03 December 2006

How can our spaces improve creativity?

In reply to my post about process, anonymous said:
I truly believe if there were more environments that fostered and encouraged innovative and creative thinking...we'd be a different place.

For once I'd like someone to walk up and say "let's reinvent the wheel just for fun." I know these people exist everywhere, I think they just need a little push.

Maybe that's a deeper conversation for another place...sorry for the rambling.
I agree, it's a deeper conversation. So let's have it.

How can we create work environments that encourage innovation and creative thinking? I look forward to hearing your thoughts here.

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Chris said...

1) Make it less of an effort to record and track ideas. It takes enough effort to think them up sometimes - having to take the trouble of writing them down, typing them, keeping some sort of record of them, that's a real killer. It needs to be simplified: record what a person is saying. Write it down or draw it for them. For comments like this, it's nice to be able to comment without having to make an account. All those extra middle-steps, those are what stifles the creative process!

2) Let people waste time while they're under pressure to complete something else, and watch the variety of ideas and distractions that come to their minds all of a sudden. We work wonders under stress - just not always geared to the tasks supposedly at hand.

3) Bring up unconventional things in conversation. Bar nothing. Reinventing the wheel seems ridiculous at first, because I'd say it does its job just fine! But that kind of questioning can lead to other things, like me realising a legitimate desire to reach out and do great things - because there's so much room!!! We need to encourage those voices, those efforts and people when they DO try to reach out, because creativity is all too easily stifled in our wonderfully rigid system...

Rodolfo said...

The problem is that we are so busy with the urgent we never get time for the important, Dave.

So I believe more than spaces we need "creative states of mind". Mind you, Halfmoonbay does help...:-)

Scott said...

It is difficult to say that there is a "right" space to promote creativity because each individual is different and functions different in various atmospheres. I think creative spaces can exist wherever we are, but it is ultimately up to the individual. Rodolfo was right that creativity is a state of mind, but it is also a process. The key is to simplify the process to promote the unfettered generation of ideas. I suggest having an appointed recorder whose sole job is to record the ideas and organize them. This position would allow the team to achieve a sense of "flow" when generating ideas, thus leading to greater effectiveness and above all, efficiency.

Anonymous said...

(1.) ACCOMMODATE BOTH SOLITARY & GROUP WORK. The extremes of closed office and "open concept" workspaces spaces cater to solitary and group work respectively. Cubicles are the worst of both worlds. Some people (and some tasks) are best performed alone; others with groups.The creative work environment would cater to both modes of working. For example, both laboratory and workplace experiments show that brainstorming techniques work best if they are done alone first, then with a group.

(2.) INCLUDE AN INFORMAL, SOCIAL SPACE WHERE PEOPLE CAN WORK IF THEY WANT TO. Lounge and café areas (and the like) stimulate informal interaction that can generate new ideas. A relaxing atmosphere can help. It is also good for people to have an option to work in a different part of the workplace if they need a periodic change of scenery. Being able to tote a laptop to an informal area can do wonders.

(3.) DON'T LET FURNITURE CANNOTE HIERARCHICAL ROLES OR CONTROL RELATIONSHIPS. Out: long boardroom tables. In: roundtables. Better: not hashing out ideas around a table at all; a circle of sofas and collection of lap trays would be an improvement. This principle applies to many other pieces of furniture. Also, creative work flourishes if people are given a certain sphere of autonomy. This means that the space should not be able to accommodate survalence and hecktoring from the boss.

(4.) LET PEOPLE LEAVE THE SPACE AT THEIR DISCRETION. I don't just mean that that the workspace should have doors (ha!). But people should be free to leave the space to (a.) think about problems and tasks in a different context ("excursions") and (b.) look outside for sources of inspiration (what Twyla Tharp calls "scratching for ideas").

(5.) PUT THE SPACE IN A STIMULATING PLACE. Richard Florida is right about certain cities being better for stimulating creativity. A workspace will be more creative if it's in a city that is culturally vibrant, contains many creative industries, and allows a diversity of lifestyles to flourish.

(6.) TASTEFUL AESTHETICS. Ugly is bad. The challenge isn't so much about finding an aethetic that caters to everyone--there are many "looks" that work for most people. The challenge is to prevent individual's workspace customizations from intruding on someone else's thinking. Many workplaces for creatives are large jumbles of brick-a-brack (inspirations, old projects, workspace decoration, etc.).

(7.) PORTABLE WORKSPACE "FIXTURES". Herman Miller now sells a lot of workspace elements that are portable. If you need to work with someone on the other side of a workplace while collaborating, it stands to reason that their gear should move with them. This is more than just laptops. Art supplies or work files can be placed in a pull trolly (HM has a nice soft-sided one with lots of pockets on the sides for misc. items).

CASE STUDY: I think the best example of such a space was profiled in FastCompany several years ago. It was a converted church in Amsterdam that sold memberships to young, creative professionals. I believe the place was called (strangly) Baby.

I have some more ideas but my dinner date just arrived so I'm off ...

Cheers, peter.

Graeme Watson said...

The example Peter uses from Fast Company, the dutch club Baby, was certainly memorable, that story has stayed with me since I read it and I wish there was a place like that here in Western Australia.

The biggest challenge to creativity however is not workspace design, location or organisational structure. Although all these things can certainly help.

Graeme Watson

The biggest challenge is creating a workplace that embraces creativity and more importantly radical change. Most workplaces can accept suggestions that are a step up from the existing process, a slight variation on what we currently do, but there are few workplaces or organisations that can accept radical change, 180 degree changes in direction, acceptance of a completely new way of thinking or acting.

Therefore we end up being limited to slight changes, and in turn small amounts of creativity.

Advertisers love to go the worlds big film festivals, Annecy for Animation, Cannes or Sundance for shorts, they are looking for something new, but not THAT new... they want to see that it's been successfully done before at least once.

Real creativity comes when we are allowed to great risks and make huge leaps, not baby steps from the status quo.

Freudian Slip said...

Why reinvent the wheel when you have a perfectly good one here? That type of thinking is what is wrong with this world right now!

Elizabeth said...

Great post Dave and very interesting comments everyone... I think this also relates to individual creativity and collective creativity. Scaling how we are creative or innovative is different than how I can be innovative when I am working by myself in my studio.

We, at Humantific, talk about different elements that enhance innovation and creativity when trying to scale. They are, without going into great detail:


Underlying these elements is Culture. If you don't have a open and innovative culture... forget it!

Some of you have made great comments about some of these elements. I would like to add that to set the context, it would be good to have a definition of what innovation. For us, it is the continuous cycle between Creating New Patterns and Optimizing New Patterns.

That is the big picture... but what does that mean for me every day? Well, that is where the 4 elements come in... the two parts of the cycle relate to the different elements. For example, most companies have environments that are focused on optimizing how we work... you have your desk with your computer and your phone, as well as conferences with big tables to meet and talk and present ideas and make decisions... however, it is not common to find different types of environments for the creation of ideas. Before we judge ideas, we need to create them, and we need spaces that support that activity! (Peter had many comments on this)

As I said this also applies to Information, Process and Teamwork. I don't want to belabor... but if anybody is interested in more detail, please feel free to email me at epastor@humantific.com


Anonymous said...

I agree that this thread is interesting. But I do think people are evading the question.

Earlier I had posted seven aspects of work space that I think would contribute (post #4). But, other than that, most of the comments seem to be about social behaviours and social relations.

I have written about how the social "milieu" can promote creativity here: www.myschool-monecole.gc.ca/Research/publications/html/p133/5_e.html

But I do think that physical space can have a positive effect on creativity. Is it enough? No. It is important, nontheless. If you don't think so, then think about the question in the inverse: are people just as creative no matter what the physical environment? That is, are people really just as creative if placed in a soulless cubical in a Soviet-style office building? I would argue that such an environment stiffles creativity.

ANOTHER CASE STUDY: Pixar studios is another example that illustrates my earlier points. You can find some pictures at the following places:



Cheers, Peter.

dave said...

I'm going to add one that, to me, is absolutley critical:

WALL SPACE!!! Wall space accommodates flip charts, sticky notes, posters, bulleting boards and whiteboards.

Large, vertical, shared work areas are incredibly useful for collaboration and creativity -- I might argue indispensable.

Many of the conference rooms at BP have floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, which I love.

incognita said...

I personally don't think that you can legislate for creativity... but you sure as hell can kill it dead! Most of the places that i've worked in the *creative industries* would qualify as sink-holes of anti-creativity... and national broadcasteers ABC and SBS have been amongst the worst of the lot. Let me count the ways that they have killed their personnels' will to live... in no particular order

* hierarchies and power structures -- they always seem to involve the people with the ideas and skills who actually make stuff having absolutely no control over their time/environment/etc -- whilst the morons in charge are home by 6pm congratulating themselves on having asserted their authority and stopping any reckless originality.
* too few people for too much production work
* open plan offices that mean there's nowhere to discuss ideas or problems without annoying other people with urgent deadlines
* no feedback unless it's negative
* no briefs unless they're so anodyne and vague as to be useless (always comes with a manager who doesn't knoww what they want -- but has plenty to say when they don't get it...)
* 'managers' taking public credit for projects they've done nothing but try and kill until they've proved popular/successful
* 'managers' who have no industry experience or creativity but expect respectful and instant implementation of their lame-arsed ideas
* did I mention hierarchies?
* constant crisis -- whether it's restructuring the organisation, 'downsizing' the permanent staff, employing more contractors and then paying them for a fraction of the time they actually spend doing a job, or simply mismanagement and continual unmeetable deadlines...
* no time for research, inspiration or resource gathering -- and no recognition when it's done in your own time

Yes I'm bitter, burnt-out and fucked-off!

Lucas said...

Maybe my response is going to be too simple, but routine and familiarity are the enemy of creativity...so if you want to improve creativity get out of your routine and familiar environment. This is one thing I like about telecommuting...you can change your environment daily. A company retreat also serves a similar purpose.