Harvard Business Review

Creativity Lessons from Charles Dickens and Steve Jobs by Anne Kreamer

This piece originally appeared in The Harvard Business Review.

Creativity is the most essential skill for navigating an increasingly complex world — or so said 1,500 CEOs across 60 countries in a recent survey by IBM. And yet federally funded research and development — creativity, institutionalized — is down 20% as a share of America's GDP since the late 1980s. Private R&D spending has also tailed off since then, when it brought us breakthrough innovations like laser printing, the Ethernet, the graphical user interface, and the mouse. And that was just from one company's private R&D engine, Xerox's PARC. At the same time, experts fret that our public school system doesn't foster enough creativity in our future workforce. All of which makes it easy to worry that we'll run out of creative leaders producing creative goods. But I think the declinism is overwrought. And that's because some of the best paths to encourage innovation are surprisingly simple.

Charles Dickens and Steve Jobs Tell Us How To Boost Creativity

Charles Dickens and Steve Jobs Tell Us How To Boost Creativity

Yes, as a society, we do need to remake our educational systems to deliver more young people to what Steve Jobs called "the intersection of technology and the humanities" — to bring American students' globally below-average math and science fluency up to snuff and keep them immersed in the arts. But each of us as individuals can also work to optimize our innovative capacities. If innovation is stimulated by identifying under-served markets and then figuring out a service or product to fill the void, then here are a few low-to-no-cost suggestions for reinvigoration.

Reduce stress, but don't relax too much. Stress affects our creativity. A study conducted in 2006 by Christina Ting Fong, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Business School, suggests that the optimal sate for an individual seeking maximum creativity at work is to embrace an in-between emotional state, neither happy-go-luckily complacent nor anxiously stressed out. After asking college students to write about experiences that had made them feel happy, sad, neutral, or ambivalent, she then had them complete something called the Remote Associates Test, a word-association test used to measure creativity. Fong found that those who reported feeling emotionally ambivalent performed significantly better on the creative test — and believes that it was the presence of mixed emotions that increases sensitivity to unusual associations that stimulate unconventional, more creative connections.

By studying people's "Aha!" moments of insight, Northwestern University psychologist Mark Jung-Beeman found that one's brain state before addressing a problem can importantly influence the creativity of one's proposed solution. He discovered that if someone is too focused or too wound up, the scope of their problem-solving is reduced. John Kounios, a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University who partnered with Jung-Beeman in his research, advises people to relax to encourage insight. And one simple way to relax and stimulate your creative juices? Take a walk.

Get out of the office and into unfamiliar environments. Let's imagine you're an executive in charge of overseeing the development of a new product — a television show, a medical device, a beverage, whatever — and you spend your working hours hermetically sealed, going from office to conference room attending meetings, never leaving a car between appointments out of the office. That narrow input will result in a correspondingly narrow output. A piece in The New Yorker exploring the flaws inherent in the groupthink of brainstorming sessions, cited research into the process of free association by psychology professor Charlan Nemeth of the University of California at Berekely. Nemeth has "demonstrated that exposure to unfamiliar perspectives can foster creativity."

I've often suggested that people walk to work, take public transportation, and in general, wander about to see how real people, consumers, are behaving and spending their time. If you never take the time to fill your creative well, you'll having nothing to contribute. Wandering around — observing, talking to strangers, taking pictures, inhaling the rich diversity of unfamiliar life, may feel unproductive or even wasteful. But innovation needs to be informed and sometimes provoked by the unpredictable hurly-burly of messy, surprising real life. Suntae Kim, Evan Polman and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, researchers from New York Univsersity, have found that students who were allowed to walk freely, rather than along a fixed path, were able to generate 25% more creative uses for various objects.

In a recent essay, Verlyn Klinkenborg connected Charles Dickens's extraordinary creative output to his nightly walking. "He is lost in a kind of mental ventriloquism," he wrote, "calling up his emotions and studying them. Every night he walked a dozen miles, without which, he said, 'I should just explode and perish.' Under the pseudonym Boz, Dickens wrote, 'There is nothing we enjoy more than a little amateur vagrancy, walking through London as though 'the whole were an unknown region to our wandering mind.'"

Steve Jobs and Charles Dickens were of one mind. In a 1995 Wired piece, Jobs put it this way: "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things... A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have." Creativity requires both divergent thinking (the generation of lots of fresh ideas) combined with convergent thinking (channeling those ideas into a practical solution). The tension of toggling between right-field thinking and pragmatism leads to the greatest creative insights.

Let your mind wander. It does no good to get out of the office or reduce stress if you don't let your mind do any roaming. Yet a different study led by Kalina Christoff of the University of British Columbia, suggests that our "default" and "executive" brain functions, "two systems that so far have been assumed to work in opposition" might, in fact, be encouraged to work in cooperation by the unique mental state stimulated by day dreaming.

When we're younger, the road to success is all about learning habits of discipline and rigor and focus. And those habits are crucial. But once we can take those habits for granted, we need to build in new disciplines — call it the discipline of being undisciplined — of breaking away and wandering, physically and intellectually, to see new things and connect dots in new ways. Otherwise, we risk becoming reliable but uncreative drones. Remember the fable about the super-prudent ant and the devil-may-care grasshopper? At their best and most innovative, we are not one or the other — but both.

The Rudeness Epidemic by Anne Kreamer

This post originally appeared on The Harvard Business Review.

When his three-hour board interview ended with an offer to join the executives for a beer, 35-year-old Martin* figured he’d nailed the job. He had spent the last two months interviewing for a position as director of operations at a sporting goods company. His resume was spot-on — he’d spent five years as a sporting goods sales rep and several years as an operations manager doing “everything from ordering for shops, to speaking with dealers, to sales.” Senior management at the new company knew him, his successful track record, and the companies he’d worked for. Slam dunk, right? Wrong.

Martin had participated in five interviews, between which he managed myriad back-and-forth e-mails and deliverables. At the company’s request, he created and submitted a five-year business plan and a master list of vendors and buyers. He was asked to explain his strategies for expanding distribution and introducing new products to market. At the time, Martin had felt uncomfortable about offering so much proprietary information to a company for whom he did not yet work, but colleagues who’d more recently been in the job market told him, “This is how the interviewing process works these days — you jump through hoops.” Martin decided he wanted the job, and if he had to give up the keys to the car to get it, he was going to hope for the best.

But after months of interviews and assignments, Martin said, “Instead of making me an offer, they told me they had to make a ‘really tough decision’ and ‘decided to move in a different direction’” — that direction was giving the position to the most junior board member, who lacked any hands-on experience. “We hope this won’t affect our relationship,” they told him. And with months of his “life down the drain,” but knowing that he worked in a small community, Martin felt obliged not come off as a sore loser. “But the fact of the matter is, I got taken.” His goal today? “To ruin this company.”

Maybe you’re thinking that Martin just didn’t know how to play his cards right. Or that maybe, in the end, he simply wasn’t the best candidate for the position. But Martin is not alone. His utter frustration over the hiring process is pretty much par for the course these days. This type of behavior is happening more and more often. Ask five acquaintances about recent hiring experiences and I bet you’ll encounter one friend who personally has suffered something similar. Data compiled for The New York Times by Glassdoor found that an average interview process in 2013 lasted 23 days versus an average of 12 days in 2009. And time-consuming assignments and auditions for candidates as chronicled in the stories here, and here, and here, are the new normal.

This problem is the result of several factors:

Fear of decision-making. Back when I was hiring people as an executive at a large business, I’d solicit candidates, look at a batch of resumes, decide who had the requisite skills on paper, and then interview the top three or four. Each interview lasted about 30 minutes. I had my standard set of questions that probed their personalities, attitudes, ambitions, skill set, and prospective fit with the company ethos. If two potential hires seemed close, I’d have a breakfast with each and then make a decision. And I personally wrote everyone who didn’t get the job. This wasn’t rocket science.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the hiring process went off the rails, but I believe it began in the late 90s, when cost cutting became a mania and headcount was slashed to the bone, requiring every employee to do the work of many. With so little margin for error, every hire became a fraught decision, and the fear of making a mistake loomed larger and larger. To protect themselves and validate their choices, managers began to seek more and more “evidence” of their thoroughness in vetting their hires. New hurdles were added until someone interested in a director-level position, such as Martin, is now routinely required to submit the kind of analysis and proposals that were once the province of in-house executives or paid consultants.

A culture of rudeness. Rachel, a 60-year-old former news producer turned freelance marketer, was introduced by a friend to the CEO of “a fast growing ‘deep content’ company with clients like GE and Xerox.” The company seemed like a good fit for Rachel’s portfolio of skills, and employed a large staff of experienced journalists, artists, and web designers. After a brief phone conversation, the CEO wanted to meet with Rachel “ASAP.” During their first in-person conversation, Rachel and he discovered shared viewpoints, and after talking for an hour, the CEO asked Rachel to meet with his editorial VP. But first, the CEO gave Rachel his card. “This is my direct line,” he said, “and I return every call on this line. Call me by the end of the week.” Rachel did as requested. Six weeks later, after several awkward interactions with the CEO’s assistant, he finally took Rachel’s call.

CEO: “Hi Rachel, I’m too busy to talk today.”

Rachel: “I understand —maybe Monday?”

CEO: “Well, I can’t commit to that right now, either. And I need to tell you, it doesn’t inspire me that you’ve been calling so much.”

Rachel: “On the day we met you asked me to call you two days later. That was six weeks ago. I’ve called less than once a week.”

CEO: “Well, every time you call your name doesn’t go to the to top of the list – it moves to the bottom! This doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in you and your work, but it’s not cool to do what you’re doing.”

Rachel: “I understand. I won’t call again. Thank you.”

The colleague who set up the initial contact told Rachel: “There is no bad intent here — like me, he gets 300 emails a day and works 18-hour days across five continents. It’s not personal.”

I wrote a book about emotion in the workplace called It’s Always Personal. And no matter what others say, it nearly always is. People hiring today have precious little time to read, process information, and respond to even urgent issues like staffing. But this comes at great peril to their organizations and to the rude employer. Instead of fostering good will among the prospective hires they interview, enemies like I-live-to-see-this-company-destroyed Martin are made.

My time is more important than your time. An author I know was approached by a publisher to write a book for which the publisher had decided there was a market. The writer was asked to write a proposal, but wasn’t told that he was only one among many other people from whom they’d solicited proposals until midway through the process. That process took “months and months and months,” he says, and “it was always a hurry-up-and-wait situation, where they made me jump through hoop after hoop — every one of them a last-minute-need-it-immediately kind of thing. And then I’d hear nothing for weeks.” When his proposal was finally accepted, they wanted the finished book in six weeks. “It took them about eight months to make a decision to accept the proposal — which, by the way, was their idea in the first place, and which they had approached me about — and then they expected me to just whip the entire book out of thin air in six weeks? What’s wrong with these people?”

This is happening to almost everyone I know looking for any kind of work, even those who have been invited into the process — freelance, contract, full-time. The prospective employer/client needs everything now and then it’s radio silence for days, weeks, months — leaving the prospective supplier/employee in the unenviable position of feeling like they must beg for feedback. During the last decade, it became acceptable behavior to simply not answer e-mails. But that’s the worst kind of ego-sucking, demoralizing power play imaginable. We’re all busy. That’s no excuse for disrespect. And the awful truth? I don’t think the employers have a clue. Fearful of losing their own jobs by making a wrong choice, they’ve lost perspective on what matters.

So what’s lost amid all these changes?

At a time when the buzzwords in corporate America are innovation, disruption, and game-changers — all actions that require recruiting the best talent in the marketplace — organizations, instead, are artificially creating bureaucratic inefficiencies that are inexcusably cumbersome and that result in the creation of legions of antagonists. It’s a waste of human capital, it’s a huge waste of everyone’s productive time, and it damages the reputation of an organization and the individual doing the hiring. Jobs are scarce enough, and the general economic vibe is insecure enough that companies and managers believe that they can be cavalier about how they treat people outside the organization — but in this thinking lies madness. Now that 20th-century-style employer loyalty and benefits are a thing of the past, employees return the disfavor, churning through organizations at a rapid clip. If a typical new hire is only going to stay at a company for two to four years, why sweat the decision so much? Be responsive. Act fast. Trust your gut.

Employers need to streamline the hiring process, calling upon both common sense and basic good manners. Here are six easy actions:

Make the process transparent from the outset for prospective hires

State the timetable for making a decision

Offer updates if the process extends beyond that timeframe

Limit the “tryout” requirements — proposals, plans, original work — and make the deliverables clear at the start of the process

Make the timeframe for submitting any materials reasonable — 3 to 5 business days, never tomorrow

Make certain that everyone who’s being considered for a position is given the courtesy of a definitive response within the stated timeframe. Just as e-mail has compounded our daily load, so too does it liberate us from making those hard calls person to person. Use the tool to your advantage.

The wildly successful actress/producer/director Lena Dunham perhaps said it best in a recent interview: “I’m never going to be the person who lets e-mail and voicemail sit for weeks — I’m going to be the person who responds, even if the answer is no.” How refreshing.

*Names have been changed

What If You Don't Want to Be a Manager? by Anne Kreamer

Imagine that you've invested years of blood, sweat and tears at work, and have successfully climbed the corporate ladder, only to wake up one day and realize that you sort of hate what you're doing. Sure, you used to love it, and the more successful you became, the higher up the ranks of management you went. But now, instead of doing the hands-on work that you loved, you find yourself buried in managerial tasks like budgeting and supervising people that leave you feeling numb at best. You find yourself in the ironic position where all your hard work and success have landed you in a job that leaves you feeling empty, frustrated, and unfulfilled. That's what happened to me. But how? Or better yet, why?

Feeling unfulfilled in your management job?

As I rose through the executive ranks to my last incarnation, EVP and Worldwide Creative Director for Nickelodeon, instead of feeling directly connected to the creation of our programming and other content, I found myself spending nearly all my time in meetings with corporate peers and higher-ups. In theory, I should have been happy. I was working with good, creative people (many of whom remain my close friends), I was earning a great income, and the company made cool stuff that my own young kids loved. But. But. I was merely managing the people who actually did and made things. I no longer operated in my personal sweet spot, where my sense of accomplishment after closing a difficult sale or launching a new product was contingent on my having had a concretedeliverable and the sense that my efforts were integral to its success. Being a manager caused me to feel disconnected from what career analyst Daniel Pink has identified as the three primary motivators of behavior: autonomy, mastery and purpose. I had little autonomy, little interest in gaining mastery as a manager (in spite of myriad coaches), and felt dissociated from my true self.

Why do we reward success on the job with a promotion out of the job and into management? It's a phenomenon that reveals antiquated flaws in organizational design (neither employees nor companies are in the long-term pension-building loyalty business anymore) as well as a 20th century, pre-behavioral economics lack of understanding about what really makes people tick at work. Companies continue to cling to the notion that one of the only mechanisms they have to acknowledge employees' talent is to make them managers and then to continue to promote them into ever-higher levels of management — reflecting the misguided assumption that being good at something also means being able to (and wanting to) manage others doing the same thing. Once in management, its trappings — 401k's, bigger compensation packages and offices, fancy titles — don't really satisfy many of us who, like me, miss the doing. But because we often identify ourselves with our job titles (I'm Director of Marketing) — buying into the idea that clear titles confer status and meaning — it remains hard to envision work in the absence of titles. Management titles allow us to mark our growth, and our maturity. And it's for all of these reasons that it took me a long time to realize that being in management was wrong for me.

I know now from my research into the science of emotion, that as corporate executive I felt like I had to pretend to be something I wasn't — I didn't like being a manager, but I was a manager, so I had to appear to be interested in all the stuff that went along with being a manager. This is something social scientists call "emotion labor" — what you experience when you feel obliged to act differently from your natural inclinations. Eventually, I quit my job and, over the course of several years and false starts, I reinvented myself as a journalist and author — a job where I manage no one (autonomy), make my own rules (purpose), and have very concrete results (mastery) when my work is published.

When I made my leap, I discovered that while there are countless books and courses about how to be a better manager, there are pretty much no roadmaps for how to keep succeeding if you decide you don't want to manage others. So, here are a few thoughts, based on my own experience, for others who feel that management may be wrong for them:

You Can Stay at Your Company, But Forge a New Path

Unlike me, perhaps you don't have to leave. Talk to your bosses about your issues and partner with them to create a different track for yourself. For example, when my husband started as a young writer at Time magazine, there was only one career path — work hard as a staff writer, and eventually you might be promoted to senior editor. In the early 80s, Time created a position for those who did not want to go into management — "senior writer," which came with internal prestige, and commensurate salary bumps.

This is something more companies need to address. To remain globally competitive, organizations need to devise innovative ways to encourage and reward creativity. The unorthodox titles embraced by start-ups — directors of fun, ministers of information — can seem ridiculous, but the emphasis on improvising new ways of doing business is important. Furthermore, research conducted by Office Team found that 76% of employees did not want their boss's job. If employees are no longer responding to the old carrots, it's time for companies to establish new means of rewarding talent.

You Can Find A Company That Shares Your Values

There are plenty of companies that are doing away with traditional corporate structures. For example, Michael Abrash, a member of the Valve software developer community, has a radical notion of corporate structure, where project teams coalesce and dissolve continually within an organization. He believes that fixed organizational structure impedes innovation. And plenty of other people feel the same. You may find yourself more in tune with an organization that has this type of flat hierarchy.

You Can Strike Out On Your Own

And of course, you can always forge your own path. Just be sure to think through the following before you take the leap:

Have a clear idea of what success means to you. It sounds obvious, but most of us unthinkingly internalize others' definitions.

Know that income flow will have peaks and valleys. Few of us are lucky enough to land clients on retainer, so understand out of the box that your income will fluctuate from month to month.

Don't quit without figuring out your monthly nut, especially including health care — and then figure out how you can reduce expenses. Make your nut fit the dream, and not the other way around. And don't quit without a reserve to handle the times when there's little or no monthly income — anticipate your worst-case scenario. Mine happened a few months after I'd quit my big job when my husband was fired from his well-paid (management) job.

Understand that as a freelancer, you will have to be a consummate sales-and-marketer of yourself and that you'll have to develop thick skin to handle the rejection.

Know that there are days where you'll feel lonely working by yourself. Fortunately, the networked world can mitigate this problem as never before.

Embrace the idea of moving from project to project as a way to learn and grow and stay relevant.

One thing that people who have left management may underestimate is the blow to self-esteem that can happen when you can no longer simply define with a title what it is that you do for a living. Although that's changing in the emerging world of co-working, freelancing, and zig-zagging careers, titles still have meaning, and it requires clarity and courage to say "thanks, but no thanks" to that management position. But take it from me: being an ambitious round peg in a prestigious square hole is no way to spend a working life.

The Business Case for Reading Novels by Anne Kreamer

This piece originally appeared in The Harvard Business Review.

I thought it was worth reposting during the summer holidays when novel reading beckons. I've been a devoted, even fanatical reader of fiction my whole life, but sometimes I feel like I'm wasting time if I spend an evening immersed in Lee Child's newest thriller, or re-reading The Great Gatsby. Shouldn't I be plowing through my in-box? Or getting the hang of some new productivity app? Or catching up on my back issues of The Economist? That slight feeling of self-indulgence that haunts me when I'm reading fake stories about fake people is what made me so grateful to stumble on a piece in Scientific American Mind by cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley extolling the practical benefits to be derived particularly from consuming fiction.

Over the past decade, academic researchers such as Oatley and Raymond Mar from York University have gathered data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness. For instance, in fMRI studies of people reading fiction, neuroscientists detect activity in the pre-frontal cortex — a part of the brain involved with setting goals — when the participants read about characters setting a new goal. It turns out that when Henry James, more than a century ago, defended the value of fiction by saying that "a novel is a direct impression of life," he was more right than he knew.

In one of Oatley and Mar's studies in 2006, 94 subjects were asked to guess the emotional state of a person from a photograph of their eyes. "The more fiction people [had] read," they discovered, "the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes, and...correctly interpreting social cues." In 2009, wondering, as Oatley put it, if "devouring novels might be a result, not a cause, of having a strong theory of mind," they expanded the scope of their research, testing 252 adults on the "Big Five" personality traits — extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness — and correlated those results with how much time the subjects generally spent reading fiction. Once again, they discovered "a significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory-of-mind abilities" allowing them to conclude that it was reading fiction that improved the subjects' social skills, not that those with already high interpersonal skills tended to read more.

Theory of mind, the ability to interpret and respond to those different from us — colleagues, employees, bosses, customers and clients — is plainly critical to success, particularly in a globalized economy. The imperative to try to understand others' points of view — to be empathetic — is essential in any collaborative enterprise.

Emotions also have an impact on the bottom line. A 1996 study published in the journal Training and Development assessing the value of training workers at a manufacturing plant in emotional management skills — teaching employees to focus on how their work affects others rather than simply on getting the job done — found that union grievance filings were reduced by two-thirds while productivity increased substantially. And a study of a Fortune 400 health insurance company conducted by Peter Salovey, a psychology professor at Yale, looked at the correlations between emotional intelligence and salary and found that people rated highest by their peers in emotional intelligence received the biggest raises and were promoted most frequently.

To bring the subject home, think about how many different people you interact with during the course of a given day — coworkers, clients, passing strangers, store clerks. Then think about how much effort you devoted to thinking about their emotional state or the emotional quality of your interaction. It's when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavor of alternate worlds of experience. Right now, I'm in the middle of Irene Nemirovsky's posthumously published novel about France's fall to the Nazis in 1940. Her simple sentences sketch a sense of uncertainty, moral ambiguity, and heartbreak — feelings I certainly wouldn't want to dwell on in "real" life, but emotions I'm better off for having taken the time to consider.

But nourishing empathy doesn't require such grimness. And if you want your diet of fiction, as it's shaping your mind to be more emotionally acute, to be specifically relevant to work, there is a body of great literature about business and organizational behavior. For instance, Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, inspired by 19th century financial scandals among the British elite, resonates powerfully today. In his autobiography, Trollope wrote that "a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflections as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now." Seems fairly au courant to me.

From now on, I'm going to feel less like an escapist slacker when I'm engrossed in a new novel. In addition to the Trollope, below are some of my favorite books to get you started.

Kurt Andersen, Turn of the Century — set in 2000 and 2001, a successful TV producer husband and digital entrepreneur wife, trying to balance the demands of work and life, wind up pitted against each other as executives in a U.S. media empire. His mistrust grows when she becomes a favorite of the Rupert Murdoch-like chairman. Meanwhile, their hedge-fund-manager best friend is involved in big-time stock manipulation. (Full disclosure: my husband is the author)

Jane Austen, Sandition — in this unfinished fragment of a novel, Austen departs from her typical marriage plot to describe the zealous entrepreneurialism of a real estate speculator. While we can never know how the novel would have ended, we can be pretty sure his housing bubble will burst.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House — Dickens' tenth novel explores the human cost of prolonged litigation through the eyes of Esther Summerson, who is caught up in a multi-generational dispute over the disposition over an inheritance. Anyone who has ever been entangled in a lawsuit will revel in the characterization of the process. At the time of publication, 1852–1853, public outrage over injustice in the English legal system helped the novel to spark legal reform that culminated in the 1870s.

William Gaddis, JR — in the 1976 National Book Award winner, the 11-year old protagonist, JR, secretly trades penny stocks, using the tools of the trade at the time — money orders and payphones — to build a fortune. Written entirely in dialogue, the absurdity of a precocious child's feat satirizes as Gaddis put it, "the American dream turned inside out." His description of dysfunctional boards and the corrosive effect of corporate takeovers and asset stripping are as current today as they were 30 years ago.

Joseph Heller, Something Happened — Heller's stream of consciousness second novel follows a regular-joe middle manager as he prepares for a promotion. The messy interweaving of his thoughts about his job, family, sex, and childhood perfectly distill how complicated the selves we bring to work really are.

Should You Share A Room On A Business Trip? by Anne Kreamer

Years ago, when I worked at Holt, Rhinehart & Winston Educational and Professional Publishing, my female superior and I attended a national teacher's conference in San Antonio, and were forced to share a hotel room because of a late booking. What could have been a profoundly awkward experience — my boss! in her pajamas! — turned out to be one that strengthened our relationship, allowing us to get to know each other in a way that can rarely be found in the frenzy of daily work. The kind of bonding that I inadvertently experienced may be more frequent these days as the byproduct of a corporate mindset reshaped by Great Recession-driven austerity practices — among them requiring employees to share rooms. Major corporations such as Pfiizer, Bristol Meyers-Squibb and Microsoft have experimented with the practice. Nimbleness and frugality, after all, remain critical to growth, and it's been interesting to see that even as the economy slowly recovers, plenty of business travelers voluntarily and even eagerly share hotel rooms with colleagues. An Embassy Suites survey of 700 business travelers discovered that "17 percent said they try to share a room with a colleague." Fostering an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Seth Goldman, the co-founder and CEO of Coca-Cola-acquired Honest Tea, thinks a policy of sharing rooms during business travel helps preserve the entrepreneurial mindset that infused the founding of his company. "Every manager has a P&L that he or she is responsible for," he says, "and while we don't make sharing rooms a hard and fast rule, it's our sense that when people have their own budgets and ownership for their profits, they'll continue to operate that way."

It Can Be Good for Business

In addition to furthering a sense of entrepreneurialism, Goldman notes that "we spend half as much on hotel rooms as we would if we didn't share rooms on the road. It makes people think twice about how we spend our money." But in particular, Goldman says that sharing rooms "allows Honest Tea to save money everywhere that the consumer doesn't see it, allowing us to invest more in the business." Rita McGrath, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, echoes Goldman's findings and estimates that companies "can save as much as 50% in reduced overhead and administrative costs through a room-sharing policy."

Danica Kombol, founder of the Atlanta-based social media agency, Everywhere, has even shared hotel rooms at conferences with complete strangers. Before a recent conference, Kombol, who spends at least two weeks every month on the road, had tweeted that she was looking for a "roomie" and another conference attendee named Christine Young responded. For Young, "the best thing about attending conferences is connecting with other like-minded women." She says the friendships that have been forged have been nothing short of business- and life-changing. "Some of my greatest business contacts," says Young, "have come from these shared experiences." Kombol, who once roomed at a conference with a Wal-mart employee she'd never met before, recalls that particular roommate saying that she chose to bunk with a stranger because it "reminded her to be a good steward of the company's dollars."

Kombol and her Everywhere team also often share rooms when the client is paying. It just makes business sense to her, and her clients reward her company for its attention to value. "I would never have dreamed of suggesting that Danica and the Everywhere team bunk up," says Francis Heid, the Vice President of Media Operations for Advanstar Communications, "but the truth is they do a lot of traveling for us and have visited every Advanstar office around the country, multiple times. The money we've saved on hotels is money we can devote to her social media agency, which frankly gets us more bang for both our bucks."

Companies Need to Have Across-the-Board Consistent and Transparent Policies

Like so many programs, how a room-sharing policy is managed will make the difference between success and resentment. Adelma Stanford, a social media engagement manager, responded poorly to a room-sharing policy her former employer, Promethean (a global education company), instituted for junior employees during the recession. Stanford said that the majority of the employees resented the tiered policy and thought, "'I don't know these people and shouldn't have to room with them.' Many employees chose to pay the difference out of their own pocket so they wouldn't have to share a room."

A former senior associate at Price Waterhouse Coopers, who insisted on anonymity, was okay with bunking with someone, particularly when the economy was in the dumps, but it irked her that more senior management wasn't asked to make a similar sacrifice. As the associate put it, "at PwC the turnover is high. It's a demanding job where you regularly feel undervalued and a lot of senior associates were not very happy with this decision because if it was about cutting costs, then every level should have had to bunk."

Rita McGrath confirms that a practice of sharing rooms will backfire for management if not uniformly executed. "Where it is particularly demoralizing," she says, "is when executives insist on penny pinching for their employees but exempt themselves from cost-cutting measures, whether that be sharing hotel spaces or air allowances or whatever. Then people just feel they are being pushed around."

When senior management walks the talk, a room-sharing policy is more palatable. McGrath described how for "one of my clients, for instance, the emphasis is on keeping costs low, but the tradeoff is a very generous bonus program so that people feel that when the company saves money they get to share in the benefits. Also, everybody does it, from the "C-suite on down." Goldman, from Honest Tea, says at his company secretaries and SVPs share rooms, and laughed recalling the time, the night before a big presentation that he shared a room with a VP of sales who "had to sleep with the TV on." Rather than forcing his employee to turn off the television, Goldman erred on the side of being a good roommate and made do with three hours of sleep. (Granted, many experts — such as HBR blogger Tony Schwartz — would argue that you simply can't do your job if you don't sleep.)

Companies Need To Be Sensitive

While there are no laws against employees sharing hotel rooms, companies could minimize the potential for unhappiness — or worse — by making the arrangements elective and giving employees a choice over their roommates. A male and female manager at Honest Tea once shared a suite, but "it was sufficiently uncomfortable," says Goldman, "that we only did that once." And it's important for management to know what they are asking of their employees and to acknowledge the sacrifice. Many of those I interviewed said they need private time on the road to "reflect and recharge" and felt the cost of losing precious down time would be greater than the corporate benefit. And Goldman admits that as his business has grown and people from more established companies have joined the company, it's become more difficult to maintain a culture where "five guys would share a suite." In fact, he's made a pledge to the staff that if they meet their profitability goals this year, "everyone will get their own room."

Companies need to carefully calibrate their travel policies according to their organization's culture. Bunking up policies can make employees feel both uncomfortable and undervalued if handled the wrong way. But for many, room-sharing — if respectfully and equitably administered — has the potential to foster not just major cost savings, but also deeper, unanticipated connections that can change the course of a business or a career.

Make A Stranger Believe In You by Anne Kreamer

I recently received an e-mail sent to my business address that began with the salutation "Dear Ms. Anne," — the kind of greeting that suggested that the rest of the note would offer me riches from some recently deceased Estonian cousin I didn't know I had. It continued, "I know you have no idea who I am, however, I will try to keep this as short and to the point as possible" — words destined to cause a further sinking feeling about what was to come. But in the seconds I skimmed the note, a few words jumped out at me and I was intrigued. In three short paragraphs, Zanele Mutepfa, a junior at Portland State University in Oregon, told me that she was an immigrant Zimbabwean-born orphan and youth advocate who aspired to be a television talk show host. With a bravado that might have been off-putting, she said, "I assure you, my dynamic life story will one day hit headlines...but most importantly change lives, it just needs to be shared with the perfect person." She was coming to New York City — might I have time to meet with her?I had moved from the hinterlands to New York myself, 35 years ago, with virtually no professional contacts, so when she closed her note by saying, "Some may think one of the strangest things to do is believe in a stranger, but if

not one stranger believed in us, once upon a time, where would we all be today?... someone did it for you."

Yes. Yes they did. So I Googled Zanele, found a link indicating she was who she said she was, and agreed to meet. And as I discovered, so did several other media professionals whom Zanele had e-mailed cold. In this challenging job market, I think it's worthwhile to explore why these busy professionals took the time to respond and help Zanele. I contacted a few of them to find out, and have come away with some ideas that might help other people looking for work — and not just those entering the workforce for the first time.

Have clear professional goals

Before she e-mailed anyone, Zanele sat down and wrote an outline for herself, articulating her several goals: to become a talk show host, establish a women's empowerment organization, become an author — and maybe become a plus-size fashion model as well. While these are crazily ambitious and at first glance unrealistically expansive goals for a college student, two unifying themes — to work in the media and be a catalyst for helping other women — helped her target her search.

Cast a wide but focused net

Zanele's focus on media professions (she wasn't exploring legal or financial positions, for instance) allowed her to channel her search towards those operations (Oprah Winfrey Network, Oxygen Network, Essence, Ebony, YWCA) whose missions seemed to align with her dreams. "It was important for me to truly believe in what they do," she told me, "in order for my letter to have truth." Like any modern day sleuth, she used every tool to find the right contacts, web-searching terms such as "corporate women authors," "women in magazines," scouring sites like LinkedIn, company websites, Twitter, and executive profiles. Since most companies have standard e-mail formats, she sent multiple emails in every conceivable format until she didn't get a "mail delivery error." Within her relatively narrowcast objective, she contacted as many people as possible — eventually writing to 2,000 people. Thirty responded to those e-mails and six agreed to meet with her in person. With that kind of a response rate, the benefits of going wide are obvious.

Be authentic — tell a personal story

Dina Gusovsky, a broadcast journalist and columnist, was one of the media professionals who responded. While most people would think that being as brief and to the point in their cover note as possible would be the most professional and likely to succeed approach, Dina's response indicates that the opposite may true. She told me that she agreed to meet with Zanele "because I think at one point we were all Zaneles. Sometimes I feel like I still am. For creative people...the journey never ends. Whatever success I have had so far is directly correlated to all the people who gave me a chance. Not just those who decided to put me on television, but those who listened, those who gave me advice, and those who mentored me." But as an emigre from the Soviet Union, for Dina it was Zanele's immigrant background that resonated most. Her meeting with Zanele was "probably less pay-it-forward and more pay-it-backward. I think all those people who had helped me and continue to help would be proud that I was in some way continuing this wonderful trend."

Offer a variety of connection points

Janice Huff, the chief meteorologist for WNBC TV in New York, responds to lots of inquiries from young people interested in becoming meteorologists, but rarely takes the extra step to meet with them. However, Zanele had susssed out that Janice was a fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister, and personalized her note referencing that shared connection. For Janice, "that's what made me decide I'd love to meet her and help her." Zanele took the time to find shared interests for about 20% of her targets and mentioned them in her notes. So before you reach out it pays to research, and determine where your connection points might lie.

Don't be afraid to show vulnerability

Ellianna Placas, a fashion consultant and another immigrant (from Australia), and the former Fashion Director for Essence Magazine, was impressed by Zanele's ability to "show honesty and vulnerability and risk, putting her faith in human nature first — a brave and open beginning. 'Believe in a stranger' was so romantic, yet realistically appealing to me. Maybe I am imbuing it with more than Zanele intended, but it held universal appeal. We should all be helping each other. Zanele came to me for advice, she left as a new friend."

Be open about where the path takes you

After several people in New York City had responded to her letter, Zanele decided she had reason enough to make the trip from Portland. And while she did not leave New York with a firm job offer, she will be returning to follow up on the leads developed in her first round of conversations. "I learned so much about myself and exactly what makes me tick," Zanele told me after her trip. "I believe it is so important to know or hold a conversation with people who have career positions you aspire to have someday. The value of relationships and conversation is incredibly important to me. Those conversations will not magically appear on my phone and g-mail, I have to go and get them. No, not everyone will respond and not everyone 'needs' to — only the people who are meant to."

Ellianna Placas put it best: "No one knows how we arrive in the places or jobs we do. We did not do it by ourselves, we were surrounded by people along the way who gave tiny bits of advice, who we watched, who helped us make and not make choices."

That's something we should all keep in mind, especially as we make the upward and sideways journeys in our own careers. To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, at some point in our lives we have all stood on the shoulders of (seemingly gigantic) strangers, and there comes a time when we need to give others the chance to stand on ours.

Why Big Bird Remains Powerfully — and Globally — Significant by Anne Kreamer

Big Bird has had a big presence in the collective conversation lately, thanks to mentions in the first two presidential debates. The outpouring of support for the giant yellow puppet that followed the first debate is a testament to his and Sesame Street's continued relevance in people's lives. Sesame Street, in fact, is a great case study of a brand that has managed to remain powerful over decades and across cultures. In the 1980s, I was part of the team that sold Sesame Street around the world — either licensed and broadcast in English or in locally adapted indigenous-language co-productions. Long before "think global, act local" was the conventional wisdom for how corporations should operate in

the international interconnected marketplace, we at Children's Television Workshop (CTW), as it was known then, pioneered the development of a flexible global brand. Our approach to programming was to maintain the values, look and feel of the parent company and its main product, Sesame Street — carefully crafted live-action and animation and puppetry segments, woven together with a curriculum designed by educators, writers, producers and artists to help pre-school kids learn basic cognitive skills, to appreciate cultural diversity, and to achieve broader goals, like learning how to handle conflict. At the same time, we wanted to enable our co-producing partners to work with local educators, writers, and producers to craft the specific early childhood educational goals unique to their own countries. For example, in those early co-productions, the North American urban street of the original series was replaced by a plaza in Latin America, a strassa in Germany, or a rue in France. And those international stageset streets were populated by original puppet characters — parrots, hedgehogs, bears, and camels characteristic of the region and created by local producers.

Today — 44 years into Sesame Street's run — the program airs in 146 countries, with 23 co-productions in places as politically and culturally complex as South Africa and Afghanistan. I was curious to see how Sesame Workshop had continued to grow its operations over the years while remaining true to its mission to improve the lives of kids. I called Shari Rosenfeld, Vice President in Sesame Workshop's Global Education department. As a case study, she pointed to a venture launched in India in 2006 — Galli Galli Sim Sim — to identify a few of the key drivers for how they've remained a relevant, dynamic global brand:

Identifying The Country-Specific Critical Needs First "According to the McKinsey Global Institute's "bird of gold" index, India is entering a period of sustained, but unequal, economic growth with 161.1 million (or 67% of its population) gaining access to mass media. That leaves 33% of the country with limited access to mass media and educational opportunities. And while school enrollment is at an all-time high, UNICEF has reported that the educational system is "inadequately developed." "The scale of this underserved market, coupled with Sesame Workshop's 40 years of expertise in partnering with local educational and programming experts, created an important opportunity," said, Rosenfeld, "for us to meet critical needs on an unprecedented scale, while at the same time building toward a future that would allow our work in India to be financially sustainable."

Being Willing To Try New Operating Models According to Rosenfeld, "unlike most of the other markets in which we co-produce, Sesame Streethad never been broadcast in India. The fact that our audience had zero prior exposure to the brand created both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge was that we couldn't trade on our global brand equity and iconic characters; at the same time, the lack of familiarity with the brand gave us greater latitude in creating a local interpretation of the Sesame experiences. That, combined with the enormous potential for large-scale impact, was a key driver in thinking through a new operational model in India. As always, we built a strong coalition of partners including broadcasters, educators, production companies, foundations, and corporations, but rather than manage the operation from New York, we decided to embark on a new path that would evolve our approach from 'project management' to 'social entrepreneurship,' by building a new 30-person organization from the ground up."

Embracing New And Multiple Means Of Distribution The limited access to broadcast technology (among the targeted 33% underserved target population) has spurred the Galli Galli Sim Sim team to learn from the market, improving and evolving content to maximize distribution. Rosenfeld says they've piloted the delivery of content through mobile phones, including teacher-training videos which are on pre-loaded sim cards. SWI has created community radio with call in from parents and educators, and "Radiophone," which delivers radio episodes via mobile phones. Outreach materials in 9 local languages on topics as diverse as health, nutrition, financial literacy and school readiness have been distributed to millions of children throughout India. And more than 200 television episodes have been broadcast on India's national broadcaster, Doordarshan, and on Pogo and Cartoon Channel, India's destination channels for young kids.

Propagating Lessons Learned Internally The Sesame Workshop India (SWI) enterprise has created a hub for the exchange of ideas and expertise for the region. Rosenfeld describes how members of the Afghanistan and Indonesian teams have attended content and production workshops conducted by the Galli Galli Sim Sim team in conjunction with select personnel from Sesame in New York. "Sesame Workshop India's outreach team has worked on location in Nigeria and Indonesia, supporting local efforts to develop outreach initiatives and explore new business models; having our partners recognize the value of each other's expertise and share their original content keeps all of us more nimble and engaged," she says. The benefit of this shared learning is invaluable across all of their efforts — encouraging a kind of permeable membrane of growth and innovation throughout the entire organization — domestic and international.

Taking The Long View "With SWI, Rosenfeld adds, "Sesame Workshop has extended the horizon line for success by creating long-term development plans that are building toward a base of diversified revenue sources, forging mass distribution through government-run preschools and cultivating a culture of innovation that pilots new content that reaches children across socio-economic and the urban/rural divide. The entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes SWI is born from the latitude to develop new enterprises, like launching a pre-school [classroom] business through a new franchise model, that will not only deliver on core educational objectives, but will also serve as a critical revenue stream necessary to cross-subsidize other work."

* * *

The creators and distributors of Sesame Street were successfully pursuing an aggressive global strategy 30 years ago, before "globalization" was a common concept or phrase in America. It has done so by being clear and steadfast about its essential brand values while also seeking to understand deeply and flexibly adapt to local conditions and norms. It is an important model for 21st century companies as they seek to be relevant in an international marketplace, where being a successful American brand is not in and of itself a guarantee of global success.

Mindy Kaling on Chronicling the American Workplace by Anne Kreamer


Mindy Kaling is a funny, fabulous actor, but she's also an important chronicler of the 21st century American workplace. As a writer of 24 episodes of The Office — the equivalent of more than an entire season — she tapped into the unspoken truths that lurk in the underbelly of office culture, and she spun those insights into sitcom gold. The Office is arguably one of the most incisive sitcoms about work life ever created. Now, as the creator, producer, writer and star of a new Fox series called The Mindy Project, the fictional workplace she's invented and inhabits has gone from a realm in which she had no first-hand exposure (paper manufacturing?) to something a little closer to home. Her character, Mindy Lahiri, struggles (as we all do) to craft some kind of work/life balance, all while building her career as an OB/GYN — a premise based in part on observing her (real) OB/GYN mother's juggling act. In a recent phone conversation, I asked her what she'd learned about real work from inventing fictional workplaces. Here's what she had to say:

On Work/Life Balance

Nothing makes people preemptively yawn more than hearing a show about 'balancing professional and personal life'. Also, so many shows that tell women-centric stories sacrifice edginess and comedy for softness, and viewers get bored of that. But there is a reason why these stories keep getting told — because they are relatable. My strategy for a fresh take is simple: write honest and original observations about something that I am going through.

On Speaking Your Mind at Work

My character is impulsive, opinionated, and outspoken. She gets to do and say things on the show that I wish I could, but don't have the nerve to do. (I think smartly-executed wish-fulfillment is a great form of entertainment.) That comes from a kind of innate confidence that gets her into trouble, but is also very admirable. I hope people watching envy Mindy's confidence.

On Her Character's Busy Professional Life:

I chose to make my character an OB/GYN because I grew up with a mother who was an OB/GYN, which was essentially 33 years of research on the ins and outs of the lifestyle of an incredibly busy professional. Workplaces are a great thing to write about because even with our high unemployment rate, a whopping majority of people go to work everyday and have funny stories to tell about it.

On Her Own Busy Professional Life:

You wouldn't think that being an OB/GYN has much in common with being a network show-runner, but there are plenty of similarities between my work life and my character's work life. For instance, while my mother and I had very different jobs, our professional lifestyles have been very similar. I could call her from L.A. at 11 PM PST and she would be at the hospital in Boston waiting for a patient to give birth at 2 AM EST. Both jobs paid well and didn't give either of us very much free time, but we loved them. Neither is the kind of job you can do unless you really, really love it.

On Doing Her Market Research

Twitter is helpful, not so much for people sharing stories about their jobs, but for feedback — both positive and negative — about story lines they love. People use Twitter to quote lines they love, so it's the single easiest way to identify the funniest lines of a show.

On Being a Boss

At the risk of sounding like Michael Scott, I think I am a pretty damn good boss. I was a little worried about it at the beginning, because my inclination is to want everyone to like me. That always seems to get me into trouble, because I make promises I can't keep just to please everyone. But now there is simply no time for any of that. Because I am doing so much more on this show than at The Office, I have learned a cheerfully direct way of talking. I'm incredibly impatient, and while that's been a detriment in the past, it's an advantage as a boss, because it keeps things moving quickly. I recommend it to any leader: be impatient. By quickly and nicely shutting down lines of argument, and being decisive, I save the entire production hours and hours of work and money.

On Being a Female Boss

One thing I have noticed — and this is really the first time I've noticed how being a woman has affected my job — is that sometimes, after I've made a decision about something, there's a level of discussion that people think I am willing to entertain that probably wouldn't happen if I were a man. I have learned that when I make a decision, sometimes I just need to leave the room.

Follow the conversation at Harvard Business Review.

The Rise of Coworking Office Spaces by Anne Kreamer


"Coworking" office spaces, leasable by the day or month (think RocketSpace in San Francisco or The Hive in Denver) are multiplying in cities all over the country. Demand is predicted to expand by as much as 40% in 2013. And for good reason. It's no secret that the efficiency-driven modern office is a joyless and at best neutral venue in most people's lives. (Think: boxy cubicles that don't enable privacy or community, lack of natural light, incoherent design, etc.) And experiments to improve office spaces are nothing new. From the "college campus" envisioned by legendary adman Jay Chiat, where employees came to the office to gather information and then work wherever they wanted within the building, to Steve Jobs' Pixar campus, fluid, open plans have been touted as environments that lead to greater collegiality and productivity. But the 21st century workforce, increasingly telecommuting and/or bouncing from job to job and city to city, is making those "modern" late-20th-century office concepts feel quaint.

To better understand what's going on, I spent time at Grind in New York City, an invitation-only co-working space. For $35 a day or $500 a month, 60 to 120 people populate Grind's 7,500 square feet at any given time. Benjamin Dyett, one of Grind's three founders, describes their members as "free radicals," or people who "network endlessly and collaborate constantly. They choose when and how they do what they do, on their own terms. They don't want job security, they want career fluidity."

It's a setup that clearly seems to be working for a growing number of people, and represents a cultural shift that is a corollary to (but extends beyond) the out-sourcing and employee churn of a top-down flexible labor force. Like cousins of the Chiat or Jobs workspaces, where full-time employees devote themselves to a single cult-like institution in groovy architecture that encourages playful collaboration, the new co-working spaces thrive on a constantly changing cast of characters — all with different skills, experience and business goals, where members are creating and running many different kinds of enterprises.

What makes these co-working spaces so attractive? (And what, in turn, can more traditional offices learn from them?)

1. They offer collaborative networks, built-in resources, and a dynamic ecosystem

While getting out of the house to work for free in the quasi-community of a coffee shop might feel like a no-strings, easily-accessible kind of co-working environment, don't be fooled. Free wifi places are fine as social gathering spots, but the random non-working others who share that space surely won't help you find new colleagues or generate development leads. Spanish-born Roberto Alcazar, who started his branded content agency EOIntegration.com at Grind at the end of 2011, told me one of the things he likes about Grind, "is that you get to interact whether you want to or not. There are lots of people with different backgrounds and disciplines and it keeps you up to speed and up to date. A five-minute chat with that investor or that start-up guy can prove to be invaluable." Former banker Hans Reichstetter, who runs three very different businesses in various stages of development out of Grind, sparkled when describing the huge diversity of people doing all sorts of things: freelancers, creatives, lawyers, entrepreneurs, accountants, coders — you see it all. "I needed an industrial designer who knew CAD and there was a guy here who knew it really well." And the fact that one's workplace neighbors are not official colleagues can have an upside in the lack of competitive game-playing and back-stabbing.

2. They foster innovation.

By attracting a variety of members from myriad backgrounds and industries, the looser connections of these constantly churning spaces also appear to have innovation advantages. Martin Ruef, a sociologist at Princeton who's studied entrepreneurs, found that those who broadened their universe of contacts from small groups of familiar acquaintances to larger, more loosely-connected networks of people were far more innovative. As another of Grind's founders, Stuart Warshaw, says, "Grind is a case study in collaboration across many disciplines and among established professionals."

3. They make starting a business simpler.

Former CNN.com sports executive Leora Blumberg, who is part of a Grind-based start-up called Personalized Media, says that the company found its way to Grind because they work on projects on an ad hoc basis with people in Europe and Washington, and they required the flexibility of operating from a place suited to a highly variable daily head count. Tom Chernaik, a lawyer running CMP.ly, a company that offers a transparent way to disclose legal terms within the social media context, thought his time at Grind was going to be temporary, but he sees no reason yet to give up the benefits of ultra-flexibility and low overhead. "With seven employees, we're at the tipping point," he says, "where it might be cheaper to get dedicated office space, but even if we do, I'll keep a daily membership here so we have access to the community."

What to Know Before You Go:

If you're interested in working from a collaborative workspace, explore the various options in your city. Visit a few on day passes to see which has the best vibe and infrastructure for you. The pricing varies from place to place — ranging from $150/month to $600/month and $15/day to $50/day. There are also a whole range of sector-specific spaces, specialized for tech, creative, food, or educational professionals. It's just one of the many ways that companies are capitalizing on flexible workspaces for a flexible workforce — a trend we can all expect to see more of in the future.

Follow the conversation at Harvard Business Review.

UPDATE: 9.24.12 Below is a clip of my appearance on CNBC

Appearing on CNBC's Squawk on the Street, Anne Kreamer, Harvard Business Review contributor, says the demand for co-working spaces are on the rise and reinventing the way small businesses lease space. -Sept. 24, 2012

What I Learned From the "Homeless Hotspots" Twitter Furor by Anne Kreamer

When Emma Cookson, the Chairman of the New York branch of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), an award-winning ad agency, and her team concocted an innovative marketing program called Homeless Hotspots, they genuinely had no sense of the furor that they'd be facing when the project launched.The Homeless Hotspots program was meant to serve the needs of the super digerati who attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Inspired by the established model of homeless people earning money by selling homelessness-focused newspapers, BBH's idea was for homeless people, wearing T-shirts printed with their names and identifying themselves as 4G hotspots, to sell connectivity (an issue for conference attendees) by means of small handheld Wi-Fi routers.

Bad early-March weather kept the program mostly invisible until the third day of SXSW, when appalled commentary began to roil the Twitterverse. Cookson found herself in the unexpected position of having to react to a media tsunami — fast.

I sat down with her to explore what she learned from the experience, which she was able to distill into five lessons:

# 1. Comment Precedes Knowledge

As Cookson was putting her kids to bed the evening of Sunday, March 11 in her Brooklyn home, her Tweetdeck started "blinking very loudly," with her team on the ground in Austin alerting her that something alarming was going on. Individuals had begun negative tweets about Hotspots that cascaded into a cycle of news stories (See articles from ReadWriteWeb, The New York Times and Wired) and what started out as a small brush fire suddenly scaled up to a full-blown firestorm. The speed at which it all happened was unprecedented, given that it was generated by the tech community gathered at SXSW, and not some other big gathering.

With the event now solidly in her rearview mirror, what does Cookson understand about the situation that she didn't know at the time? "I don't think I realized how large the volume of comments without information could be," she says. "The overall effect during the first 24 hours was a very big and very noisy, but largely empty echo chamber. Most of the initial commentary got all of the facts wrong. Nobody knew that all the money (a daily minimum of $50 for up to six hours of work) was going to the participants themselves, nobody knew there was no sponsor or brand connected to the program, nobody knew how the participants felt — there were a number of pieces of missing information."

#2. You Get One Chance to React

On Monday morning, Cookson was looking at a voluminous and overwhelmingly negative set of public comments. "Obviously, the big question for us," Cookson says, "was how do you face that first storm? Do you just stop, exit and apologize? Or, do you carry on and try to explain? We had to make that call really early on — and it's a big call, because once you act on the decision, you can't go back. We decided that we needed to address the comments head-on."

#3. With New Facts and Openness, The Story Can Change

"The reason why I chose to continue," she says, "is because we thought there was a new perspective to bring to bear." Cookson knew, for instance, that nobody had actually heard from the homeless participants whose voices were going to be credible and powerful. Participants like Clarence Jones, a 54-year-old homeless survivor of Hurricane Katrina, or Jonathan Hill II, who reported that he liked being a hotspot better than "his usual work doing manual labor at music venues, largely because it offered him a chance to talk to some of the thousands of the attendees at the program, who normally ignore the roughly 6,000-strong homeless population in Austin."

Cookson describes a clear trajectory in the coverage and believes that, unlike some big corporation with a crisis management team, BBH's decision to talk to everyone proved helpful, finding "that in one-on-one conversations, people were almost always positive." She adds, "What started off on Sunday as primarily negative was by Tuesday hotly debated with new pieces like those on The Atlantic Wire or NPR's Talk of the Nation, where the majority of the call-in comments during the show were supportive and recognized the delicate tension between empowerment and exploitation. It was still a controversial story, but much more balanced. I'd say we made the right decision."

#4. It's Not Just What You Say, It's How You Say It

Cookson says they made a deliberate decision in the planning stages of Homeless Hotspots that they needed to make the fact that the participants were homeless apparent upfront in the name — thus, Homeless Hotspots. "But," she says, "it's not a surprise to someone who works in advertising that what people respond to is not just what you say but how you say it. I work in the communications industry — the execution, the style and the expression are a vast part of what people respond to. The T-shirt message was received very differently when stripped from its original context and broadcast as tweets."

#5. There's Real Value in Clear Leadership

One of Cookson's big lessons was in experiencing the value of her corporate culture through the prism of a crisis. There was a small team of people involved, but she was the decision-maker. "While I was facing an extremely high-volume challenge and criticism externally, I realized after a while that I wasn't facing criticism internally. When the story went big on Sunday night, I e-mailed the global leadership to tell them what was happening and what we were doing about it, but then, I was pretty much left to manage it. What I didn't have — that I think many companies would have had — was any internal challenging or questioning of my judgment." Cookson says that not having to deal with that bureaucratic operational complexity was really critical, because it was a very fast-moving situation. "If' I'd had to keep reporting back, it would have been disabling, and it would have been further disabling if I'd been distracted by a worry that I or my team was being judged internally. We talk about needing to embrace risk to do fresh, innovative stuff," she says, "and this was a living embodiment. Lots of companies talk about embracing risk but don't mean it. How we reacted was a validation that we meant it."

What Would You Do Differently Knowing What You Know Now?

Cookson says she still finds it hard to answer the question of whether she would do anything differently in hindsight, and has thought a lot about how controversy drove the story. Businesses generally don't like controversy, but to Cookson, Homeless Hotspots proved that controversy has enormous power — driving the comments, the outrage, and the conversation. "If you ever need to get a message through, controversy cuts through like nothing else." Then, of course, you have to judge the costs and benefits, deciding whether you want to endure the downside in order to get the upside.

Also posted June 18th, 2012 on the Harvard Business Review HBR Blog Network