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Oct 25, 2018

Boston and Madrid reflections: A Rubicon moment in transit?


Having just returned from the CoreNet Global Summit in Boston and having previously attended the EMEA Conference in Madrid, I had the opportunity to reflect on what I had observed at both these gatherings. My impression was that CRE/workplace sector was now beginning to accept that the tried and tested yet flawed systems of the past, may not be totally fit for purpose in the 21st-century. Furthermore, the industry sector focusing on helping organisations make the best use of the built environment, has reached the point of accepting that the game is changing fundamentally.  It seems to me that we are about to cross the Rubicon.
It is with a small measure of satisfaction that I along with a small band of like-minded people, who have been lone voices in the past, have maintained that the world of CRE and workplace needs to change. Fundamentally, the sector should be supporting businesses in the challenges they face, especially in a world filled with uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity and volatility. Essentially, it’s no longer just about buildings; it’s about people and place.
One of the key indicators signalling that the ‘times are a-changin’, which struck me personally was the nature of the keynote speakers. They were not industry technical experts, neither the usual motivational speakers nor futurists; but those who were motivated by the ‘people’ aspect and the human experience.
In Madrid the 300+ audience were mesmerised by business philosopher, Anders Indset. By bridging the philosophy of the past with the technology and science of tomorrow, he offers a new perspective on how leaders can cope with the 21st century. Indset’s spellbinding session was interwoven with touching if not moving video clips about the human condition, giving us plenty of food for thought. His discourse included provocative ideas on the subjects of leadership change and creation. He states that the ‘old world’ is reaching its limits and that future leaders must function both productively, with a defined set of values and be more responsible in order to succeed, whilst building culture into an organisation and providing value to the client.
However, last week at the CoreNet Global summit in Boston, there were further thought-provoking surprises. A mainly U.S.-based audience of 3,300 were stunned by the wisdom and words of 12-year-old motivational speaker Nyeeam Hudson. It was certainly fascinating to see the audience’s reaction, you could see ‘Is this for real? ’ written loud in their expressions! Yet as Nyeeam talked about happiness and that everybody has something of value to offer, urging us to “never get discouraged and just keep building yourself every day”; one could sense that a different tone had been set for this conference.
This was particularly highlighted by the really powerful closing event, with the audience giving a standing ovation to greet the entrance of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow and Tarana Burke, who is credited with launching the hugely influential global #MeToo movement. This compelling session, titled ‘#MeToo: Now What?’ was clearly a departure from the norm. The atmosphere in the auditorium was electric, as the discussion considered the implications of #MeToo on organisations and corporate real estate in particular, as well as the roles of workplaces and workspaces in creating safe and inclusive experiences for all employees.

I did ponder about all that I had heard on the long plane journey back to London; not only from the inspirational speakers, but also from my chats to many other colleagues during the event. For the most part they confirmed that there is now real acknowledgement of the structural, if not seismic changes taking place. Undoubtedly, this came with a fair amount of apprehension if not downright fear; indeed some said they were glad retirement was not too far off. However, this reminded me of what Nyeeam said, the words of a child urging us all to be fearless in the face of change and possible failure – “A lot of people don’t succeed because they’re afraid to fail.”
By CoreNet Global, the industry’s major trade body with a 11,000 strong membership, using its showcase event to indicate clearly that change is happening now and it’s for real; we all need to face up to it. Surely this must be the moment that the Rubicon is being crossed? I wonder how long it will take for the CRE/workplace sector to actually dip their toes in the water and begin crossing over to the other side?

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