Frequent travellers, or those that have moved jobs a lot, know that the outsider sees with fresh eyes, but only for a while. I recently opened a Dezeen column with a favourite thought from John Le Carré (via Rosecrans Baldwin)
“John le Carré said the only way to write about a place was after visiting it for a day, or after a long life once you'd moved there … Time between those two lengths didn't lend more certainty, just detail.” (from “Paris I Love You But You’re Getting Me Down”, by Rosecrans Baldwin.)
With this in mind, I should've written more at the end of my first day. But I did decide to write some thoughts on where I thought Fabrica could go within a few months of getting there (of course, I'd been thinking about it for weeks beforehand too.)
In effect, I wanted to produce a draft vision and strategy for Fabrica (there wasn't an existing one, as it happened.) I also, as with the Handbook, wanted to produce it in collaborative fashion, as non-hierarchical as possible. So it emerged from conversations I'd started with staff and researchers from day one, with each conversation recorded via me—and sometimes them—drawing it out on a piece of A3, which were then stuck on the wall (I wrote more on this at Medium.) Of course, some strong patterns started to emerge. This was conversation made visible, tangible through scribbling.
After a couple of months of this, I distilled some of those thoughts, with some of mine, into a basic book I designed (quickly; be gentle) and left blank pages, questions etc., printed it up and handed it to staff and researchers. I added a few scribbles to the book, to encourage people to do likewise, and gave them a few weeks to return them.
The book—around 90 pages—had many words, which I won't share here. Some of them don't apply any more: others were exporatory or half-formed, no more. While many still apply, the book was not made for posterity: it was a token for a conversation about strategy, and having served that purpose, it was discarded (I actually deliberately specified that the binding be cheap, to reinforce this.)
The book had three main sections, which I'll note below. I also dropped in lots of quotes, to add a bit of colour, and suggest directions. Hopefully these did not come across as David Brent-esque inspirational quotes. (Though the life of a contemporary manager is unavoidably David Brent at times.)
Some of the quotes, combined with a few images, gave a sense of the different themes (click for a larger version):
Some of the quotes were used as double-page spreads to provide breathers. I borrowed thoughts from the likes of Murakami, Ballard, Scott-Brown, de Beauvoir, Ranciere, Calvino, Drucker, Richard Long and so on. The quotes, though in a sense simply padding, also give a sense of possibilty.
Double-page spreads of shots of Fabrica (wintry ones) provided further breathers from all those words.
Like I said, I won't reveal the real text.
But out of around 60 printed and handed out, I got about 20 back, which isn't bad for this kind of thing.
Below, a few shots of the returned copies from Fabricanti and staff. Some of them had a few comments in the margin, as you'd expect, but Fabrica being Fabrica, some were turned into something between graphic design and performance art. There were some truly amazing creations, and some genuinely useful insights (top prize: Renée Melo.) Though it was intended for internal use only, I also used the book a bit externally, I must say, with Advisory Board and other trusted friends.
Just as importantly, the process indicated that we would be doing this kind of thing together—that I wouldn't airdrop strategy from above, but attempt to build it together. I would direct, of course, and there were many things in there that came from me—it's my job to shape the conditions and take necessary decisions—but this approach meant I had many more people thinking about it, and that the book lent a format for capturing insights from those who had been around a long time as well as people that had just started. (And yes it's yet another outing for that A5 Lulu template.)
The first part is a variation on the vision, which consists of ten themes I think Fabrica could, or needs to, engage with. The second part is akin to the strategy, here in terms of the organisation shape and culture we need to create in order to address those themes; the conditions, in other words. (As for the cover, as was pointed out to me, I certainly shouldn't have used the word "new" so much!)
I'm not sure I stand by all these things now, or even if I did then—I do some, for sure, and if you're not sure, please ask me. There are many things here that were no more than vague plans, and some no doubt fatally flawed. Equally, I'm not sure the exercise even worked that well—no doubt some felt disenfranchised by this approach, both in terms of form (a book) and process (removing hierarchy.)
Yet it was a useful thinking exercise either way, and particularly after a few months, while things were still relatively fresh. I should add that it's a little depressing seeing some things declared as short-term actions that are still not done (coffee bar!) I guess that is also the point of a reflective practice. But in particular, it preceded the shift from departments to studios as well as different approaches to projects, the buildings, commercial strategy and more besides. And just like that wall of visible conversation, it provided an excuse for conversation about what we are.
I can see within it the seeds of many of the positive steps we've taken since, not simply in my words but also the great response from staff and researchers—in terms of the thinking, yes, but also their collaborative and proactive, 'sleeves-rolled-up' response.