Thursday, February 20, 2014


Frost & Sullivan, Innovation in New Product Development eBulletin, Vol. 6 Issue 3
Does Your Workspace Help or Hinder Creativity?

  By Idris Mootee
  Idea Couture, Inc.

For all those cash-rich companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook, there is a race to hire celebrity architects to design their headquarters. Google headquarters consists of nine angled buildings connected by bridges. Reportedly, the idea was based on data collected from Google employees’ behavior which was then translated into some kind of architectural algorithm meant to produce “casual collisions” to make innovation happen more often. I am not buying this, but they are. I guess that’s what happens when you have too much money to play with.

When 3D virtual conferencing technology comes to market, these companies will be the early adopters. Expect cool walk-in facilities outfitted with wall-sized screens that project 360-degree views of video conference participants from different offices or countries.

The last time business attempted to reinvent the workplace was during the dot-com days when many companies switched from cubicles to open offices in order to improve collaboration and encourage impromptu problem solving. Today, millennials demand more personal workspace flexibility – for example, the ability to adapt a workstation or stand at their desks. Standing work is happening everywhere, as much as working on a couch. In addition to personal storage and personal expression, companies need to accommodate for this preference. At Idea Couture, standing desk is becoming so popular that now I see people standing, jumping while typing (wearing their Fitbits) and talking on the phone.

I really can’t wait for the day when we start banning standard cubicles and those headache-inducing white fluorescent lights. Those lights literally give me migraines. I wish those standard cubicles would join the ranks of the fax machine and the punch clock. It just might happen, thanks to Google, Apple, Pixar, and others who have started to embrace the idea of cool workspaces designed to stimulate creativity and inspire innovation.

I don’t mean those that put up colorful wallpaper and a few beanbags – that's no better than cubicles. Workspaces can be stressful environments, and it’s important to think about how we can design to reduce stress, not just create colorful eye-candy.

Most workspace stress can come from any physical conditions that employees perceive as irritating, frustrating, uncomfortable or unpleasant. Common sources of workspace stress include poor lighting, noisy backgrounds, lack of fresh air, and poor climate conditions. But the biggest potential source of stress is other people. Difficult people can cause so much stress, particularly when there’s a high demand for team collaboration. Can a cool office space solve this problem? Perhaps to a certain small degree.

Physical workspaces have a profound impact on not just productivity but also team creativity and collaboration. That’s part of the reason why Google and Facebook designed their offices to have people sit side-by-side without partitions between them. An open environment radiates a sense of community where creative spaces calm people down and remind them there is a creative solution to any problem. Cubicles, on the other hand, send the message that the office is a machine and employees must follow strict processes and procedures. If your company isn't thinking about how workspace design can improve collaboration, chances are you are stuck in the 80s. These and other ways in which creativity is endangered were the topic of a debate forum in the New York Times.

These days everyone wants to collaborate with each other (and those who don’t are considered pretty much unemployable). The average employee actively participates in at least five different ad hoc teams simultaneously, and we can expect that number to rise. Creative workplace design that supports collaboration will be part of the new productivity index. And you don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money. Perhaps let's start with a policy for pets ... creativity starts here.

This article originally appeared at Innovation Playground.

About the Author Idris Mootee advises on strategic innovation, applied strategic foresights, and new venture business design. He is the CEO of Idea Couture, Inc., a global strategic innovation and design firm with offices in San Francisco, Toronto, Washington, D.C., and Shanghai. Mootee partners with clients in all sectors globally to identify their highest-value innovation opportunities, address their most critical challenges, explore strategic options, and develop new-game strategies.

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