1 + 2 is Greater Than 3

Work is changing. It’s happening in every industry every day. You can’t pick up a magazine without reading about new and innovative ways of working and motivating a workforce. It’s something that really excites me. My company has always been one to not just embrace, but often lead change and encourage experimentation. My team is experimenting with a variety of ways to stay connected, collaborative and inspired in a mobile, modern work environment. We call this initiative, Responsive Connectivity. The freedom to experiment in such ways is one of my favorite things about SEI.

People and process are certainly two critical ingredients to any team’s success. What about the role of space in that equation?  We have always fostered a creative workspace, designed intentionally to stimulate collaboration and innovative thinking. And earlier this year, the company took this to a whole new level.  I have asked guest blogger, Russ Kliman, to return to Front and Centered and share the motivation behind our new IdeaFarm and the role it can play to promote innovative thinking. Below is part one of a two-part blog series Russ will share over the next few weeks. 

Old Ways Kill Creative Thinking

Where do you go to solve big problems, immerse yourself in the art of the possible, or plant the seeds for a new strategy? If you’re like most companies, you start with Microsoft Outlook and schedule a 3-hour-meeting (and inevitably hear complaints about the meeting’s duration.) You may spend the time to create an agenda and may even send it out before the meeting. You may also create a PowerPoint presentation to help drive the discussion during the meeting.

Your space of choice for this business critical session is the conference room down the hall, affixed with conference room chairs, a white board with notes from the last meeting, markers that don’t function, a rectangular conference table, and a computer screen at one end that’s missing the remote. Perhaps you choose to go off-site to a local hotel and go all-in with a catering budget, flip charts, markers, and Post-It’s to help offset the gold curtains, banquet chairs, round tables, and chandeliers that line your rented meeting room. Typical of sessions like these, your team arrives and takes their seats, opens their laptops and place their phones within easy reach, and begin to work on everything but the objectives at hand.

Do you feel inspired? Are the creative ideas flowing? Is your vision and strategy crystalizing? I would venture to say that most of us have all been a part of these meetings. An environment that’s less than inspiring. No process or tools to help achieve your goals and team members who half-commit their attention while simultaneously checking emails and participating in the discussion taking place in the room.

Enter the Power of Three

In March we unveiled our IdeaFarm, an innovation space built into the renovation of  a centuries-old farmhouse native to our Headquarters’ campus. Its focus is to offer a stimulating and interactive environment to foster creativity, develop problem-solving skills, and invoke revolutionary thinking. What we learned leading up to our launch is that the physical space alone doesn’t help you achieve innovative thinking or creative problem solving. We also need tools and techniques to foster specific outcomes, and a facilitator to enact a process and engage everyone in the experience.

Part 1 – Creating an Inspiring and Engaging Space

We’ve all seen the great open and creative spaces used by some of the most recognized companies around the globe. And if we’re being honest, many of us have adopted the style of those spaces within our own enterprises seeking to emulate not only their appearance, but the outcomes they represent. The space is more than a modern glass enclosure or colorful furniture; it’s about engagement, connection, and inspiration.

Specifically there are six key ingredients to fostering an innovation space:

  1. Mobility/movability of elements: flexibility and fluidity of the space is key, allowing the space to adjust to the session’s needs, not the other way around. Everything should be mobile, from seating options, to stand-up tables, whiteboards, and flipcharts
  2. Variety of seating choices: people think, connect, and engage differently, and the ability to be comfortable and close to one another creates connectedness. This is achieved with chairs with and without arms, benches, swings, relaxed chairs, and bar stools
  3. Aesthetics: Creating a stimulating environment ignites the creative mind, and can be achieved through texture, color, artwork, architectural elements, inspirational quotes, sculpture, and imagery
  4. Lots of light: While often overlooked, making the space feel alive with energy needs to be achieved through natural and bright lighting.
  5. Audio: creating energy within the room can be achieved through music. It creates a differentiated feeling when participants walk in and is a key ingredient to creating energy within the space before and during sessions
  6. Breakout options: allow for the space to have breakouts in close proximity (ear-shot) to the primary space, as it maintains the “buzz” of the activities without being distracting.

It’s important to note – there are ways to do this without renovating a historic farmhouse. We are very pleased with how our space turned out and the great usage so far, but even small changes to your existing space can have maximum impact. I would love to hear what others have done to foster an inspiring space that facilitates innovative and creative thinking. Let us know by commenting below.

Russ will return in a future post to share more about the tools and techniques as well as how to effectively use a facilitator to round out the Power of Three.