MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Why do innovation consultants recommend workspace do-overs?

I've always liked the ChangeThis Manifestos. They're a bit self-promotional for most of the writers, yet they are delighful, valuable and concise pamphlets on some very interesting and relevant subjects.

Grant McCracken had a nice manifesto published recently on the subject of building a "culturematic laboratory." He proposes that –

“Every organization needs a Culturematic laboratory... It gives the senior manager a 'landing party' with which to search for navigable spaces, habitable worlds, futures we want as opposed to ones that will be otherwise forced upon us. Managers can wait for the future to 'happen' to them. Or they can use Culturematics and choose. Culturematic labs are a new management tool.”

I think we've reflected in other places here that we've encountered this concept before in conversations we've had with Jeff DeGraff. Jeff consults with more than 50 CEO's a year and their teams on subjects of culture and innovation. Over lunch one day, he said that he was frustrated with the fact that he can take these teams off site and, over a few days' time, make great advances with them. Then, they get back into their offices, and all that progress fails to progress. His objective was to build a prototype, an "Innovatrium," that could be replicable and implanted inside of the organizations for whom he did his consulting. Maybe the right space, he reasoned, would nurture the behaviors, the culture, and sustain the progress made otherwise at offsites.

DeGraff found what McCracken has found, and what so many others have found in the great stories of innovation. A creative culture grows best in an environment designed for freedom and self-configuration, not in the typical corporate workplace.

What is very interesting in these explorations, frustrations and manifestos is the scale of them. That is, the innovation imperative in American business is huge, yet the space designed and assigned to teams for the work of the organization is small.

When an organization learns that its sustainability is dependent on innovation, and when it knows that innovation is intimately tied to the space in which creative work is done, why then do they sustain a corporate workplace of cubefarms?

Take a look at McCracken's recommendations –

We need a big room. McCracken says an airplane hangar is not necessary, but he does evoke big volumes as the first of his recommendations.

Add dividers and pods. That is, give the team some tools to arrange the space as they see fit.

There should be lots of writable surface. The idea is to display work in progress in order to engage others in the quest.

The room should be porous. That is, it must have robust internet technology and be networked with the rest of the world.

Invite a diversity of players."People need to put aside rank and protocol. It’s all about the idea, not the ego."

Nowhere is there a standard allocation of space nor a hierarchy of turf. Nowhere is there an assignment of butts to seats. In fact, the standard approach to office space is what these gurus and their clients are struggling against.

Why do American companies continue to insist on counting heads and measuring space when ideas, engagement, and value is what they seek?