Let’s talk furniture, design, and Lego, with Lee Fletcher, Co-Founder of Community for Opportunity!

“Look… for things that need doing, that others aren’t doing. I mean, it’s the obvious; look for an opportunity in the market, right? If something in your life irritates you, there’s likely a design opportunity there. And there are also many ways to get things done. You can do it all yourself. At which point you need a ton of knowledge and resources and extra, but there’s also a whole ton of people that love to do little pieces of what needs to get done, to get a whole thing done. So to drawing on a network of people who know more about this specific thing than you do, can be immensely valuable! And people want to help if you ask them for help…So if you could build a network and link people like that, I think that is a way to perhaps get the ball rolling.”

– Lee Fletcher


September 16. 2020. Hey guys, Peter Shankman, good to have you here again for another 20 Minutes in Lockdown.. I’m thrilled that you’re here. Hope you guys are doing okay. Hope you’re staying safe. Hope you’re not in any part of the country that is again, locked down. We are trying to avoid that, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be going as well as we’d like, probably because half the country is still not wearing masks, but that’s neither here nor there.

I want to introduce you to Lee David Fletcher. If we have to, you know, Stay at home and we might as well do it in style and comfort. Um, Lee does that. Lee is his obsessed by how things are made. And as a kid, he basically took everything apart, his house, uh, books, as he said here, Lego was early worth of, of, of interest apart his house.

Um, yeah. I’m hearing a little feedback, so you might want to meet out of interest.Okay, good. Yeah. It looks like you had it looking at your watch and watch yourself.Here we go much better. Okay, cool…..

He is the co founder of community for opportunity. And he’s been talking about that. He can talk about business versus his business equipment. Seeding all these things that can help change your business. So, Lee, well, assuming you’ve killed that YouTube feed- good to have you, man! There we go. There we go. We’re good.

Thank you very much, Peter. Good to see you. And thanks for the invitation.

How’d you get how’d you get into the science of: you just said, hey, I want to take this apart and see how it works. That was, that was your, your sort of rebelliousness as a kid?

I think it was, um, yeah, I don’t know. It was some sort of innate curiosity. It drove my parents it’s nuts. Um, I certainly, um, my dad, that is a, is a, is a notorious tinkerer. When I was a kid growing up in England, he used to buy minibikes and he buy all these wrecked things and the garage was always full of them and he would, uh, get the bits and pieces of things that worked to make one that works and he’d sell it. So I kind of grew up in this. House of, of, of tinkering and pulling things apart. I always had this fascination of, um, of how things work. It wasn’t until later on, to be honest, that my mum reminded me of the fact that, you know, you’re used to books apart to see how they work and, you know, so it’s always been a fascination of, of, of how does this built stuff work and how does it come to be, you know,

Totally get that. It’s, it’s a, you know what, I once heard a quote that the, um, the artist is the creative child who right, right. It’s always sat well with me as someone who’s, you know, massively ADHD and has always done things a little differently, I always, I always appreciated that. Um, so, so, so tell us what you do because you’re, you’re what does community for opportunity and what do you do and how do you help.

Okay, well, um, I’m an industrial designer. Um, I’ve been an industrial designer for a very long time. So we have a studio here in Toronto called fig 40. Um, and so we design a lot of office ventures. You mentioned in your intro. Um, but one of the things that has always it’s, it’s always central to, to the work that we do is, um, environmental concerns. It’s kind of what, what’s the impact beyond just the object and the user. Right. Cause there’s people that make things and there’s people that dispose of things. And then there’s the use of the thing in the middle. Right. And most of the design activity is focused on the use of the thing in the middle, which of course is paramount to anything if it’s going to be successful, but there are these other things they get influenced by the thing in the middle. Um, I have a friend in Toronto here that started a men’s shelter um, many years ago and, um, they have 120 when he beds and they’ve been full every night since the day they opened. And, um, They had, as you might imagine, a pretty large laundry bill at the end of every day, they’ve got 120 beds and they’re part of the salvation army and salvation army is five shelters in Toronto and they all need laundry. So one of the things that they did was they started a social enterprise, which was new to me. I didn’t really know what a social enterprise is all about, but basically they started a commercial laundry and it was staffed by the guys that were in the shelter. So they would employ the guys in the shelter. So, and, and, and to do all the laundry, the collector along from all the shelters and they do it, and it was this model that, it saved them a ton of money. Now they’ve got other plans. So it actually is a business is generating money and that employees guys in the shelter and help them get back on their feet. And it’s like, wow, that is ticking every box, right? Yeah. Um, and I, we got talking, we were laughing a little bit about the fact that we designed chairs and the running joke is of course, do we really need another chair? You know, the world’s full of chairs. Right? So, um, I got, I got asking him about the chairs they had in the, and they’re dropping and they’re really just not very good. And when he looked at it, he found that they spend about $3,000 a year, replacing chairs that break. They’re not grading use. They don’t last very long and they cost them money. And this is maybe a long story, but the reality of contract office furniture manufacturers is that a lot of them don’t make the components, they assemble components, right. And we know the component manufacturers are. And I thought, well, you know, maybe there’s a connection between the way the contract furniture is set up in that they just do assembly. Um, And the social enterprise, so we could design a bent to chat for shelters. We could have the guys in shelters, assemble the chairs for shelters, and we could draw on our supply chain, you know, have to create the components. Um, and so it came together to create, um, uh, this venture. Okay. We have a, there’s a branding company nearby that we do a lot of work with that Helps us really craft and position the community for opportunity. And, um, it was kind of born from that.

So how so I love the concept, the premise that you can help people, uh, and still make money. You know, when I, when I sold the company, everyone said, Oh, are you gonna open a nonprofit. And I said, no, why would I, why would I do that? I’d rather continue to make money and be able to give that money to people who know what the hell they’re doing. Right. Do you, do you foresee. A future where this becomes much more mainstream and much less fringe, you know, there are nonprofits and they’re for-profits and between shall meet. Right. Right. And you’re saying, well, why don’t we create something that not only puts people to work, but generates revenue. Yeah, exactly. So two questions. Number one. What do you think has stopped that? What do you think he has prevented that from happening and Silverman stuff from happening a lot of ways, it’s just old school thinking. And number two, do you see a future where this is much more common?

Um, uh, yeah, those are two great questions. Um, I think the first question, um, I know in the industry that we work in, in contract office furniture, there are lots of tight deadlines for delivery of things. And, um, you know, this community for opportunities are relatively new thing and to be honest, it’s not, it’s not like a full time thing at the moment. We’re not selling tons of chairs. We’re trying to get the thing off the ground. Um, but I imagine that the delivery of an order of two or three, or 400 chairs may not necessarily be as tight or as fast as you’re going to get it from Steelcase or someone like that.

Right. So there has to be a, an allowance on the receiving buying end for perhaps a little more accommodation on timelines and whether that’s acceptable, whether that’s communicated. I know in our business, there are many levels that a sale goes through. Right, from me to the manufacturer, to the interior designer and the dealer and the sales reps, and eventually to the company that buys it and then the person that sits in the chair right. There all these levels. Right. And, and how does that, um, accommodation of timeline get absorbed with all those key players involved, I think that plays a role.

I would imagine that there’s also a pricing issue. You know, you have a world that, especially over the past seven or eight months has just gotten, it already was, but even more so ridiculously comfortable with, I need something tomorrow. I’m going to click on Amazon and it will be here tomorrow and the extra $3 I’m paying for it. Uh, you know, it doesn’t seem like extra $3 because it’s here tomorrow. Right. And so I think I would imagine one of the things that you’re going to have to sort of, sort of adjust with and, and gain the understanding of is, Hey, this is not going to be there tomorrow. And it will cost a little extra, but here’s the good you’re doing. So it almost becomes like a, like a CSR aspect. So it’s a corporate social responsibility aspect that you’re pitching, that the businesses as well.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There is a, um, there’s a bit of a rub with that, that I’m kind of learning in time. You know, the folks that work in the shelter are; we are very keen not to appropriate the plight of people who are suffering in order to create this, um, idea that people may want to buy a piece of, you know, it needs to be meaningful and not, um, I didn’t, I’m not quite sure what the word is, but I know we need to be careful about that. So how much of, um, the, the value proposition in this chair is the fact that folks that are at risk of homeless, have made it, you know, and I don’t quite know exactly where that all plays out and, and ..it’s a great chair, regardless of who made it. Right. I mean, that’s gotta be first and. Um, and it’s gotta be at the right price and he’s got to do the right thing and be reliable. Um, um, so yeah, how that mix all plays out. I think we’re still, we’re still trying to nut through some of that.

I would guess that, that, it’s one of those things that over time, you know, we’ve learned and again, sort of adapted to new things. And I guess over time we will as well with, with, with this, um, Explain.. how do I want to phrase this? Um, you have an object, right? And I’m always curious about this because I come from a neurodiverse brain, Im massively ADHD, and I I’ve been told all my life, I don’t see things like normal people. Right. Um, You know, it got me in trouble as a kid. Um, you know, what would happen if I shaved our cat, our family cat? Well, it turns out nothing good comes from that. Um, you know, but growing up, what happens if I reverse engineer this and create something better has allowed me to start and sell three companies. So what do you say to people who might have that same brain? Cause it sounds like, and you have the exact same brain, but are for lack of a better word, scared to take that shot at using it because we still very much live in a world that’s based on sit down and do the thing that everyone else does and move on. Right. I mean, you’ve obviously proven successful with that. How do you, how would you offer that advice? What, what advice would you offer to people in that genre.

Yeah, that’s a, that’s a good, that’s a good question. Um, um, it’s, it’s um, I had the good fortune that, you know, I refer back to my, my, my parents, again, my dad’s an entrepreneur and ran a business, it was very successful for many years, so I always saw, um, I never saw my dad working for anybody else. So I think I have the, the, the good fortune to have seen, um, how you can model, following your dreams, I know owning a living at it. Right. I don’t know that everyone necessarily as, as the, the opportunity to see that. Um, so, uh, you know, I would suggest get close to people who are doing it. Um, look for, um, look for ways and opportunities for things that, um, uh, need doing others aren’t doing. I mean, it’s the obvious look, look for an opportunity in the market. Right? I used to work for, um, a terrific designer many years ago, and he always used to look for what sort of things that irritate you. And if something in your life irritates you, there’s likely a design opportunity there. Um, and there are also, this is the thing, some of the things I’ve learned over time is depending on, there are many ways to get things done, right? You can do it all yourself. At which point you need a ton of knowledge and resources and extra, but there’s also a whole ton of people that love to do little pieces of what needs to get done, to get a whole thing done. So to draw on a network of people who know more about this specific thing than you do. Um, can be immensely valuable and people, people want to help if you ask them for help. Right. So if you could build a network and link people like that, I think that is a, is a way to, um, is to perhaps get the ball rolling.

Where… let’s look 20 years in the future. What are we seeing? Where are the jobs, uh, in terms of design and creative and things of that nature, because they’re certainly not, you know what AutoCAD is? What 18 years old? You know, I went to college a long time ago. I mean, I remember working in college and, um, w w w my RA, my sophomore year. My RA was an intern at a company called, um, was it at, and it was called Diva. And they did video production. And she asked me to come along because I knew how to use Printshop or something like that -remember that from Apple- And I came along and they were doing cool stuff, you know, back in the early nineties, well, they went to becoming Avid. They flipped their name around and became Avid. And everyone, I don’t remember is Avid. They were acquired by Adobe whatever years ago. So where are we in 20 years? Right. What, what is the kids who are entering college now? They’re going to be in jobs that don’t exist yet. What are they?

Yeah, I got that. Well, just because I’m sure you have the answer, tell us.Of course. I’m glad you called creative standpoint. Where do you see things going? Let’s look at it that way.

Well, I think, um, I guess there’s a couple of things. Um, one is, um, you know, I, what a real pet peeve of mine is the fact that the, the term product design has been corrupted by people who make software and apps and, and products for me are, you know, this. This is a, is a product. This is a, this is a product, right? There’s a physical thing. And until then, well, we become virtual beings. We’re always going to need physical things. So we’re always needing to chair to sit on. We’re always going need a table to work out the stuff that we need, glasses. We’re going to need to these things, right physical things in our lives. And so there will always be a need for someone to do the kinds of things that I get to do every day in some capacity. Now I suspect there may be fewer of them, but maybe not because maybe as manufacturing, it’s decentralized those more iterations and variations of these things, because that’s happening with the advent of production level 3-D printing and things like that. Right. Um, so you know, that that’s one aspect of it. Um, I think the other aspect, are you familiar with Brooks Mail? Yeah. Yeah. Right. He’s a graphic designer from Toronto here, but it’s gone on do some pretty tremendous things. And his recent book about his massive change talks about, um, he’s a real advocate for any of the problems we have in society are design problems and can be solved from a design perspective. If we look at the elements that they’re comprised of and iteration and a process that we use for designing things on a daily basis. So I know of an industrial guy, which is what I do started off many, many years ago. It’s a discipline doing a specific thing, but right now, if you want to design running shoes, if you want to design apps for your computer, if you want to do all these other diverse things, you often start in industrial design and then diversify from that. So, um, I think getting into policymaking, and all other aspects of things that will address the problems that we’ve got. I think they’re design problems. And so for younger people, I would encourage them my office at the time. Take take design, but also take anthropology and take philosophy and take these broader social science to give you a broader perspective on how people work and what they’re doing so that you can apply that design methodology uh, to some of these bigger problems, if that’s your thing for me, I mean, I make stuff and I’m kind of mired in that career was on a path and that’s what I’m doing, but I know, I mean, I teach at Sheridan college here and I know that the students there, they’d go on and do different things. And so that would be my encouragement just to have a broad perspective and an open mind and an optimistic mind Right. Big, be optimistic because the future is bright and there’s a lot of great things happening in the world. We just don’t often see them.

Oh man, that is probably the nicest news I’ve heard all day- the future is bright. Hopefully, uh, it doesn’t seem to be a lot of greatness lately, but hopefully we can get back, but, you know, I think a friend of mine, Lisa Marks just won and I’m totally spacing on the, on the company. It’s a car company and they design, uh, events every year in Asia and she won it. Uh she’s uh she’s uh, she was a teacher at, um, Parsons. Yeah. And then it’s accepted a faculty position down south, but it’s amazing how, you know, no one plans on doing this and, and it, when it does blow up, you know, when you realize the passion and the ability and what you can create, it’s it’s, it’s limitless.

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Awesome. Lee, how can people find you?

Uh, I’m, uh, www.fig40.com is my website. Um, and you can connect me through there. Um, all my contact details are. There’s www.communityforopportunity.org is good. Um, and those are yeah. And get in touch.

Awesome. Lee, thank you so much taking the time for 20 Minutes In Lockdown and I really appreciate it.

Thanks for your interest Peter.

My pleasure. Guys, as always. Thanks for watching 20 Minutes In Lockdown. Hope you like the new format? We’re doing a few less episodes, but more in depth, in each episode. So hope you’re enjoying that and that we’ll see very soon. Stay tuned. Bye bye.

Check out Lee Fletecher’s design work at www.Fig40.com and on INSTA @fig40.industrialdesign

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