Thinkwell 3.0 – An Introduction

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Back in 2001, when we sat around discussing what the company should be called, we knew we didn’t want any one person’s name on the door. We’d seen other companies that had done that and the limiting factor became every client wanted to have that person in their meeting, working on their project. Over time, some of those companies changed their names to try to eliminate that critical limiting factor. Thinkwell is bigger than one person, better than an ego, and is both an organism and an organization. We felt–and still feel–the company should be a place where everyone is proud to work–through good times and bad.

Which leads us to 2020. 

At the beginning of the year, staff raised concerns about workplace culture issues that led to us contemplating how best to address these matters and improve the working environment at Thinkwell–and that was before March when everything went COVID-sideways. Unfortunately, the pandemic’s effects made it necessary to engage in a round of layoffs in order to remain a viable business, which also had a significant impact on the company’s culture and created a sense of uncertainty, as it would in any workplace. Add that to the stress, day-to-day unpredictability of working from home, and not having the camaraderie of being with and seeing fellow employees around the proverbial watercooler for support.

Of course, we’d been working online and long-distance with our clients and our studios & offices in Beijing, Abu Dhabi, and Montréal, so the distributed workforce was, in many ways, a broadening of what we had been successfully for many years.

At the same time, as a groundswell of movement rose into voices of protest and concern across the nation and worldwide, we needed to address our own diversity and inclusion position and policies at Thinkwell. We couldn’t just sit idly by or, worse, acknowledge the situation like so many others without putting real work behind it. 

With all these things in flux, all these things rising together virtually at the same time, we had to hit “pause” and say, “What do we want Thinkwell to look like and be for our employees today, tomorrow, and in the future?” When can a business see such change from external forces create a cliff’s edge of opportunity? This is an inflection point: the world will not be the same after this, and we can either plunge into the chasm by continuing on the old, dated path or forge a new direction in order to soar.

The direction we chose became known in-house as the Thinkwell 3.0 initiatives (Thinkwell 2.0 being the time of the great financial crisis in 2008). We still believe deeply in the power of connecting people with stories, brands, and ideas, but Thinkwell 3.0 aims to make how we get there better, smarter, nimbler, and more equitable:

  • We put a group of leaders from across the company together to lead the way to recommend how to address our problematic cultural issues rather than dictate them from the top down. Immediately after the layoffs took effect, these leaders convened roundtables of employees from across all teams in the L.A. Studio to envision what they wanted the Thinkwell of the future to be. These discussions went beyond questions of policy, they got to the heart of how we hire, nurture, create, and collaborate.
  • We asked our staff to develop and lead our own Diversity & Inclusion Council, made up of 20 employees across identities, teams, and seniority, in order to bring diverse perspectives to the table.
  • Thinkwell surveyed employees across our offices to understand how they were feeling and holding up to balancing work and life while continuing to create great, world-class projects for our clients worldwide–often while juggling other stay-at-home partners, assisting kids with remote learning, and other demands. This way we understood where our people and teams were emotionally; how their own personal balancing acts of work and home are going; and that they are well-supported structurally, technologically, and personally.
  • We’re piloting a new program in our LA Office. Studio Teams, with experienced Thinkwellians as Studio Guides, provide groups of five employees from across disciplines with a resource group for goal setting, career insight, and industry guidance, as well as offering the benefit of building closer relationships with Thinkwellians across teams and disciplines.

Where does all this take Thinkwell? As we head into 2021 we will eagerly watch to see how these efforts that have been put into place will manifest themselves in improving our organization. 2021 is, by the way, Thinkwell’s 20th anniversary, and we believe that with the help of our employees doing great and often difficult efforts we are all working together to create a stronger, better, more vital place to work–even as we do it all in our pajama bottoms from home. Our distributed workforce of multidisciplinary talented experts has proven in the last seven months that we are adaptable, that we are strong, that we are productive, and that we remain innovative. 

Our teams have facilitated and participated in dozens of online charrettes, produced schematic design and design development packages, continued in-field production and installation supervision and art direction, produced turnkey media packages, developed bespoke interactives, created land-use and masterplans for major developments, and continue to design some of the best immersive guest experiences in the industry. And, to our pleasant surprise, we’ve seen an increase in productivity, efficiency, and margins in the process as Thinkwellians work in a flexible model of WFH and some office/studio time, as needed. 

Ultimately, whether we are in the office all together or working as a distributed workforce–or someday perhaps a hybrid of both–we hope Thinkwellians will be and remain proud to be a part of a company that cares about them and about our futures together.