Today’s Lesson: If you want to innovate, invite the Weird.
Traditional office spaces suck.
Cubicle farms, desks with monitors, filing cabinets, pen cups, rolling desk chairs, grayish carpeting, etc… It is all designed to inculcate boredom and efficiency. At the same time, companies and leaders are chanting mantras of innovation, empowerment, work-life balance, transparency, etc…
These are opposing forces. Innovation does not come from maximizing efficiency and following cookie-cutter practices. Innovation is almost, by definition, messy and creative and sometimes a little destructive.
It is easy for leaders to say things like, “We want our employees to have fun and enjoy their work” but how would your top leaders react if your employees were truly embracing their creativity?
Look at your office space. Does it invite creativity? Your people might be weird but does their work space invite them to embrace their weirdness? Are they encouraged (through more than words) to pull forth the creative sides of themselves and blur the lines between “work” and “fun”?
For those companies still not ready to leave the office behind altogether and become a fluid, adaptable, remote work team operating more like a swarm than an old battleship, start by re-thinking your environment. What is weird about it? How can you encourage collaboration as creative play? How can you maximize people colliding (and thus ideas colliding) while also respecting quiet time and space for individual contemplation?
How can you make the “weird” normal and celebrate it?
Would it be weird if you walked by an office and saw a company vice-president sitting in lotus-pose on top of her desk, meditating?
Would it be weird if you were in a meeting where the notes and ideas were being jotted down in multi-colored crayons and pictures instead of words?
Would it be weird if two grown adults went running by your office after you heard someone shout, “Tag! You’re it!”
Would it be weird if you saw someone sprawled out on the floor, head on a pillow, taking a 15-minute nap in their office?
We do not associate any of those things to productivity but I challenge you to consider play, creativity, and rest to be the essence of productivity. The most innovative ideas of our time have not come from project management spreadsheets and TPS reports. They have come as flashes of insight, often in someone’s garage while they are tinkering, or as a result of a conversation in a bar, or having just awakened from a dream, or simply from quiet time in the bathroom (we all know we do some of our best
stinking thinking there).
The obvious place to start encouraging the weird is in your office space itself. What would make your team excited to visit their work space each day? What can we do, as leaders, to have our team go home and talk about work and share their passion with their friends and on their social media (as opposed to sharing all the negative parts)?
Here are 3 easy ways to start. You certainly do not have to adopt this list but it might get your inner weirdness to perk up.
1. Look at the obvious and already successful model for inviting productivity and collaboration: Starbucks (or any local coffee-house). Starbucks is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think “weird” but it was the very fact that they were weird that made them famous. A coffee-house is weird in a good way. It has an open floor plan with often kitschy or eccentric local art and decor that invites conversation.
A coffee-house is a central place where people gather and chat while also working. There are tabletops of varying sizes for both group and individual work, couches centered around coffee tables, mellow upbeat music, coffee, tea, wi-fi, and plenty of places to both plug-in and unplug, not to mention outdoor seating. How many of your team members would appreciate some outside time on a warm, breezy day? With laptops, tablets, and smartphones at our disposal, why does work still happen in dreary, dark corners as if it is something shameful, to be hidden away from the light of day?
2. Replace leather office chairs and fake mahogany tables in conference rooms with end tables surrounded by bean bag chairs and Indian-style sitting pillows. Make sure each chair is a different color or type than the rest. If sitting on the floor is too icky for you, then go with high top tables and bar stools. Just get away from looking like a bunch of lawyers discussing politics.
3. If removing most office walls is out of the budget, consider painting them different colors. Have a red wall, a blue wall, a yellow wall. Splash other colors on them. Encourage your team to write their favorite lines of lyrics or poetry on the walls or paint pictures on them if they are artistically inclined. Free, local art! Create an environment both your team and your clients will go home talking about.
There are plenty of ways to make work better for everyone. Go nuts with embracing the weirdness secretly residing in your people, begging to be let out.
Make a nap room full of nothing but big durable pillows.
Make sure there are chairs, pencils, crayons, and swaths of paper or writing boards in the hallways for spontaneous meetings.
Instead of motivational posters, decorate the halls with dry erase boards to capture ideas or share stories as people walk by.
Play games. Instead of a project update meeting every Monday morning, how about a board game meeting every Monday morning?
Make your office pet friendly. How many employees would love to bring their dogs or cats to work? It is definitely a hassle but worth the joy on most faces when the pets come to visit their area (those who are allergic can avoid the pets or be told upfront that the office is pet friendly, or they can work outside).
You get the idea.
If you want innovation, start by inviting the space to be innovative. If you want boring, predictable, drab, mediocre results, then by all means make your business look like every other business… and you will be just like them.