A few months ago, I had a chance to visit the headquarters of a business here in Calgary called DIRTT. I didn't really know what DIRTT was all about before I visited - I was tagging along with some colleagues who were interested in getting some student internships set up there. In a warehouse in an industrial district, I was not expecting what greeted me when I pushed open the door. The metal door gave way to a living wall, an open office, and... dogs. Lots of dogs! The reception desk was right beside the open office concept. The atmosphere was decidedly casual, with people sitting on yoga balls at their computers, others huddled together in an impromptu conversation, and a definite buzz of excited chatter. I only had a minute to take this all in before a man came over to us and introduced himself as a DIRTTbag.
The DIRTTbag took us on a tour of the facility, and back into a manufacturing area. I soon learned what DIRTT does - they have invented this engineering software called ICE that lets them precisely design pre-fab office interiors down to every single screw. The company was founded to solve a problem - the high levels of waste that are an accepted result of a construction site. The precision of the technology, as well as a mandate to use sustainable building materials, let DIRTT be a leader in environmentally-friendly manufacturing.
DIRTT is an acronym. It stands for Doing It Right This Time. A combination of technology, innovation, and a problem that needed solving created fertile ground for something new. After the tour of the manufacturing process, the DIRTTbag took us through the open offices (stopping to pet some of the employees dogs on the way) and into the on-site gourmet cafe for lunch. We talked over lunch about the company. It was clear that though the atmosphere was really informal and the employees clearly had a lot of fun at work, the company had high standards about their product and the service they provided. In other words, certain pieces of the workplace were super tight, while the things that didn't really matter were kept pretty loose. And actually, the things that you'd think wouldn't matter that much - a $2 chef-prepared lunch, dog races in the hallways, a place where EVERYONE dresses up for Halloween or Ugly Holiday Sweater Day - actually matter quite a lot. Because they are the things that make people feel like they are important and significant to the company. And because of this, the people care about the company right back.
What stood out most to me is that DIRTT was really putting thought to form. Often in business (and in education), we talk about our values as an abstract thing. Businesses say they put clients first, or care about the community. But other than a bored "Good morning, what drink can I get started for you?" or sponsoring some kids' soccer team, not much of these spoken values translate into practice. DIRTT really does. The organization, structures, and even choices they make in terms of space SHOW their values of community, customer service, and environmental stewardship. There's a lot to be learned here about education, and especially about character education.