The Modern Office Doesn't Really Foster Collaboration

Question: What are innovations in your actual office space? 

Jason Fried: So a big part of it is the materials that we choose.  So we choose very acoustically friendly materials.  Lots of foam... or I should say felt, some foam, cork, stacked materials of different sizes in different, I don’t know how to put it, but they’re stacked at different levels, so the sound reflects instead of bouncing around and echoes and stuff like that. We get rid of the echoes.  We have sound insulated rooms that we do use when we do need to talk to other people.  So we have this idea of... we do have an open workspace, everyone has an open desk, but we also have these things called "team rooms."  And when two or more people are talking, we say, "go get a room.”  You know.  “Go get a room." They go get a room and they room is sound-isolated.  So they can have a conversation, loud if they want, but not bother everyone else who is working.  And that’s the big thing that’s really important about out space.  That we do have places for people to get together and talk, but they are sound-isolated and insulated.  So they don’t interrupt everybody else in the.  
Question: What’s next for the workplace? 

Jason Fried: I think the modern sort of cool workplace is the open, loft, wood floors, everyone out in the open collaborating all the time, or talking all the time.  And the thing that’s important to keep in mind that interruption and collaboration are different things. In the modern workplace with the open work space and lots of hard materials everywhere, and people cramped in, you know, really close to one another, it just encourages interruption, it doesn’t encourage collaboration. And so if you really want to get creative and really want to work on something, you need uninterrupted structures of time to get those things done.  And if someone’s calling your name or your sitting really close to somebody else, it’s very hard to actually find that time.  And I think that the trade.. while there’s some good stuff about being able to see some people all the time and walk past people and there’s some nice stuff that happens in those environments, I think that it should be more the exception than the rule 
Question: When did you decide to record your office ideas into a book? 

Jason Fried: So, the way we’ve kind of done it, for the past 10 years we’ve been writing on our blog.  We have a blog called "Signal Vs. Noise."  And we’ve been writing all of our ideas down and sharing them with everybody else.  Because I figure, if they’re valuable for us, I’m sure someone else can benefit from them.  It doesn’t cost as much to write these things down.  We talk about them or write them down internally, so why not share them externally too.  And so over 10 years, we’ve been writing down these things about design and programming and business and marketing and sales and all the stuff that we have to do every day.  And then we looked back on it and said, maybe we can turn all these blog posts into a book.  Maybe we can take the stuff we’ve already written and turn it into a book and polish it up and give it a single voice, but let’s do that instead.  So, "Rework" and "Getting Real" before it, which is our other book, are not things we sat down and decided to write, they’re actually things we sat down and looked back and found the things we’ve already written and then compiled them together.  So these aren’t new ideas, these are old ideas.  These are ideas we’ve tried and we tested and we put out there and that’s why I think the books are valuable because they’re not theoretical, they’re not academic.  They’re not... in a perfect world this is how it should work. Actually, this is how it has worked for us and they’re time tested and that’s why we share them.

Recorded on July 22, 2010
Interviewed by Peter Hopkins

If you really want to get creative and work on something, you need uninterrupted stretches of quiet time. Jason Fried says you need to keep the distractions out.

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Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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