.
A: Someone said, practice what you preach. Well, the book may appear to be one. When we begin to look at modern day workers as humans, we seem to know less and less, as we dive into human minds. My books have been my learnings and observations from my work, which is constantly evolving as the world around us change fast. Clients and even readers are helping in this, by co-creating the ‘future of work’. I would love to hear back from readers and explore ways to collaborate and co-create.
We thank Parthajeet Sarma for spending this time in having this conversation with us.