Inc.'s editor looks at how office design can turn job interviews into a retail experience; the U.S. Senate's failure to fix its own Year 2000 bugs; and rules for creative brainstorming.
If you doubt the power design has to transform a business, consider the story of Steve Ettridge, the founder and CEO of Temps & Co., a temporary- and permanent-placement business and three-time Inc. 500 company based in Washington, D.C. A few years ago Ettridge realized that the biggest obstacle to his company's growth was a shortage not of clients but of temps. Demand was far outstripping supply. "If we have people who want to work, we have business," Ettridge says. "Up to that point, the temp was a commodity, a warm body. The minute you conceive of the temp as your real customer, everything changes--right down to the space in which you do business."
The space at Temps & Co. had, not surprisingly, been designed to accommodate the people who worked there, not the people being recruited. "I decided we needed a fresh concept for our offices, a retail concept," says Ettridge. "So we started talking to the temps about where they hang out. It turns out that they shop, they go to the movies, and they go to Starbucks. That told me what I needed to know. We decided to create an office that would make applying for a job as simple and as inviting as ordering a cup of coffee."
And so the Job Store was born. Today, Temps & Co. has three such stores in the Washington area, each designed to transform the job-application process from an act of submission into a retail experience. One part of the street-level exterior, for example, mimics a well-known doughnut chain whose neon signs flash "Hot Doughnuts Now"--except that, at the Job Store, the sign says, "Walk-ins welcome. Now interviewing." Inside, instead of typical office furniture, there are stools and round tables in the reception area, creating a bistrolike ambience, and stools and counters in the interviewing area, evoking the cosmetics section of a department store.
Ettridge says that the impact of the redesign has been substantial, with recruitment increasing by 25% in the same location after the remodeling. "Even our clients--the big-company guys--have been dropping by to see what's happening," he says.
And Ettridge himself is living proof that you don't have to be a designer to use design as a business tool. What's important is to insist on getting what you want. "I went through two architects who drew up plans for what looked like a bank," he says. "Finally, I hired a restaurant designer, who was fabulous. Now I just have to cure him of the habit of buying thousand-dollar lighting fixtures."
Mything the Mark
We liked Michael E. Gerber's 1985 book The E-Myth and understand why so many Inc. readers did, too. Some of the most skeptical CEOs we know have found Gerber's insights immensely helpful in making the transition from MBSU (Managing by Showing Up) to a systems-based approach to running a business.
So we looked forward to the publication of Gerber's new book, The E-Myth Manager (HarperBusiness, $24), due out this month. What a disappointment. Directed at managers of large companies, The E-Myth Manager delivers a message that goes something like this: Figure out what you want to be in your life (your "Primary Aim," as Gerber calls it) and then "own" your department or division. To hell with what the boss wants. If your Primary Aim doesn't mesh with the boss's expectations, just leave.
I can see the Dilbert take on this one already. "He said there was a negative variance between me and his Primary Aim." When it comes to this book, your Primary Aim should be to forget it.
Easier Done Than Said
We were flipping through a recent edition of Inc.'s German counterpart, Markt und Mittelstand, when we came upon a section titled "Unternehmensgründung." Turns out that's the German word for start-up. And to think that some Americans complain about the challenges of pronouncing entrepreneur.
'How do you become a millionaire? Start out a billionaire and buy an airline.'
--British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who made his fortune on Virgin Records and then launched Virgin Atlantic Airways
The Bright Side of the Millennium Bug
Advocates of less government may have lots to cheer about come midnight, December 31, 1999, if Bob Bennett's numbers are accurate. While holding hearings to assess the impact of the Year 2000 problem on small companies, the junior senator from Utah--and former Inc. 500 CEO--had the presence of mind to check the U.S. Senate's readiness to deal with the technological complications of moving from '99 into '00. Turns out that only 63 of the Senate's 9,000 computers are Year 2000 compliant.
Wanna Be More Creative? Follow the Rules, Damn It!
The following five rules govern every brainstorming session at the legendary product-design and development company IDEO, according to Douglas Dayton, who runs the business's Boston office and was a codeveloper (with Steve Jobs) of the first commercial mouse:
The New Family Business
We keep seeing signs of the emergence of a new style of family business, one in which family members--accomplished professionals in their own right--collaborate on a project-by-project basis. A case in point: the joint venture behind our Mind Matters column, which premiered in our February issue and will appear every third month. Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., the father, is a renowned psychiatrist and the column's principal author. Son Ben, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is his coauthor. Irvin's other son, Reid, a professional photographer, shot the portrait of his father that appears with the column. While the Yaloms all have successful careers independent of one another, they look for opportunities to work together, says Irvin. Sons Ben and Reid, for example, are collaborating on a book about American parades.
Nancy K. Austin
When it came time to find someone to investigate the phenomenon of buzz, who better than Inc. contributor Nancy K. Austin? Austin is planning to do a book on the cutting-edge business practices in the capital of buzz: Hollywood.
Other than an ugly encounter with a high school physics course, nothing made Jerry Useem a logical candidate to write " Failure: The Secret of My Success." But after months of investigating business failure, he learned that there is such a thing as a way to fail well.
Freelance writer Tom Fudge returns to his birthplace in Grand Forks, N. Dak., 13 months after the devastating flood. In " The Noahs of Grand Forks," Fudge examines what it means for an entire business community to have to rebuild itself from scratch.
Inc. Tech editor Leigh Buchanan explores the evolving relationship between business and technology with one of the authors of Unleashing the Killer App.