Variety is the spice of life—and work

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Nemo Bar and Trellis interpretation by Chuck Saylor, in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart

We’ve all been there, whether we’re studying for an exam, creating a presentation, or brainstorming for a big project: Gradually our minds become stuck circling around a single thought, or they begin wandering off entirely, into unrelated territory.

Clearly it’s time for a getaway.

“So often, great ideas and profound beliefs and actions seem to be fueled and found when we take the time to reflect in an inspiring place,” says Chuck Saylor, founder and CEO of izzy+. “It’s why people go to off-site retreats in the woods, or by the sea. It’s why they take sabbaticals in the mountains to free up their thinking and recharge the batteries.”

Of course, some real travel to the Alps or the Caribbean would be nice (as we wrote about in Part I of this series), but Saylor is actually referring to less drastic methods of getting away—without leaving the building.

“Culturally, we are losing that ability to go offsite and reflect,” Saylor adds. “So we need to create inspiring spaces within the work environment that allow us to have that revelation, to relax our minds, to achieve those ‘aha’ moments.”

Research shows that just getting some geographic distance from your desk can yield refreshing results. They key is having a destination that makes you want to get up and move. This year’s izzy+ NeoCon showroom is designed around a variety of “inspired destinations.”

“A variety of inspired destinations in the workplace naturally encourages movement, and that contributes to a healthier, more social and more productive work environment,” explains Rick Glasser, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for izzy+.

The Nemo Trellis embodies the idea of inspired destinations—places that make you want to get up and head for a change of scene, whether to have a casual meeting or refresh your sense of focus.

Of the three Nemo Trellis installations in this year’s showroom, two (pictured below) are concept designs created by young designers who won the izzy+ design challenge that was introduced as part of the Valentine’s Day promotion. Lindsey Salazar of Archideas in Chicago created a Trellis that blurs the boundaries between outdoor and indoor environments, while Eda Muco of Dyer Brown & Associates in Boston used a translucent material to play with the idea of boundaries without walls.

Another, more whimsical Nemo Bar and Trellis concept (pictured at the top of this post) is installed in the Merchandise Mart lobby, where weary NeoCon guests can take a few moments to sit down and refresh. This interpretation of the Trellis has a wheatgrass roof and reclaimed barnwood panels, while a massive cross-section of polished maple serves as the Bar’s surface.

“When people encounter the izzy+ spaces, I hope they will smile, I hope they will be surprised, and I hope that it will provoke some inspiring thoughts within them,” says Saylor. “There is a time for work and a time for leisure and reflection, a time to be introverted and a time to be extroverted and collaborate. It’s all about a healthy balance, and izzy+ will always be on that journey to find the right balance and to create the products and designs that support and inspire people.”

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Above: izzy+ sales reps and the Nemo Trellis design contest winners, beneath the Trellis concept created by Eda Muco (from left to right Marty Smith and Eda Muco of Boston, and Melissa Huff and Lindsey Salazar of Chicago).
Below: The Nemo Trellis concept designed by Lindsey Salazar, creating a cozy cove for the newest version of the Lotus concept chair by Chuck Saylor.

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Distance makes the mind grow broader

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Photo by lindyi

It’s summer—the time of year most synonymous with travel. As soon as the weather begins warming up, we start feeling that itch to get away. Travel is something most of us crave so much that we set aside precious time and money for it, and we often enjoy the planning and anticipation almost as much as journey itself.

There are obvious, almost universal benefits of travel, like the freedom of leaving our inbox, yard work, and the daily grind behind. Other benefits are more personal, depending on whether we’re seeking relaxation or adventure, natural beauty or urban stimulation, a complete change of scene or a chance to revisit a family tradition.

But no matter what kind of getaway you prefer, scientists confirm what people have innately known for hundreds of years: The psychological benefits of setting out for a new destination are multiple and impactful. In fact, “getting away” is essential to effective thinking—it actually opens up neuropathways in the brain, because it puts distance between us and all the problems that feel “close” when we’re at work and home.

When we get geographic distance from our own problems + feel more relaxed due to being on vacation, we’re more likely to see new ways of dealing with problems at home,” writes Psychology Today reporter Alice Boyes in “5 Reasons Why Travel is Good For You: The Positive Psychology of Travel.”

Yep. The first benefit of travel, according to Boyes, is that “Geographic distance leads to improved problem solving” that’s “more creative and expansive.” Brandon Reame, Market Development Strategist at izzy+, has seen that happen first hand—not just as a result of his own travels, but also when he led a group of interior designers on an izzy+ trip to Nicaragua last fall.

“There’s something about a change of scene that gives you a different perspective,” says Reame. “It’s almost like at home you’ve been stuck attacking problems from the same angle, over and over again, and as soon as you get away you can see the whole situation differently. I loved watching how being in Nicaragua opened up the minds of the designers we took on our trip.”

Joy Eling, izzy+ Product and Brand Manager, agrees: Travel is inspiring—even when it’s just a family vacation to the beach.

“What I love most about travel is stepping outside the norm of daily life, and the flexibility and experiences that come with it,” says Eling. “That comes from creating my own schedule, which is usually no schedule at all, and being able to explore new places and experiences. It all helps me feel relaxed and inspired.”

In the “5 Reason Why Travel is Good for You” article, Boyes shares four other key benefits of travel: being more open to new experiences, which builds new skills to take home with us; developing a more expanded sense of self and what we’re capable of; being able to fully relax (a given benefit!); and returning home with more curiosity and a broader sense of meaning in life.

Reame adds another benefit: Travel impacts how we see others, which in turn impacts our ability to be Better Together.

“There are really great people everywhere in this world, from Abu Dhabi, to Cologne, to Birmingham. Traveling has allowed me meet and form great relationships in many corners of the country and world,” Reame says. “Getting out of the office is also the best way to really see what other people are dealing with. It’s hard to create a relevant brand without spending time out in the world.”

While all those benefits of travel sound wonderful, the reality is that we have to stay home and take care of business before we can afford the time and money travel requires. So does that mean our problem-solving, creativity, and relationships are destined to remain stuck when we’re stuck in the office?

Not necessarily. Especially if you’re in an environment that’s been designed with multiple “inspired destinations”—places that compel you to get away from your desk, interact with different people, and enjoy a change of scene. The impact won’t be as powerful as traveling with izzy+ to Nicaragua or Norway, but even these mini “getaways” can do you plenty of good (and you don’t have to worry about airport delays!). We’ll explore how in Part II of this blog series, as well as in our NeoCon 2013 showroom. (Now there’s an inspired destination—hope to see you there!)

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The group of designers that traveled to Nicaragua with izzy+ in November 2012.

Workplace design: Happy mediums for happy people

Everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to workplace design. Some are big fans of the open plan, while others long to carve out their own space (ideally with a door they can close!). Some love the creative buzz and serendipitous collaboration that’s a result of everyone being in the mix together, but others fight against the distractions in desperate attempts to protect their productivity.

Not surprisingly, much has been written about today’s workplace design, and its impact on everything from innovation and collaboration to productivity. One recent study suggests that “ambient background noise or buzz of conversation in public places”—like coffee shops—”can fuel creativity.” Other articles, like this one about brainstorming, say that the unplanned conversations and debates that happen when people randomly cross paths are more effective than scheduled sessions (which means architecture and office layout play an important role). At izzy+, we have always believed that people are “Better Together,” and that workplace design plays an important role in the Better Together equation.

But what about when “ambient background noise” becomes overly distracting noise, that stunts productivity? And then there’s the reality of introverts in the workplace. Many people need alone-time and a focused space more than they need buzz and impromptu encounters. (The new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts addresses in great depth the needs and value of introverts in the workplace.)

With so many needs, pushing and pulling from all directions, it’s easy to wonder if a work environment that’s ideal for everyone is even possible.

Luckily, many workplace psychologists and designers (including izzy+!) believe it is! One recent New York Times article suggests that the best workplace design incorporates something for everyone. That doesn’t mean some people get cubicles, others get private offices and others get desks in open-plan spaces, according to their set-in-stone preferences. Rather, it’s design that assumes each individual has different needs at different times, depending on their project, task, and mood. It’s design that’s flexible, adaptable, and offers a variety of options.

“There is such a thing as a workspace that allows you to easily work near your team one moment, to shift into a cross-disciplinary space, and then later to unplug and find a solitary, quiet spot for some focused, kick-butt work,” says Brandon Reame, Market Development Strategist at izzy+. “The key is making sure your people have the technology and tools they need to be mobile, and then incorporating ‘third spaces’ into the workspace design. Make sure all of the things that are appealing about working in the buzz of a Starbucks are available for people who want it at work, where ideas can cross pollinate in important ways.”

What do you think? Which design elements and social factors make for a perfect work environment? Is it possible for workspaces to incorporate “something for everyone?”

Pictured above: The Nemo Enclave—a ‘third space’ for impromptu meetings or solo work that calls for a change of scene

Chocolate, love, and…learning?

Roses, chocolates, romantic candle-lit dinners—sounds like the perfect setting for a business to stay out of, right?

Well, it depends how you frame Valentine’s Day.

While the romantic take on February 14 is still plenty popular, many others—especially younger couples and singles—are opting to simply ignore what’s often thought of as a “Hallmark holiday.” But what if we thought of Valentine’s Day, instead, as an opportunity to celebrate relationships of all kinds—a day that’s all about not being an island, but being Better Together?

At izzy+, we’ve been working to reframe Valentine’s Day since 2006, when Harter began its annual February promotional. What we’ve discovered along the way is that the traditional aspect of giving at this time of year is still essential—we like to substitute the roses with the giving of time and ideas, but some of the other goodies stay (especially the chocolate!). We also think it’s important to add a second component to the giving: learning.

So Valentine’s Day can be about giving, sharing, and learning? Yes!

Learning and sharing, after all, go hand-in-hand. Learning to share is one of the first social skills we develop as children. As adults, we tend to be good at sharing things, but we often overlook how important it is to share ideas, stories, and our time.

When you flip the sentence—sharing to learn—you get to the heart of why sharing can be so powerful. When someone else shares their perspective, it stretches us outside of our comfort zones, helping us see a problem from a new angle and learn in ways we couldn’t have on our own. It’s what being Better Together is all about.

Let’s take all of that sharing and learning to another country!

Lately we’ve been thinking a lot about how, as a company, we can facilitate even more giving, sharing and learning, and tie it all into Valentine’s Day. Our annual holiday event traditionally involves giving back. This year, not only are we sharing the love by making donations to the children’s literacy organization RIF, we’re also giving our customers an opportunity to join members of the izzy+ team on the ultimate learning and giving adventure—in Nicaragua! In addition to learning about another culture together, we’ll spend some time giving to others in need, through service-oriented work. It’s just one more way to bring people together to share and learn.

What are your thoughts about reframing Valentine’s Day and demonstrating Better Together in new ways? However you go about it, we’re glad you’re out there sharing the love! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Why NeoCon needs more “concept cars”

Every June, over 40,000 architecture and design professionals converge on the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, ready to network and see what’s new in the more than 700 showrooms and booths. The experience can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. When it’s all said it done, what products, of the thousands displayed, stand out?

For many who were commenting on Twitter during the show, the izzy+ Nemo concept pieces made an impression—in part, perhaps, because they are different, but also because they engage people and spark imaginations.

“I’ve always felt that the industry needs to do a better job of showing off what is possible instead of just what is,” says Rob Kirkbride, associate editor of MMQB, the weekly publication that covers the contract furniture industry. “We could learn a lot from the auto industry. Auto companies build concepts to show off what they can do, get customers excited about what’s coming and build brand awareness.”

izzy+’s founder and CEO, Chuck Saylor, has collaborated on designing the izzy+ concept pieces shown in showrooms 1150 and 11-100 during NeoCon. He says he loves exploring what is possible and watching how people react.

“If you really, truly want to gain knowledge and get non-filtered input around ideas, you have to be confident enough to stand in front of the bus and share your ideas,” Saylor says. “You have to be willing to hear all the feedback—the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Showing concept pieces at NeoCon is particularly important, Saylor says, because there are so many people in one place, ready to engage in ideas and conversation. “It’s a thought leadership issue,” Saylor says. “We need to be having a broader conversation in the industry about what it really means to change the nature of work, from an isolated setting to a more communal and collaborative one.”

While “collaboration” is a hot topic in the industry—one that was referenced extensively at NeoCon and explored to some extent through certain products, like benching—Saylor says providing something physical for people to experience takes the conversation to a different level.

“It’s one thing to say ‘We believe in collaboration,’ but it’s another thing entirely to say ‘This is what we think it might look like’—to put something out there as a reference point. The more real and meaningful the experience that’s offered in the showroom, the richer the discussion.”

Designer Joey Ruiter, who has collaborated with Saylor on the Nemo concept pieces displayed in the izzy+ showrooms at NeoCon and also designed izzy+’s Dewey line for the next generation of teaching and learning, loves the collaborative, future-focused nature of putting new ideas out there.

“Concept pieces aren’t meant to be perfect, finished ideas. They’re thought-starters that help other people start imagining and envisioning what’s possible,” Ruiter says. “That’s what the best concept pieces do—they should get you thinking about how you see yourself using it and moving the ideas forward.”

Secrecy often keeps companies from sharing concepts, but Saylor and Kirkbride both believe less secrecy will help energize future NeoCon shows.

“Concepts add excitement,” Kirkbride says. “Office furniture makers in Europe do a much better job of showing concepts at shows like Orgatec and iSalone. And that makes going to those shows exciting. In many booths, furniture concepts are placed front and center at these shows. The companies want feedback, and they get it. They don’t hide the concept behind closed doors.

“I think companies that show at NeoCon are missing a great opportunity to build excitement and brand recognition by keeping concepts hidden away…. It is time to pull back the curtain and build a little buzz in the industry again.”


Chuck Saylor and Joey Ruiter, two generations of designers collaborating on Nemo concepts for izzy+

The Nemo Lounge concept, designed by Joey Ruiter

The Lotus Chair concept, designed by Chuck Saylor

This post was written by izzy+ writer Kristin Tennant

Why we celebrate (besides for the cake)

A decade of commitment to anything is a big deal in our culture—for good reason! A tenth birthday takes a child into double-digits—a time of life that begins the transition from little kid to big kid and eventually into the adult they will become. Ten years of marriage is an accomplishment, marking a decade that has no doubt been filled with a mixture of trials, hard work, growth, dreams and joys. And a decade in business—particularly in the midst of a recession and much change—is well worth celebrating.

But why, exactly, do we mark these milestones? And how should we mark them, learn from them, and move forward? 

On the occasion of izzy+’s tenth birthday, our writer, Kristin Tennant, asks izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor about milestones, reflection, celebration and the future.

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– How does it feel to be 10?

It’s a great age to be. When you’re 10, you’re not thinking back on how well you’ve done. You’re just excited about the future—what’s next. That’s definitely how it feels for izzy+.

When you’re 10, the future is still wide open, but it’s beginning to be more defined. At my granddaughters’ tenth birthdays, I saw the emergence of their personalities—their passions, how they think. I could begin to imagine where they’re going, what path they’re on.

– Even though you’re focused on what’s ahead, does reflection still play a part in a milestone like this?

Reflection is so important, but I often wonder why we wait for a milestone—a big wedding anniversary or retirement—before we reflect on our lives. If you wait too long to reflect, for fear of not liking what you will see, you end up on the “safe” side of that equation—you don’t learn or grow. We grow when we’re willing to be wrong and take some risks.

The more we reflect, the more we become OK with the possibility of being wrong. It allows us to learn more, grow and pass it along to others.

– You mentioned passing along what we’ve learned to others. Is that izzy+’s “Better Together” mantra in action?

Yes! That’s the good thing about gathering together to celebrate something—it’s so much more meaningful to reflect with others. Going off into the woods to reflect on my own turns that active verb into more of a noun. There’s a lack of dialogue and conversation. We miss out on those opportunities to share what we’ve learned and make everyone better.

For me, it’s reflecting and learning together that helps create a path for the future—a better understanding and vision for going forward.

– So ultimately, this 10th birthday is more about what’s ahead than what’s already happened.

Exactly. I don’t look back and how small we were and think about how much bigger we are now—that’s so immaterial. I look out over the organization and see a group that’s growing, contributing, taking risks, being open, constructive, kind and creative.

The people at izzy+ are a reflection of where we’ve been, who we are, and where we’re going. And the hopes I have for izzy+ are very connected to the hopes I have for my family and all the people I love: I hope izzy+ continues to grow and create a place where people can be transparent, follow their dreams, add value, and make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

When you look back, there will always be negatives, but I always err on the side of positive. I like to focus on what’s inspiring, meaningful and adds value, and then figure out how to communicate those things, so everyone can be inspired moving forward.