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 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 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 with others

Serendipity on the back of a napkin

By Andrew MacVean

Background

Encouraging serendipity in the workplace is highly desirable (Florida, 2002). An unexpected exchange of ideas can greatly enhance the creative process.  By its nature serendipity cannot be forced; however, this recipe encourages serendipitous exchanges in a simple, low-cost way. Does the pressure to produce outputs limit serendipitous encounters within your institution? Are you struggling to remove these limitations to chance encounters?

In this recipe, a culture of serendipitous encounter is encouraged and made more probable.  It uses an informal dining environment situated in a heavily populated area. Supplying napkins is normal procedure for tables in a dining area: supplying pens too encourages diners into back-of-a-napkin thinking. Key to this concept is the idea of avoiding the pressure to produce, which can sometimes inhibit spontaneous and creative thinking (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). If no serendipitous encounter occurs, the napkins just clean up any mess! Without the pressure of formal outputs, problems can be simplified, and serendipitous thought and encounters can be informally recorded.

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