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09 May 2007

The analytical environments of others

The distractions of working in compressed, Dilbert-like cubicle farms in decaying buildings managed according to bureaucratic concepts of efficiency are well known, both inside and outside government. The intelligence community is suffering these effects more than most – and the effects on individual analyst performance are even more pronounced given the nature of the work, than in say the office of the second special assistant deputy undersecretary for agricultural subsidy ecological diversity and sustainability assurance.

Even the newest construction in essentially amounts to converted warehouses stacked with ranked cubes, or the sardine like rows of the typical watch floor (elaborate set design variants aside.) These are not environments naturally suited to creativity or contemplation.

This is a debate within the IC as old at the dot com era, however. We have seen attempts to impose every conceivable variant – from hoteling and hot-desking to flex space and bean bag chairs. Few have endured (although we occasionally miss the billiards and foozeball tables).

The high pace of deployments during the Long War have stripped us of the need for many of these externalized trappings that were once associated with energetic, productive shops. The best work of our lives, and of many of our counterparts, has been done in hellholes and safe houses scattered around the globe – and it goes without saying that none of these have air conditioning, and occasionally, not even working electrical systems or running water. (Although we certainly do not miss the terrible design aesthetic of Ba’athist marble monstrosities.) Perhaps this is not the way of life many of us would wish to lead – in fact, these experiences have greatly inculcated in many a deep longing for the quiet wood and leather atmosphere of many traditional academic settings. But this is the nature of the thing, it seems.

It is thus with some interest we follow the efforts of other highly intellectual professions to create the ideal environment for the incubation of brilliance. We are particularly interested in the rapid construction, pre-fab style highlighted here by Future Now – and we note markedly the contrasts to the other related regional facility they recently profiled.

For what it matters, we do believe that the analytical workforce benefits from a better environment than is typically found in most community facilities – overseas or domestic. But our adversaries and emerging competitors are nowhere near as pampered. It is something to keep in mind the next time facilities reorganization comes up for discussion.

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