The big problem today is that we’ve focused our attention upon a very small number of companies, which you can count on one or two hands, most of them in Silicbillon Valley, Seattle and Austin. These include Google, Apple, Uber and Amazon. What we’ve done is to elevate them almost to the status of comic book superheroes. Their strides are so powerful and cosmic that we look at them in the same way we view Batman or Spider-Man. But because we can’t imagine doing what they do, we’re unable to learn from them.
Instead we should look to smaller companies that share the same commitment to strategic change. There are smart, engaged, unleashed entrepreneurs at every level doing amazing stuff with that same focus on disruption and innovation, but in more traditional, established and slow-to-change fields. We should look to them if we’re to develop refreshing, compelling and exciting ideas for ourselves. Often we learn the most from leaders and organisations we can relate to.
One of example of this is a parking garage in Miami Beach called 1111 Lincoln Road. It was built by the real estate developer Robert Wennett. Originally, the space was an ugly office building and open air garage, but Wennett wanted to do something remarkable. His idea was to create a cultural landmark that would become a business and tourist hub in Miami Beach as well as a practical parking space. To get there, he hired the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who famously designed the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing.
"Originally, the space was an ugly office building and open air garage, but Wennett wanted to do something remarkable" (Photo: Forgemind ArchiMedia)
What was created was a completely open air, atrium-style parking garage. Everything inside looked like a loft apartment with tall ceilings. Because of the design, high-end brands moved into the retail spaces inside. There was a drive-through bank and a grand staircase – the kind you see in European stations – running through the middle of the structure. People even began doing yoga classes in there before the cars showed up in the morning. Because the top floor had amazing views of the beaches, it became a public event space. Victoria’s Secret did fashion shoots; LeBron James launched his Nike trainers at the top of 1111 Lincoln Road when he was playing for Miami Heat.
Wennett called the whole thing “carcitechture”, and his vision was to take conventional wisdom – in this case, the idea that car parks could only be dark and dingy places – and turn it upon its head. It was a huge hit. Often, the traditional definition of success is to be better, a little cheaper and more efficient than your competitors. But companies and individuals like Wennett teach us to aspire to be more individualistic. Rather than looking at Apple and Uber we should be watching businesses on a lower level that excite us, while asking, “What is my version of that sensibility?”