Jim Hackett says it’s not companies that last 100 years, but ideas. The core idea that has driven Steelcase? A hint: people like you.
I grew up in a house of design, a house of dreamers and the leader of the pack was my father Jack Hockenberry who helped Steelcase onto its path toward becoming a design leader back in the late 1960s. He was the first real director of design and he brought his journey home to us each night. He worked for IBM and Kodak before Steelcase and at each company his job was to imagine where and how people would work in the future. It was his constant focus back in the 60s and 70s and while it was nearly impossible to know a precise answer to this question it didn’t stop dad and his team from dreaming. My siblings and I would ask questions all the time. “Dad, will chairs have motors in the future? Will desks have TVs? Will typewriters become computers?” “Yes, Yes, and Yes,” he would say.
My dad took us along to see dreamers in action, in museums and fairs. He visited the 1964 World’s fair in New York City and brought back books and pictures of the wonders he saw. “Look, he would say, “School will be like this someday.” He showed his kids a picture of a bubble like chair thing called a study-sphere where you could search the world’s computers for information and read books and watch films. I wanted a Studysphere. We all went together in a futuristic VW Bus to visit Expo 67 to see the dreams at the World’s Fair in Montreal. The amazing apartments from Habitat 67 are still there, still lived in, still dreamy.
At work, my dad used terms like “word processing” and they sounded so futuristic. I imagined words in some lab/factory being carved with lasers and electrified with special machines to allow them to speak. Chairs would move from room to room on tracks where people would dial something onto their chair-arm keypad and people would automatically assemble for a meeting.
It all mostly came true but so much more came true that wasn’t dreamed. Good and bad. My father left Steelcase and I got down to starting my own life and stopped dreaming beyond anything farther down the road than the next personal triumph or tragedy. I look back now and see so much that might have been dreamed, might have been anticipated. I wish I had dreamed about more tools to address the challenges we face today.
When I was asked to be a part of this Steelcase 100 minds event, it was an invitation to return to that dreamy moment in the 1970s when nothing seemed impossible and when the paths still seemed fresh and unclear. In the seventies no one believed the Dow Jones Industrial Average would ever climb above 1000. We believed the Cold War would never end or if it did it would be in a mushroom cloud or clouds.
There are similar cautions and warnings about the future today. In these pages and postings you will find many cautions and warnings about the next 100 years. Some of them are from kids worried about the world they are inheriting. Many of them are from adults thinking about those kids. But there are many more flights to the horizon itself. People here pushing themselves to see the changes possible and begin to ask what the world will look like when, for instance, our political system is mobilized so that we argue less and accelerate into consensus and collective change more than we do today.
Will our bodies be networked? Will elections go away in the face of the ability to continuously monitor the state of communities almost like a political polygraph? Will traditional college simply go away as higher education suddenly needs no campus upon which to teach? Will education begin earlier and never end. Will journalism meld into this continuous educational mission? In the future kids won’t learn to read and write, they will learn to publish. Energy will cease to be invisible and mysterious coming from pugs on walls and will become decentralized visible everywhere, and energy use will be a part of every calculation we make about what to do and how we live. These are just some of the dreams on these pages. For me it is a look back and a look forward at the same time. 100 years ago offices had no meaning. They were workspaces created to escape factory floors and retail madness, they were places to drink and plot with financial clients. The Oval Office in the White House 100 years ago was a place for hanging wet laundry. FDR converted the space to what it is today. Originally conceived by President Taft in 1909 to be a central chamber of a beehive of activity for running the day-to-day operations of the Presidency, today the oval office is a historical shrine and a place for ceremony and the most important historical decisions far removed from the day to day operations of the 21st century presidency. Every workspace of today can tell a similar story of transformation, birth or death throughout the last century. Workspaces are just part of the story. As these pages suggest, there is much more to come.
Steelcase’s internal celebration of its anniversary began on the corporate campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan and spread around the world. From sales offices to factory floors, Steelcase employees gathered in January and February to hear CEO Jim Hackett or another senior executive look back at how the company has always been looking forward. Steelcase innovations have always been built around the idea of unlocking human promise.
At the meetings, employees got a sneak preview of “One Day,” the documentary film commissioned by Steelcase to help start a dialogue around the future of work and the dreams of the next generation of workers. The team in Monterrey, Mexico was inspired by the film to create a giant display of their own dreams for the future, and we’ll be asking other employees to share their dreams as the year goes along.
Take a look at what Tiffany Shlain created and then explore the dream of Jamy Yang. Shlain’s collective power of people linked up across geography and language time and space to make change and embrace a mission coupled with Yang’s technological capacity to transform ideas instantaneously into objects. The boundaries and categories of the last thousand years are breaking down and we can glimpse it all right here. Try your own combinations, they’re all exciting.
Looking back, it’s clear our company has always been about looking forward. Our past, present and future are all about turning insights into innovations that unlock the promise of people at work and make the world a better place.
So now step back in time. Discover the many turning points in our history that together reveal the bigger picture of who we are and where we’re headed. Our story, our future, is just beginning.
We really didn’t know what to expect; kids from all over the world being asked by some strangers from the U.S.A. to “dream” what the future would be like in 100 years. What would be the reaction? Would we be considered intrusive or worse trivial? We’re the Hollywood music video crew looking for little hip-hoppers to mug for the cameras, right? To our deep surprise and joy, the kids took to the project with gravity and excitement. It was almost as though they were expecting us. The energy of these kids said, “We thought you’d never ask!”