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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Designing for wisdom – a case study and a set of challenges

Designing organizations – and schools – for wisdom. A fascinating case study full of provocations, encouragements, and challenges to us all.

“Richardo Semler: Radical wisdom for a company, a school, a life”

Schools that work for kids – @E_Sheninger

“No longer should we have school and real life as separate entities.” So concludes Eric Sheninger’s TEDxBurnsvilleED talk: “Schools that work for kids.” Thanks to @Kat_A_Jones, a sophomore member of the Innovation Diploma Disney Cohort for sharing this talk with our team.

For whom is school really designed?

PROCESS POST: Exploring Metaphors – Schools as iPhones or iPads

For those of you who are iPhone or iPad users, consider this –

Would you like your iPhone or iPad to be fully app-scripted for you? In other words, would you like it if someone determined all the apps you should have and pre-loaded all of these apps for you? Your level of personal choice and engagement is considerably constrained because all of the application content has been decided for you, by someone else.

Or is much of the fun and excitement of the iProduct residing in getting to load the apps that you find empowering, fun, and useful? In that well-designed, operating-system-enabled shell, you can personalize and individualize your experience in the ways that make the device most intriguing and captivating for you. That’s part of the magic, isn’t it?

From a student’s perspective, is school – in the traditional sense – more like the app-scripted, pre-loaded iProduct, or is school considerably more like the iPhone or iPad experience that allows for individualization and personalization – the “make-it-your-own-best-tool” that Apple devotees have come to love?

How might we make school more like a user-determined, full-of-choice, I-can-choose-my-own-apps system? There would still be considerable structure – the device shell, the internal electronics, and the operating system. But there would also be more flexibility and adaptability for what fills the structural shell.

PROCESS POST: Exploring Metaphors – Schools as Natural Habitats

Author’s note: I’ve thought on this blog post for about a month, but I have nervously avoided writing or publishing it. I think it runs a risk of really offending people. Of course, I do not mean to offend anyone. Rather, I find that exploring metaphors about school and education helps to stretch and enhance my knowledge and understanding of school and education. Comparisons reveal. Yet no metaphor is perfect – some traits translate, and others don’t. But many people seem to get hung up on an idea that a metaphor must translate each and every element of the comparison. In my opinion, to try to make a perfect 1:1 comparison is misusing a metaphor. If two things were perfectly alike, there would be no need for a metaphor or comparison. It is because two things are not perfectly alike that a metaphor and comparison proves interesting and helpful – to explore the similarities and differences. I’m sorry if this exploration offends. But… here it goes.

In 1907, the German entrepreneur Carl Hagenbeck founded the Tierpark Hagenbeck in Stellingen, now a quarter of Hamburg. It is known for being the first zoo to use open enclosures surrounded by moats, rather than barred cages, to better approximate animals’ natural environments.[14]


How might schools be like zoos? In particular, how might schools be like zoos transforming from cage-based systems to more natural-habitat systems? In other words, how might schools provide more natural habitats for learners?

For some time between seven and ten years, I have been researching a primary question: “If schools are to prepare students for real life, then why don’t schools look more like real life?” As a corollary to the question, I like to consider how we might make schools more like real life. For students and teachers, in fact, school IS real life.

Lately, I am getting more challenges from people about what I mean by real life. That’s a fair and good question, and I am learning so much from these challenges – from these requests to define what I mean by “real life.”

Most recently, I’ve begun my responses something like this –

Well, in watching my own children grow and learn, I am struck by what searchers, explorers, and discoverers they are. So are other people’s children. Children seem to learn best through experimentation, immersion, and play. I don’t see many pre-school (not preschool) kids choosing to sit in desks most of the day to be taught to.

As I think about my life since formal schooling, I am also struck by how much my own learning – after school – involves messy searching, exploring, and discovering. Most of our lives as learners seems to be more constructivist, more integrated, more project-based, more inquiry-driven, more self-initiated. As an adult, I rarely sit for 180 days studying silo-ed subject matter (and I know that is a gross generalization).

Structurally, though, in many ways, formal schooling – in its traditional form – seems to be an interruption from our more natural, human ways of learning. The habitat of “school” doesn’t seem terribly natural.

So, for me, making school more life like means making school learning environments more like our natural habitats as human learners. In many ways, the PBL (project-based learning, passion-based learning, problem-based learning, place-based learning, etc.) movement is working to make school more like our real lives. In our real lives … We mostly work in projects. We pursue our passions. We find and attempt to solve problems. So, making school more like real life has involved more PBL. When student choice and curation of projects is baked into the work, I believe the work is even more natural habitat-ish. When students have authentic audiences – community members beyond the teachers – I believe the work is even more natural habitat-ish. When failure is a more process-embedded waypoint on the path to success, instead of a product-defining finality that marks a cell in a grade book, I believe the work is even more natural habitat-ish.

The technology integration movement seems another attempt at natural-habitat learning. Instead of understanding that kids live tech-filled lives outside of school and expecting them to check their digital devices at the door, many schools have worked to make technology part of the schooling experience in the most recent years. In the real world, kids can be producers in a Web 2.0 environment, not just consumers. So, adaptations to school have followed suit – students have more opportunities it seems to be producers of content, not just consumers of content.

MOOCs, badge-ification, maker spaces, and DIYs also seem related to the transformation of schools to more natural-habitat-oriented environments. Service learning, STEM, STEAM, STREAM, independent study, apprenticeships and internships, research partnerships – these all seem great examples of efforts to make school more like our natural habitats for human learning.

But what “cages” remain? A few possibilities come to mind:

  • traditional grading systems, especially those that utilize mean averaging, zeros, and non-narrative feedback
  • standardized testing, as it is used in the systems-measurement sense
  • silo-ed, non-integrated subject areas and departments
  • homework in its typical, traditional uses
  • organization of classes by strict age-grouping
  • single, isolated teachers instead of co-teachers and partnered facilitators
  • 45-55 minutes as the typical blocks of time for math, English, history, etc.
  • rows and columns of desks that preserve order over involvement

With the zoo comparison, I do NOT mean to imply that students are animals or wild creatures being held against their will. And I do not view teachers as zoo keepers. I am simply questioning if the traditional structure of school approximates our natural habitats as human learners. When we filter school transformation through a lens of “Does this change make school more like the natural habitats of human learning?” then I think we stand a better chance of making school naturally motivating, relevant, exciting, and intriguing. Additionally, when school is modeled on natural habitats, the environments and experiences come closer to preparing learners for the ongoing, lifelong learning that they will encounter for the majority of their lives after formal schooling.

Does any of this make sense?

Postscript: Despite thinking about this idea for weeks, I decided to write the piece as a process post. So, I gave myself 15 minutes to capture a rough draft of my thinking. For me, the thoughts are significantly incomplete, and I have much more to explore and discover about this metaphor – in both its strengths and weaknesses. But, as writing is thinking, I decided it was time for me to get more serious about my thinking on this metaphor.

How will I know what I think until I see what I have written?

E.M. Forster (roughly quoted)