Working environments

Idea room

By Meredith Bostwick-Lorenzo Eiroa


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.



  • Individuals
  • A mentor or facilitator
  • Small & medium round tables (to activate conversation; without hierarchy)
  • No distractions (clear of clichés)
  • Natural daylight (a nourishing environment)
  • Whiteboard walls & surfaces (to map out cognitive processes)
  • Sticky notes (to propose), pencils (to sketch), erasers (to reconsider)
  • SMART boards (to capture diagrams and notes for future reference)
  • A reflective atmosphere
  • A variety of seating options and reconfigurable furnishings


  1. Agree the guidelines: How are we going to work together so that all voices are heard?   These typically will be:
    • No interrupting
    • Respect all ideas; build on them rather than demolishing them
    • Have fun
    • Silence is good
    • What is said here, stays here (unless otherwise agreed)
  2. Start by checking-in. Go round the group so that each participant can say how they feel at that moment and what their intention is for the session.
  3. Next, people engage in open discussion whether through Bohmian dialogue or making marks on the whiteboards/walls. (See notes on ingredients in Yes we can – sometimes). Anything that is agreed to be discussed later is put on a sticky note in a designated space so it doesn’t get forgotten.
  4. Concepts from problem-based learning can be useful in the idea room for researchers. For example, ‘inquiry notebooks’ and ‘concept maps’ can be used to collect data on how well the group is progressing in tackling a problem. Newstetter (2006) discusses how cognitive maps may be graphical representations that depict the understanding and structure of knowledge. The idea room then provides a space “to evaluate and map the depth and complexity of conceptual knowledge” (Newstetter, 2006).
    • An inquiry notebook is a way of reflecting on your own process: ask yourself, and note your answers to, questions about your questions. Where did they come from? What was my thinking that prompted those questions? Are they limiting or expanding my enquiry? What resources did I use? How did I know about them? How have I gathered the pieces of data or information together? Is there a pattern forming and if so, what has been my thinking?
    • A concept map is a visual representation of your thinking – Buzan’s Mind Mapping (2010) is the most widely known and used method. For further information and ideas of different concept maps, consult the Visualising the Problem

Cook’s tips

The idea lab is not a banal space for problem-solving, but rather an incubator for ideas generation, ‘problem-finding’ questioning and critique.


Proper utilization and scheduling is key for the idea room.

While creativity can be spontaneous, the idea room is a rigorous space which uses the routine practices of pre- and post-critical thinking to tap our creative processes, develop our cognitive skills and understanding of the underlying causes and effects of our own successes and failures.

Related recipes

This recipe goes well with the Workshop space, Visualising the problem and Yes we can – sometimes recipes.

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
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