Coca-Cola Workplace 2020 – Visit to AOC

What might the world and functions of innovation demand of our workplaces? How might our work environment complement – even promote and spur – the activities and necessities of an organization striving to innovate? Such questions are a major line of investigation for me and for the school where I am blessed to work – Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. And so, we explore and research in order to learn.

On Friday, April 15, 2016, I was fortunate to visit and tour the Coca-Cola Atlanta Office Complex (AOC). Thanks to friend Rodney Drinkard, who works in security and risk-management at Coke, I ventured into the Workplace 2020 transformation happening at Coca-Cola corporate headquarters, and I was accompanied by colleagues Blair Peterson, Head of Upper School, and Rosalyn Merrick, Chief Philanthropy Officer, at Mount Vernon. The time at Coke’s AOC was invaluable and incredibly thought provoking. They are doing tremendous work there to leverage brand and culture to transform space…and to create a virtuous cycle for space to build brand and culture even more purposefully.

As detailed in Design Leveraged,

Enter Workplace 2020, a massive project to instill Coke’s facility with a sense of optimism matching what consumers feel when they see the brand’s polar bears or hilltop singers. That may all sound touchy-feely, but this project is far from a feel-good exercise; the goal is to increase brand value, grow product lines faster and boost the bottom line.

From the very beginnings of our Coke tour, I was reminded of my recent visit to IDEO in San Francisco. At IDEO, the office is intentionally designed to facilitate creative collisions for collaborators. Similarly, at Coke AOC, the Workplace 2020 transformation, partly informed by input from IDEO, seeks to purposefully facilitate such creative collisions and collaborations, too. With innovation stemming from networking and associative thinking, an environment that supports bond-making rather than isolated task-doing promotes the conditions needed for enhanced innovation. Overall, the surroundings at Coke are constructed so that people will benefit from the principle of “we are smarter than me.” While individual space still exists in great quantity, the quality and number of spaces to meet, work together, share and collaborate are superb.

Two of the many things that impressed and intrigued me:

  1. The brand qualities of optimism, happiness, and sharing a Coke with a friend were expressed as part of the physical architecture and decor. The space felt alive with the culture that Coke works to exude.
  2. The degree of prototyping going on was tremendous! There were future product prototypes in numerous places, and the Workplace 2020 team was utilizing experimental space to conduct user tests for various configurations and work-pattern sites.

The photo gallery below contains my image captures from the fabulous visit to Coke AOC. I know that there will be countless views that I make to this gallery as the team at MVPS continues to research and design according to our principle and practice, “Learning demands interactive and flexible spaces.”

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What drives the most high-achieving teams? How are you nurturing such work in your schools?

How should we build teams so that we accomplish truly great things? In a tremendous TED talk, Margaret Heffernan implores us to concentrate on the mortar far more than we focus on the bricks.

Once you appreciate truly how social work is, a lot of things have to change. Management by talent contest has routinely pitted employees against each other. Now, rivalry has to be replaced by social capital….Now, we need to let people motivate each other. And for years, we’ve thought that leaders were heroic soloists who were expected, all by themselves, to solve complex problems. Now, we need to redefine leadership as an activity in which conditions are created in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking together.

We know that this works.

Margaret Hefferman: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work

Empathy and Empowerment – critical “Es” of 21C learning and educational innovation

From Chris Thinnes (@CurtisCFEE) at Curtis School and the Center for the Future of Elementary Education:

We find it ironic – and we think the students do, as well – that for all the focus “the education system” receives in the national media, input from students is rarely ever sought. We wanted not merely to give ‘permission’ to students to talk about their shared experience, but to invite them openly to offer their input of how best to improve our schools and our system.

In two blog posts (here and here), Thinnes shares an incredible, transformative experience made possible through a partnership between sixth graders at Curtis School and Cortez Middle School. In the sharing, Thinnes offers a fabulous model and case study for inviting collaborative voice and awareness and action from students – to help empower them to be deeply involved in ways that education and schooling can innovate and reach higher trajectories.

When we see student learners as the core solutions seekers to issues – especially those in which they are primarily immersed – we not only stand better chances at successful transformation, but we also facilitate active citizenship that will likely prove essential to the continued enhancement of our national democracy and global opportunities.

Bravo sixth graders and faculty facilitators at Curtis School and Cortez Middle School!

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Also related: “School Innovation Teams – Start with Outrospection #WhatIfWeekly #StudentVoice”

It works in architecture and urban planning. It can work in ed transformation, too. #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

From Nancy Duarte’s Resonate, which, by the way, is one of the best books I own, especially in it’s multi-touch book format.

Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin, says that, ‘The person who has the ability to verbally describe a problem has a great talent – but also a great limitation. All the real problems of today are multidimensional, multifaceted, and deeply layered. There is no way to fully understand them – thus no way to effectively begin solving them – without at some point literally drawing them out.’

Thought experiment: 

Imagine contemplating a significant remodel or renovation of your home (or school). Now, imagine only dealing in words and verbal descriptions with the various sub-contractors: builders, electricians, HVAC, lighting, flooring, plumbing, casing and carpentry, technology, etc. Also, imagine only naming the remodeling specifics in general-goals terminology. Now, imagine not providing much time, space, or opportunity for these people to ask questions, engage in R&D, meet together and discuss, sketch ideas and check understanding, develop shared knowledge around the transformation, etc. No blueprints, images, infographics, design elements, or visuals. Only words. Inadequate discussion.

How do you think the remodel or renovation would turn out?

Follow-up questions…the deeper thought experiment:

How are schools – those with the greatest intentions and people; those that truly recognize and accept their need for change – how are they going about the transformations of their teaching and learning cores/corps?

Could you show me the designs, blueprints, images, and visuals for those fundamentally important modifications? (I could not have done so as a school principal, and I regret that – I consider it a major failing that I am now working to resolve and re-prototype.)

Can you show dedicated time, space, and regular opportunity for the various members of your school team – faculty, admin, parents, students, etc. – to meet to talk, compare notes, ask questions, attend “practice or rehearsals,” develop shared understanding, etc.? (We did work really hard at this during my last principalship. The Junior High faculty deserves so much credit here for the collaborative, professional-learning-community work that was accomplished.)

Wrap-up question:

How might we commit to and devote the same vigor for community engagement and transformation design in our teaching and learning core/corp that we use in our physical building and campus development?

It works in architecture and urban planning. It can work in ed transformation, too.


Above and Beyond – Partnership for 21st C Skills and Peter Reynolds


In an increasingly complex, demanding and competitive 21st century, students need to learn more than the 3R’s they are tested on in school. It’s time to help them go “above & beyond”, by embracing the 4Cs –communicationcollaborationcritical thinking and creativity.

To get the word out to about the “3Rs + 4Cs” approach, P21 and FableVision partnered to produce a short, animated film called Above & Beyond. Enjoy & share, so we can help ALL our students flourish in the 21st century.