In the book, Kursty looks inside 20 well-known companies, including the LEGO Group, Oakley, Bloomberg, and Urban Outfitters, among many others, and gives us some insights into how these folks use space in ways that promote creativity and collaboration, increase satisfaction, and decrease employee turnover.
Before I share our discussion, have a quick look at this teaser for the book:
Kursty spent about six years with ?WhatIf! and has just stepped away from her full-time gig there to write IWIWT, and she'll continue to focus in on the area she calls “space innovation”, or how physical and cultural environments affect people and creativity.
Find out more about the book here, and find out more about Kursty here. She's also recently started a business called spacehopper to help people and companies find the most creativity-inducing spaces for off-site meetings and workshops.
Kursty and I had a great discussion by phone, in which she filled me in on how she conceived the book. She also threw in some tips on how to change my workspace -- and my company -- to make it more conducive to creativity.
ThinkingDesign: How did you choose which companies to focus on?
Kursty Groves: When I first started the project, I thought I’d do 100 companies, but I quickly realized that that was way too ambitious, because one of the main things I wanted to do was really get behind the scenes and visit all of the companies.
We wanted them to be well-known so they would capture peoples’ imagination. You could imagine that people would like to see behind the scenes at places like Nike or Oakley – places where you know the product or service.
We started with the big and the well-known, and then we whittled it down to 20 to get a range of industries. We deliberately decided not to choose creative agencies or advertising, because you kind of expect those companies to have great creative environments.
TD: What were some of the most out-of-the-ordinary, wacky, or extreme things that you saw?
KG: Extreme? Without a doubt, the most extreme would be Oakley. I absolutely love Oakley because they are so provocative. Not everybody “gets” Oakley, but if you do, you really get it.
The way the Oakley brand personality comes across, for example, is the outer part of the building has three-foot deep windowsills, which are clearly not needed, but it adds to the scale and drama of the place. And it has huge buttresses and spikes on the outside. It basically gives people the impression that it’s a huge fortress, and they call it the “design bunker,” because they’re so protective of their ideas and the next innovation that is coming out. And that comes across in this extremely provocative physical space.
‘Photograph copyright Edward Denison’
What’s wonderful is that the armor enables a much more free-flowing culture on the inside. You have everyone from the CEO to the receptionist wearing what they want all year round, and it’s highly collaborative.
TD: Oakley is obviously on the extreme side. Can you give us the Cliffs Notes for creative spaces?
KG: Sure. There are four main types of creative space that support different types of creativity. For one, there are “Stimulating Spaces” that tell stories or enable people to access different information.
There are “Reflective Spaces,” where people can go to focus or relax, as an individual or as a team.
There are “Collaborative Spaces” – not just your plain old meeting room. These could be spaces where people casually connect with one another. Lots of companies use free food to lure people into a space where they can casually connect with their colleagues.
And finally, there are “Playful Spaces,” which aren’t just about game rooms or having foosball in the middle of the office, though those are devices that lots of companies use. Play can be a way to get people to connect on a deeper level, and it allows them to relax. But there’s another element to play – experimentation. That could be in the form of a room where people can be messy and not have to worry about tidying up at the end of the day.
There are also some basics that come with building creative spaces. Light can play a huge factor. But interestingly, it’s not just about having lots and lots of natural light, but about understanding the interplay between light and the task at hand. For instance, Electronic Arts does a fantastic job with light. There are lots of people who have almost completely blocked in their areas to make them like a cave, and it’s really, really dark. And that’s so they can focus in on their computer screens. So natural light is not what they need.
But they also have huge, open communal spaces that are flooded with natural light, which allows people to balance that focus with the ability to open up and collaborate and communicate with other people.
TD: The book is called “I Wish I Worked Here”. Where do you wish you worked?
KG: It’s a great question but very difficult for me to answer, because every company featured approaches their space in ways that I appreciate. They’ve each got their own way of dealing with creative space, and they’re all interesting in their own way.
TD: Aaah. So you’re obviously sidestepping the question. What about for individuals? If I’m working for an average mid-sized company in cubicle-land, how can I change the culture to make it more creative?
KG: Great question, because obviously not everyone can go in and completely overhaul their entire office space, even if you wish you could. All of these principles are applicable to medium-sized companies, and also if you work at home. For instance, if you think about trying to make your working space a bit more stimulating, you can think about changing it on a regular basis, maybe depending on what you’re working on. Or, layer in lots of things that you’re really enthusiastic about, because that will put you into a very happy and creative state. The more at home you feel at work, the more you’ll be yourself. The more yourself you are, the better you’ll think.
If your boss is saying they’re not sure it’ll work, put my book under their nose and show them. There are metrics that evidence the importance of environment to help increase morale and decrease turnover.
A really good point on that is Virgin UK, who acquired about 90 different call centers in an acquisition they made. Call centers are notorious for having very high staff turnover. But, at Virgin, they did two things: one, they focused on making the communal spaces really exciting, homey places to be. And they also allowed people to work on their own individual spaces, gave them a small budget and a bit of time make some changes. An independent survey then found that the environment made over 80% of the workers want to stay. That’s absolutely huge for a call center, and evidence that space matters!