Nature Reviews Drug Discovery has an article on behavior in large drug organizations, which they put together after interviewing a long list of current and former R&D heads. Many of the recommendations are non-startling (find ways to reward people who are willing to take calculated risks, encourage independent thinking, all those things that are easy to write down and hard to implement). One part near the end caught my eye, though:
Companies should examine what we term the 'columns outside the doors' phenomenon and the subtle impact that this form of recognition might have on entrepreneurial behaviour. Smith described this phenomenon, which occurs across the world: as start-up companies become successful, they are relocated from humble laboratories to grander buildings with columns outside their doors. Interestingly, such edifices often violate the observed inverse square relationship between communication among scientists in laboratories and the distance between these laboratories. We offer this insight more as a provocative thought than as a firm recommendation.
And what what reminded me of was a very similar observation by C. Northcote Parkinson, of Parkinson's Law fame:
The outer door, in bronze and glass, is placed centrally in a symmetrical facade. Polished shoes glide quietly over shining rubber to the glittering and silent elevator. The overpoweringly cultured receptionist will murmur with carmine lips into an ice-blue receiver. She will wave you into a chromium armchair, consoling you with a dazzling smile for any slight but inevitable delay. Looking up from a glossy magazine, you will observe how the wide corridors radiate toward departments A, B, and C. From behind closed doors will come the subdued noise of an ordered activity. A minute later and you are ankle deep in the director’s carpet, plodding sturdily toward his distant, tidy desk. Hypnotized by the chief’s unwavering stare, cowed by the Matisse hung upon his wall, you will feel that you have found real efficiency at last.
In point of fact you will have discovered nothing of the kind. It is now known that a perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the point of collapse. . .
It is by no means certain that an influential reader of this chapter could prolong the life of a dying institution merely by depriving it of its streamlined headquarters. What he can do, however, with more confidence, is to prevent any organization strangling itself at birth. Examples abound of new institutions coming into existence with a full establishment of deputy directors, consultants and executives; all these coming together in a building specially designed for their purpose. And experience proves that such an institution will die. . .
Readers may have a few examples in mind from the drug industry. (The freshly constructed labs at Sterling, for example, completed around the time that Kodak was wiping the place out, are well spoken of). So, those of you in temporary quarters, jammed into buildings that don't quite work, may not be as bad off as you might think.