To Technology! The Cause of and Solution to ALL of Life’s Problems. Part II.

In this excellent post, Seth Godin grabs us by the shoulders and asks, “Are you making something?”

In his usually astute way, he notices a major problem with the way makers and knowledge workers work.

…we’re often using precisely the same device to do our work as we are to distract ourselves from our work.

He offers a simple, but bold solution: don’t use your computer for anything except making. Use something else, perhaps an iPad, for shopping, gaming, social networking.

As a technology professional, I can think of a number of ways to accomplish the same result, though Seth’s suggestion has at its core a very important concept: setting boundaries. Unless we have a certain amount of focus and discipline, not popular words in our culture, our effectiveness will dwindle to zero.

While Seth’s solution is perfectly valid, consider these other ways to protect your effectiveness:

  • If you are using a Mac, (and if you seek simplicity and effectiveness you should be) set up another User account for specific tasks
  • Disable anything on your computer that has a badge in the dock, an audio alert, or a pop-up notification (Growl is the enemy)
  • Silence your Smartphone and/or iPad and keep them out of sight
  • Use timers such as Minuteur or Pester
  • More and more applications are now offering “full-screen mode”. Use it.
  • Consider having separate physical locations for work and play even it’s opposite ends of your desk or office
  • Learn how to use Mac OS X “Spaces” to maintain focus
  • Coordinate uninterruptible times with your boss and colleagues
  • Wear headphones or have some other visual clue that you are not to be interrupted

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. Add your own below in the comments.

As Seth says, “Go, make something. We need it!”

Read Seth’s entire post.

[And be sure to check out Part I here: To Technology! The Cause of and Solution to All of Life’s Problems.]


Architectural Herding to Foster a Creative Culture

Managing Space to Foster Networks over at Blogging Innovation offers some great insights on fostering culture, many of which have a direct application in creative businesses.

The post first provides some context by stating that “the foundation of innovation is what people believe, say and do” as an organization. In other words, the foundation of innovation is culture – creating the conditions for brilliant talent to share and manage ideas and knowledge. This is admittedly difficult.

“A lot of people say that knowledge management is like herding cats”,

says one manager, who prefers a different analogy,

“I say that it’s really like herding butterflies. You can’t make butterflies go anywhere – if you want them around you have to create a garden that attracts them.”

While job design and business processes which “encourage the generation and execution of ideas” are important to fostering  a creative culture, an often overlooked aspect is that of the workspace architecture. The “gardens”.

Does your workspace architecture feature “gardens” – oases to refresh frazzled minds? Perhaps games and areas of temporary distraction to allow creatives to step away from their challenges and see things from a different perspective? The means for various departments to congregate and cross-polinate?

Pixar, for example, is famously designed to create spontaneous encounters; it’s mailroom, meeting rooms, cafeteria and restrooms are all centralized.

Best Buy’s corporate headquarters’ most popular feature is an in-house café.

Patagonia’s offices are located on a beach and employees are encouraged to grab their boards whenever the surf is up.

What kind of gardens can we create?

Need some inspiration? Review some of our other posts on this topic.


Music – Great for Morale, Bad for Thinking

I’ve always wondered about the wisdom of playing music in creative environments. I’ve often thought in terms of group dynamics. Who gets to choose? Is anything off limits? Musical taste can be very personal to some people, and it’s easy for feelings to be hurt. Clearly there are people who say they don’t mind a particular genre to be diplomatic, even though their skin is crawling. This would definitely impact their work.

At other times, however, I’ve thought about how hugely distracting music can be. There are dozens, if not hundreds of pop songs which can completely detour us, especially if they are catchy, sing-along songs. Songs with a visual connection, in particular, can completely distract people by causing people to think of the song’s music video, the movie the song was in, or the Weird Al Yankovic parody video.

Some recent research suggests my concerns were not without merit. While music in general can lift moods, music can impair cognitive thinking.

Should music be played in open offices? Should employees be expected to use headphones to create their own “privacy” in open offices? Is something fundamentally wrong with the design of of workspaces if they impair getting work done? Should employees be made aware of the potential impact of music on their work?

This should give us much to think about.


I Wish I Worked There

The ink was barely dry on This Ain’t No Disco – Now in Book Form, when we came across the equally fascinating book, I Wish I Worked There! thanks to Amazon’s suggestive selling robots. I don’t know how I missed this book.

Quoting the book’s Website,

I Wish I Worked There! reveals the world’s most inspiring and innovative places to work, investigating twenty famous brands that place innovation at the heart of their culture.

It’s now on the Wish List. If you get your hands on a copy before we do, be sure to leave a comment and tell us what you think.

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Stand Up and Create!

Read this opening paragraph from Stand Up While You Read This! in the NYT:

“It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.”

Yikes! Owners and Managers, take note and look after your most important asset – your employees.

Aside from the health benefits of working and standing, there are creative benefits as well. Authors Lewis Carroll, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf all wrote while standing. Film Editor Walter Murch (pictured here) famously edits while standing up, comparing his work to gunslinging, conducting, brain surgery and short-order cooking.

“That’s the reason I stand when I edit — I’m fully engaged in my body.”

So what should we do? Seriously consider giving creatives the opportunity to stand while working. Consider installing standing-height counters, standing desks or desks that move to allow both standing and sitting. Both Anthro and GeekDesk offer models that move from one position to the other.

What else? Make sure employees get up and walk around. Hold meetings outdoors or in ways that involve activity. Other ideas? Add your own in the comments.

Let’s be sure to get off our butts!




This Ain’t No Disco – Now in Book Form

We’ve featured This Ain’t No Disco , which showcases creative workspaces and environments from around the world, a handful of times here at CR. We’re such fans, that we even have the site in our sidebar. So we think it’s really cool that writer/blogger Ian McCallam has used his research and photographs to create a book, entitled Where We Work. Can’t wait to check it out!


Creative Spaces

Back in Summer 2004, NPR’s All Things Considered produced a handful of inspirational interviews with Creatives, focusing on the environments in which they create. Lighting, time of day, colors, textures, tools, and location are all discussed. The interviews are all short enough to enjoy during a lunch break, under thirteen minutes each.

Author/Illustrator James Prosek’s Studio

Spy novelist Daniel Silva’s Workspace

Trumpeter Steven Bernstein’s Jazz Lab

Managers and owners, be sure to design environments that nurture creativity and allow ideas to be executed!

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Architecture and Collaboration

I came across this amazing workplace via The Cool Hunter, though we might as well head straight to the source, architectural firm Clive Wilkinson Architects, which was responsible for the interior design. The photos are inspiring, though be sure to read the project description as well, where we find that the building is designed to encourage collaboration and cross-polination, as well as deter complacency.

The astonishing thing (to me anyways) is that these pictures are not from an advertising agency or a high-profile video game company; they are from an investment bank in Sydney, Australia.



Architecture’s Impact on Creativity

Via The 99%, via Ouno Design, I found a fascinating Scientific American/Mind article which explains the link between Architecture and various type of thinking.

Architects have long intuited that the places we inhabit can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. But now, … behavioral scientists are giving these hunches an empirical basis. They are unearthing tantalizing clues about how to design spaces that promote creativity, keep students focused and alert, and lead to relaxation and social intimacy.

Of particular note to Creative Businesses, are the following findings:

  • Higher ceilings – even the perception of them – promote freer and more abstract thinking
  • Rooms with views of nature assist mental focus
  • Exposure to sunlight assists learning and boosts cognition
  • Dim lighting can foster relaxation and social intimacy
  • Furniture arrangement can be used to encourage either independent work or group participation
  • Carpeting encourages social interaction

The more I read about the impact of workplace environments on creativity, the more I realize the importance of having a variety of settings within a workspace. Areas to create, to interact spontaneously, to encourage conversation and to perform detail-oriented work are all necessary. Bringing nature and sunlight into our workspaces, even if this means projected images and artificially produced daytime light, also make a positive impact. Perhaps simple changes can be made in our businesses. Perhaps we should encourage certain tasks to be performed outside of the workplace if the conditions are less than ideal. Let’s keep these factors in mind as we guide our teams.


Surrounded by Inspiration

Don the Idea Guy offers 10 Idea Inspiring Lightning Rods, a list of ways to constantly expose your creative self to potentially inspirational ideas.

Though this list is aimed at individuals, it works on a number of levels, and even more powerfully, for creative companies. Many of the ideas can be incorporated into the work environment; others could be used as social activities. Your company could:

  • share magazines and paperback books
  • arrange lunch hour or after-work museum field trips
  • hold book discussions
  • have show & tell once a week allowing team members to inspire one another
  • play word games as teams
  • have a variety of music on hand
  • attend lectures
  • participate in Pecha-Kucha
  • create a Wiki of inspirational ideas and web sites
  • take classes together (or even offer them on-site!)

Please add your own ideas in the comments!

It’s such a simple thing, yet we often allow ourselves to get “too busy” to take care of fundamentals such as feeding our souls. Managers, do your part to inspire those around you!