• 3:13 MIN READ

Innovation, Creativity and Culture in the Workplace.

Specialist P.O.V: Andrew Talbot

adrianse* studio

London, England.

As designers (and innovators, mind you) we are constantly trying to identify ways to support our clients' need to "stay ahead of the curve", however we seldom look for physical and psychological factors that can inform our design solutions.

Here I have put together a few interesting bits that I have gathered from lectures and research throughout my career.

The Brain.
We know, a highly complex organ. Dr. Barbara Oakley - professor of Engineering at McMaster University - has a passion to understand learning in engineering. One key finding in her research is that creativity and innovation cannot be forced.

She has research that demonstrates how the brain functions in 2 distinct patterns, using the analogy of a "Pin Ball Theory":

  • Focused Pattern Activity - monitoring brain activity, the electrical energy occurs in a tight, intense pattern, when the subject is doing problem solving.
  • Diffuse Pattern Activity - this is a MARKEDLY different and free flowing way, when creative activity occurs.
  • Interestingly, these types of brain activity cannot occur simultaneously, and Diffuse Pattern Activity can usually only occur when the person is not trying to force it, and is relaxed. Her research has in fact shown you can encourage one's brain to learn to do this.

    Salvador Dali.
    As we know, a true innovator and wildly creative thinker. When he hit a "brick wall" and exhausted his creative flow, his technique to get it going again consisted of:

  • Leaving focused thinking
  • Holding a key in his hand
  • Sitting relaxed in a comfy chair
  • And falling asleep... (yes, really!)
  • The key would drop, wake him up, and he found that his brain would deliver the fresh creative solution he needed. He did not know it, but it was in fact Diffuse Brain Pattern that allowed this!

    Sleep and Play.
    Encouraging Diffuse Pattern Brain activity can help with creative thought, and research shows that the brain goes into Diffuse mode when we sleep.

    So the old adage "Let's sleep on this!" can actually drive innovation. So perhaps we need to include beds or sleeping pods in our designs!?

    Additionally, our brain mode goes into Diffuse Pattern when we play. The brain is free thinking and I am sure we have all had a "EUREKA MOMENT" when a solution or idea seems to just pop out, unexpectedly! Interestingly children are much better at this than adults. As adults we learn to go into Focused Pattern as we go through school, university etc.

    When we try and force creative thinking we have all, at one time or another, run into a brick wall. STOP, take a break and let your brain go into Diffuse Mode. You will be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes.

    Culture of Innovation.
    Jitzke Kramer, Social Anthropologist from Amsterdam, gave a wonderful seminar a couple of years ago. She looked at tribal patterns and how they relate to our workplaces and corporate culture.

    "People shape cultures, and cultures shape people"
    - Jitzke Kramer

    She boils the culture of meetings down into 2 types:

    Love meetings - 'around the campfire', an important way to support the culture. These meetings:

  • Are relationship orientated
  • Build trust
  • Connect
  • Loyalty
  • These types of meetings release Oxytocin and Serotonin - feel good and bonding hormones.

    Power meetings- "Get Sh*t Done"

  • Goals
  • Results
  • Performance
  • These type of meetings release Dopamine and Endorphins - both support information flow positively.

    In Summary.
    So, what do we learn from this? These physiological and anthropologically based bits of information can help us understand how we can base our spaces to encourage creativity and a culture that supports this creativity and innovation.

    Also, it is important to look outside "design" to look at other research from other disciplines to gain insight into human behaviour, including fostering our own innovation.

    Simply put - just add a bed and a campfire to your next project... but be sure to check the fire regulations! ;)