Working environments

Idea room

By Meredith Bostwick-Lorenzo Eiroa

Background

In the times of Thomas Edison, ideas came from individuals. Today through iterative creativity (Resnick, 2007) ideas are spawned from group thinking and collaboration as well as from a combination of individual and group thinking or synchronic interaction (Sawyer, 2003).

Entire workplaces have become ‘idea rooms’. Groves & Knight (2010) look inside what they call the most creative spaces in business: the research environments in organisations like Google, Lego, Dreamworks Animation and T-Mobile. In academic institutions, places like Georgia Tech’s Problem-Based Learning suite and Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner School of Design (d.School) are leading the way.

In the idea room, researchers engage in an idea-logue or Bohmian dialogue (Bohm, 2004). This implies the collective intelligence of the group (dialogue means through the word, not two people talking), or of an individual reflecting by themselves. In an idea-logue an initial idea morphs into a series of overlapping ideas, informing one another, building momentum and creating a richer, more developed collective idea – a larger idea or concept which no longer can be traced to a single individual, but is now owned by the larger collective.

An idea room is a concept and at the same time is both a physical space and a process: if the process is for visually sharing and building ideas, then the space needs to be whiteboarded. If the process is for talking in a Bohmian dialogue, then it’s best to have comfortable chairs in a circle.

The idea room exists within the cracks of an institution or department – on the edges, on the borders of the primary classroom, lab, or seminar space. It can be physically configured as an ante-room or a posterior space in relation to a larger event. It functions as a precursor or posterior space that holds the projection of activities or hypothesising; and the space which holds conclusion-making, deductions, summarizing or findings. The idea room is free of cliché, devoid of assumptions or motivations which can obscure the truth or real meaning within an exercise. It is a place that clears the mind, and allows for the open exploration of questions about what went wrong or the specific steps that led to finding a solution. It is equally a place which eliminates anxiety, tension, or projected assumption before approaching a set of problems.

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Working with others

Share what you made

By Diana Bental

Background

Academics focus on publications as a way of sharing ideas, but we make things too, sometimes real working things, more often demonstrators and prototypes. It’s often easier to share software or electronic versions of things – people can make as many copies as they like with little effort and no cost. In this way, people can interact with what you made: use it, comment on it, amend it, and extend it. Your product (or idea) will come back to you reshaped, in a new form, maybe almost unrecognisable. In a sense it doesn’t matter what happens to your digital creation out there in the virtual world, as you still have your pristine original copy.

A good example of this type of digital remixing is the Scratch community at MIT. Scratch is a visual programming environment for children built on playful constructionist ideals. The designers of Scratch envisaged a creative cycle where children would imagine an idea for a program, create it using Scratch, play around with their program to refine it, share it with others in the online community, reflect on what they made and then start the whole cycle again (Resnick, 2007). Verbs like ‘imagine’, ‘play’ and ‘share’ might seem odd in an academic context but they commonly crop up in creativity theory. In fact, Resnick’s creative cycle has similarities to the scientific publishing cycle where academics think of a theory, create a way to test it, analyse the results, publish the findings to a small set of journal reviewers, reflect on the reviewers’ comments and refine their theories. The next stage in the scientific cycle involves replication and refinement by other academic groups.

Resnick’s creative cycle is more fun, though, and involves less ego shredding! Publishing and remixing in the Scratch community is much quicker than the standard academic publishing cycle, resulting in immediate feedback. It’s free too. Open access journals such as PLOS enable authors to get immediate feedback from other academics once their article has been published. But why not try out new ways of sharing ideas digitally before you publish?

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Working solo

Prepare your mind

By Derek Jones

Feed your mind to increase your creativity

Background

This simple recipe is an often-overlooked classic, central to all creative cognitive processes. It follows from research that considers creativity to be a simple outcome of a functioning conscious mind (Craft, 2001; Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Sawyer, 2011) – something that designers have been aware of (consciously or otherwise) for some time.

In his little book ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’, Young (2003) considers the mind of a designer to be interested in all things; inquisitive, questioning, explorative. Take every opportunity that comes your way to do this and you will naturally engage in connecting and divergent thinking, which are two central cognitive functions for creative thinking (Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Abraham & Windmann, 2007).

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Working environments

Workshop Space

By Meredith Bostwick-Lorenzo Eiroa

Background

Unfinished space has the potential to be creative because it gives ‘permission’ to users to use it in ways that finished spaces do not. Workshop space waits to be defined – an undecorated room, machine shop, hangar, or warehouse space – left rough around the edges.

Its unfinished quality encourages a dynamic fun space in which to tinker, fail, and figure things out. It is a space where experimenting is allowed (and expected). It is a space where it is OK to be messy.

Workshop space can function like a ‘popup whitespace’and can form itself on-demand when there is a critical mass and the need to solve a problem.

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Working solo

Constraint as a seed for creativity

By Pawel Orzechowski and Derek Jones

Background

Do you ever get the feeling that your head is bursting with thoughts and ideas? This can actually be counter-productive for your research. When it gets too much, your thinking might need to converge to help you move forward.

Think about haiku: three lines, five-seven-five syllables. Haiku are very restrictive but lead to such creative output that it is worth considering why. While abundance can be an interesting and (apparently) effective environment in which to work, the truly amazing comes from limited resources.

In architecture, there is an urban myth that the best architecture comes in times of recession: fewer projects and limited resources encourage more time and thinking applied to what is available, leading to significant innovation. Jugaad, jua kali and rasquachismo are all international flavours of ‘make do and mend’ cultures that have existed since the start of humanity (U101 Course Team, 2013). Similarly, research shows that limiting choice can have a positive effect on the creative process (Costello and Keane, 2000; Stokes, 2001; Sellier & Dahl, 2011).

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Working with others

Visualising the problem

By Alison Williams

Background

People absorb and process information in three different ways: auditorily, visually and kinaesthetically; the majority (up to 75%) have a visual preference (Fleming, 2006; Fleming & Baume, 2006). It makes no sense to have people with a strong visual preference, and possibly a kinaesthetic secondary preference, sitting talking to each other processing everything in an auditory way. Information is poorly absorbed and links may be missed.

This recipe sets out how groups of people can work together to think together visually: on their feet, moving around, being able to see what each other are thinking as they work together. Letting the images spark new connections, seeing how the images suggest other things, realising where things are not working because the images make it very clear.

Georgia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has a suite of rooms dedicated to problem-based learning (Newstetter, 2006). The rooms are small – approximately 6m by 8m (20 by 25 feet) – and the walls are covered from floor to ceiling in whiteboard material. Students at all levels use the rooms to work on complex problems set by the faculty. As they talk, they capture their thinking on the whiteboards, drawing graphs, diagrams, symbols and words. As the images build, so the ideas grow, are challenged, are changed, are built, and are critiqued. The level of learning and thinking is impressively high.

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Working solo

Just Describe

By Anitra Nottingham

Background

If you want to improve the place where you conduct your research, it pays to fully understand and document the current setting. This recipe works on the idea that the act of writing is a ‘lab tool’ of qualitative social research, and is a practice capable of generating data (Law, 2004), in the same way that a microscope produces data by enabling us to observe realities invisible to the naked eye. Here writing generates a narrative-style description of the field which is then used as data and subjected to analysis.

This dish is the fortuitous result of mixing a lack of human participants, a deadline, and a dash of panic. It springs from theories of the socio-material, in particular actor-network theory (ANT).   It is based on the idea that objects can be made to ‘speak’ – to tell us something of what they may contribute to the social – if we describe them well enough (Latour, 2005).

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