I recently had a conversation with a colleague of mine; a well renowned professor in architecture and city development, about the best practice approach to building new offices. Work environment designers are more often than not designing the space from an outside in perspective rather than inside out – basing the design on current trends rather than the needs of the operations, innovation processes and the type of people in the organization – the human resources.
For a long time, open work spaces, team work and innovation through constructive conflict has been the way to design the work environment. Just look at companies like Google and Facebook and all their office-offspring’s around the world.
Collaboration has become the norm, and open work spaces where the few walls that exist are either made of glass or isolating curtains are more popular than ever. Gone is privacy, solitude and calmness.
But the argument that open work spaces should stimulate creativity is becoming increasingly disputed. In a recent article in the New York Times Susan Cain suggest that this “New Group thinking” rather hinders creativity rather than cultivates it.
Research suggests that people are more creative when they can enjoy privacy and avoid interruption. She also compare introverted people to more extroverted and claims that the most extraordinaire creators are often introverts. Consider Newton who is described by William Wordsworth as “A mind for ever Voyaging through strange seas of though, alone.”
The reason for this is that solitude is a catalyst of innovation and introverts are more suited for working solo.
Introverts have a tendency to focus on the task, whether it is finding a solution to a problem or developing a new product.
Also, a further examination of the innovation power of introvert done in a laboratory experiment showed that introverts have a tendency to listen more to other people’s ideas while extroverts are sometimes intimated by them.
My point is, that the open work spaces are designed on the basis that most people are the most innovative when collaborating with others, ignoring the innovative power of introverts when being left in solitude.
Instead of copying Google, the work space should be designed with the people who are intended to inhabit it in mind. Do you mostly employ extroverts or introverts? How does your innovation process look like? When are your people most creative?
It is all pretty logical when you think about it. Or as my colleague would say; it is “the fuzzy logic of HR”.
My colleagues in Bearing have recently used the above mentioned concepts in the design of a new flagship extension for the Birmingham Science Park Aston.