OK, enough set-up.

[Let’s say those first three posts were the pre-credits set-up in the LEGO movie where Lord Business steals the Kragle from Vesuvius, and there’s something about a prophecy and you’re not really paying attention because you’re thinking “what, is this all stop-motion, but that’s amazing, they’ve really done it with actual LEGO…”]

This thesis is all about PEOPLE x SPACE. The things companies do, the people they do them for, how it works or doesn’t; it all comes down to the PEOPLE you’ve got, and the SPACE you provide for them to work in.

There are five different PEOPLE layers, all moving at different speeds (from slowest to fastest); CULTURE, LEADERSHIP, MARKETING, COMMERCE & ACTIONS. Imagine they are a nested set of circles, with the slowest moving, CULTURE, at the core. This reflects the original diagram on civilisations in The Clock Of The Long Now. The outermost circle is the surface of the business, where people are running around doing things.

There are also five different SPACE layers; again, from slowest to fastest, they are SURROUNDINGS, SERVICES, IMMOVABLES, MOVABLES & MATERIALS. They can be a set of nested squares, one inside each other, as if they were a building (as in the original diagram from How Buildings Learn). This time though, the outermost layer is the slowest, because it represents where the building is. The innermost layer of the building is where we have all the stuff we use on a daily basis to do what we do.

What’s interesting about bringing these two system diagrams together is that they overlap & connect.

That slow-moving SURROUNDINGS layer maps to the slow-moving CULTURE layer, all through the speeds of layers until the fastest moving MATERIALS maps on to ACTIONS. It was quite weird when I first drew them out and noticed them, but then you realise that it makes a lot of sense; it shows you how a lot of things in companies are dictated by the speed of the relevent PEOPLE & SPACE layers.

04 - diagram

Taking the intersections one at a time:

CULTURE is the only thing that makes a company move location and change SURROUNDINGS. It’s why firms open offices in Silicon Valley or Tech City, it’s why some types of Agency in London have started to drift East and leave Soho. They didn’t choose to move to these new places of their own accord; the moving culture around them, and inside them, dictated it.

LEADERSHIP determines the SERVICES that come into a building. What are the sorts of things we’re going to need here in order to do, well, anything? What technical requirements might we have. What softer services might lead to a generically happier workforce?

MARKETING (in the fullest sense, remember) is inextricably linked to the IMMOVABLES of a company. Team rooms, meeting spaces, breakout zones. What’s the sort of wall structures we’re going to design to bring our people together to give the customer what they want?

COMMERCE and the MOVEABLES within a company are closely linked. Commerce is often the driver of short-term pushing and pulling at the movables, in order to bring the right people together to quickly solve this highly important immediate problem (War Rooms, Pitch Teams, etc). It’s also an indicator of a company’s financial performance; you can tell a lot about how a company is doing by the furnishings.

ACTIONS, finally, are fueled by the MATERIALS that are in place. What’s in the stationery cupboard? What sort of document do people around here expect? What are the provisions in each meeting room for when people start trying to solve a problem or explain an idea? We always use the things in the moment that we have to hand.


The linking together of these PEOPLE and SPACE layers helps us to think more clearly about the sorts of things that are going on in companies around us. It also begins to help is see what we might have to change in order to affect other relative factors.

What we’ll go on to look at next is how these observations help us when we’re thinking about the work of an organisation. How can we spot the status quo here, and find some better questions that improve the ways in which the company works?


PREVIOUSLY – 3.03 – The Clock of the Long Now





3 responses to “3.04 – PEOPLE x SPACE”

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