Monday, 7 March 2011

At Work With: Bill Gates, Damon Lindelof, Alice Waters and A Shark Hunter

When I am not thinking about venture capital, I am usually consumed with design. I am a big believer in the notion that our work and living spaces speak volumes about the way we work and who we are.

Magazines often give us sneak peeks into people’s homes, but rarely do we get to see where people work. So, in the spirit of Everything Ventured, I decided to ask some of the world’s most interesting people to send me a photo of their workspace.

Hugh Hefner submitted the following photo.
Little did I know it would make for such evocative viewing. Among the 28 people who capitulated: Bill Gates, Damon Lindelof, Hugh Hefner, Alice Waters, Diane von Furstenberg, an astronaut, a shark hunter and even, the Chancellor of Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent me a photograph of her desk: impeccably clean, sparse and–in its deliberate minimalism–quintessentially German. By contrast, Regis Philbin offered up a photo of a hoarder’s paradise. The photo captures him opening his morning mail, oblivious to the fact he is drowning in thousands of tchotchkes from his 30-year career as an American media personality. “I know it looks disheveled,” Philbin admitted. “But I’ve been in the same office for 26 years now and it’s turned into a mini museum.”
Bill Gates, who kept a conspicuously paperless office at Microsoft ( MSFT - news -people ) headquarters, sent in a photo of his new workspace: a hospital in Bangladesh, alongside wife Melinda. The choice of photograph is almost stubborn in its insistence that Gates be remembered as much for his work taking over the world, as trying to save it.
Then there’s the photo of Hugh Hefner (above). In the 1950s a pajama-clad Hefner was famously photographed working atop his circular bed in the then-Chicago Playboy Mansion, pipe ablaze, surrounded by shots of women who would appear in his magazine. He is too busy to look up. Hollywood, the clubs, the private jets and the bunnies were just around the corner.
Sixty years later the 84-year-old stares straight into the camera with the look of a man whose empire is up for grabs. The only constant is the pajamas. The pipe is gone–he had to give it up after suffering a small stroke 26 years ago. Hefner is still surrounded by pictures of busty young women, but they are for his scrapbook, not the magazine. Playboy’s stock sells for $6 a share, down from its $36 high 10 years ago. And after years of Hefner’s claims that he would rather die than sell, Hefner is now only a minority owner of Playboy Enterprises ( PLA - news - people ). The majority now belongs to a private equity firm.
But some of the most mesmerizing work space photographs in this collection belong to the lesser-known: the coal miner working nearly half a mile underground, or the two astronauts hard at work 200 miles above it.
If there is any theme to be found in these workplace photographs, it is that they hardly feel like workplaces. The monolithic corporation has been replaced with personalized space. There is nary a gray suit or timeclock in sight. There is an undeniable individuality and autonomy to these photographs. But don’t take my word for it.


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