Interview with Mark Greiner

by New Idiom


photo by Miguel Cervantes

After Mark Greiner’s 10 Insights talk at the Design Research Conference, I had the opportunity to chat with him for awhile. I had a chance to find out a bit more about Workspring, among other things. For those of you who missed the Mark’s talk, this was his first public unveiling of Workspring. Though careful not to reveal too much, Mark explained that Workspring will be a service (coming out of Steelcase) that offers exceptional project work spaces for businesses, organizations and teams to use. View Workspring’s teaser site here.

What is your role at Workspring?

That is a good question because Workspring emerged out of a venture fund. My day job is Senior Vice President of Workspace Futures which is a global research arm out of Steelcase. But in my spare time, I come up with these ideas. And so I came up with [Workspring]. I approached the Board and I said, I’d like to pursue this. So I looked for some of the venture money.

I basically made a proposal to get some of that money and start working on this idea. The idea emerged out of just 3 people. The 4 of us are imagining and developing and building this idea. We don’t have titles. We have business cards.  We just have first names. So, I in effect, live two lives. I’m and then I’m When it launches, which is only a couple months off – am I the GM, am I the President? It really doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that we’re doing it.

What has been your favorite position at Steelcase?

I would say the current role I have is interesting because I get bored easily.

You mentioned a cafe and train rides in your talk as environments where you can go to for inspiration. What else inspires you?

I would say I do a lot of thinking – this may sound stupid – planting flowers. In the spring I plant about 95 flats of annuals. And it takes me forever. Flower by flower. But it’s in that tedium that actually allows me to go free. Just like the tedium of a train ride, or the tedium in a cafe. It allows me to focus. I’ll sit there digging in the dirt for about 12 hours and not think about anything except an idea.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to challenge the conventional wisdom and is receiving a lot of resistance within the company or organization?

You need to find a way to make your boss the hero; it’s not about you becoming the hero. So, how can you frame it, how can you position that idea for them to be great in the end? If they’re great in the end, they’ll pull you by the boot straps. It’s all about political posturing to make it not feel like you’re pushing it on them, but that they’re pulling it away from you. You do little things like you don’t show them… so there’s a little bit of intrigue. There’s all sorts of little techniques. Then you let them in on it and be sure to take ownership of it, and they’ll support it.

Any good book recommendations?

Mapping of the Mind. It’s about how the mind records memories based on physical contexts. The potential of that is to say we can design rooms that will advance memory and learning just by the design of the room. The spaces within Workspring do that in that it allows you to make your thinking visual.

What’s something you’re excited about for the future of design?

We hear that green is the new black. Instead of buying millions of dollars of furniture and putting it in an office that no one ever uses, and then putting it in a landfill one day, only pay for it when you need it! Pay for use. I think the idea of pay for use is a very green idea. Don’t pay to have it sit. Pay only when I’m going to use it. That’s another aspect of Workspring that really excites me.

Are you a Mac or PC guy?

Both! Our company is a little more Windows dominant. I have a mac on the side for more personal stuff.

What’s one thing you can’t live without?

I can’t live without time for myself. I love to engage people, I love to work with people. But if I go a whole day and I haven’t been able to be alone, I freak out.

Any chance of helping to re-design ID?

The opportunity for ID is that everything there is project based. I’ve seen the project rooms. They’re not great, and there’s not enough of them. This idea would say to fold [Workspring] into the tuition. As part of being a student, you will have these great spaces to work in. That is a conversation I have yet to have with Patrick [Whitney].