For the media for this post, I decided to give a couple links to some websites on cool work environments. The first link is to a site with some of the coolest workplaces out there. In addition to the first link, here is an investing website listing the top places to work for and why you should invest in them. (http://www.thestreet.com/story/11793391/1/the-list-of-best-places-to-work-is-a-solid-watchlist-for-shareholders.html)
The revisions I made for this original DSP were mainly focused on my thoughts about this article changing from when I originally wrote the DSP. When I first wrote this, I thought mainly about the workplace and the cooler and better designed the building felt, the better. This idea has changed for me though, and now my thought is not how innovative the workplace seems, but how comfortable the people are working in it. So, my focus on this piece turned from mostly architectural, to more of a personal piece, focusing more on how the workplace should be somewhere that the bright people working there should be able to relax and have a clear mind while working.
In the article “Groupthink”, by Jonah Lehrer, the age-old question of what makes people the most innovative is theorized. After going through sets of different circumstances to get people to become as creative and productive as possible, one idea in the article really stuck out to me. For people to be as productive and innovative as possible, many ideas from a range of viewpoints must be proposed freely. These viewpoints must then be debated in a similar free thinking fashion. People must be able to argue their viewpoints, not only to show all aspects of their idea, but also to open up the ways other people view ideas.
The part of the article that I found truly fascinating though was not the exact circumstances that people are in to become extremely innovative, but the way that people get to these circumstances. The way that the architecture of a building was able to draw people of different backgrounds together was very interesting to me. The idea that architects can design an environment in which people will be forced to meet up is fascinating, and reminds me of the Pixar headquarters in California. There, this strategy has been very successful, helping to create one of the most, if not the most, innovative movie companies ever.
Innovation overall does not happen simply because of building structure, but by the people that are in the buildings. The real key to innovation is getting the right variation of people with certain viewpoints to consistently meet and debate with people with different viewpoints. The places that do this successfully, from the ancient empires to some of the most powerful companies of the modern age, all have that key factor of getting the right mix of people in the right place on a consistent basis.
This key to innovation can be found throughout the most powerful empires in history. These great empires, such as the Roman Empire, were all based at the main hubs of trade routes. At first glance, it may seem that the success of these empires were because of the sheer amounts of money and resources the trade routes were bringing in. But these trade routes also brought in many bright people from different backgrounds. This gave rise to some of the greatest technological advances in history, from the farming techniques developed in Mesopotamia, to the paved and guarded roads in the Roman Empire, to the idea and modern medicine and the laws of physics and mathematics in Baghdad during the Ottoman Empire. The geography of the world drove these people together consistently and created entire cities that acted like incubators. After a while, these places were such large hubs of both resources, innovation, and cultural activity, that they became self sustaining, drawing in many of the most intelligent minds into their intellectually blended societies.
This process has been recognized by some of the most successful individuals of our time. Steve Jobs, for instance, used this incubation technique when designing the headquarters for Pixar. He forced people from completely different departments to go to a centralized area, as said in the article, “Jobs soon realized that it wasn’t enough simply to create an airy atrium; he needed to force people to go there. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the lobby. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria, the coffee bar, and the gift shop. Finally, he decided that the atrium should contain the only set of bathrooms in the entire building. (He was later forced to compromise and install a second pair of bathrooms.)” Jobs not only forced people working in different fields and with different mindsets to get together and problem solve, but he got people to come together and share ideas comfortably. By doing this, Jobs created one of the most successful and innovative companies around today.
Though the process of getting people from different viewpoints to swap ideas and debate with each other seems like and easy task. You simply need a way of making these people to get together comfortably. This should be easy, right? So why don’t more companies and universities do this? There are a few possibilities for this. One, you need to get enough people from different backgrounds. These people also need to be willing to communicate well with others and debate without losing their temper. They also need to be able to take in other viewpoints respectively and have enough free thinking to be able to look at problems in a new way. Two, you need a space that is large enough to hold this large amount of people. Three, the space needs to be able to make everyone comfortable. If the space is not initially comfortable for everyone, people must be able to change it around to their liking. For some companies and universities, attaining all of these requirements may be difficult. Many do not have the resources or infrastructure to complete these tasks. For these reasons, innovation in many companies is difficult and uncommon.
There are many companies and universities that do not have these problems with budgets and employees though. For these places to innovate, they need to start trying to make more of an effort to get people to come together and blend ideas. The focus at many places is too much on the individuals and tools. Though both of these are very important in having a successful company or institution, there is not quite enough focus on getting people to communicate their ideas as comfortably as possible.
If you look at some of the most successful and innovative companies of today, you see this exact idea at work. Google, for instance, makes the workplace almost more attractive than home, with tons of free benefits such as food, exercise, and spa, just to name a few. What Google is doing is not only having a building that is comfortable for people to work in, but one that people want to come to. This draws employees together at all times, in very relaxed moods. Googles take on the work environment seems to also be very much based off of MIT’s Building 20. In the article, Lehrer says, “It was designed in an afternoon by a local architecture firm, and construction was quick and cheap. The design featured a wooden frame on top of a concrete slab foundation, with an exterior covered in gray asbestos shingles. (Steel was in short supply.)” The article also states, “scientists in Building 20 felt free to remake their rooms, customizing the structure to fit their needs. Walls were torn down without permission; equipment was stored in the courtyards and bolted to the roof.” The building was the center of so much innovation because of the way that people were able to get their ideas out and communicate them for everyone to see. The reason they were able to do this was because of the relaxed atmosphere that the building provided. There were central meeting areas, so you would likely be running into people every time you traveled through the strangely organized hallways. People would come together, say hi, then possibly mention whatever it was that was on their mind, be it a project they were working on or a sports game the night before. It was feature of getting people to come together in a comfortable and consistent fashion that created so much innovation.