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Reflection: it's about ideas, not introverts

Gensler Costa Rica office / Andres Garcia Lachner

I appreciate this GenslerOn post from my colleague Penny in Bangalore and think she's right on that rejuvenation (or reflection, or stepping away, however you phrase it) is a core component of doing good work. The poor introverts being overwhelmed by too much togetherness isn't the complete picture, though. A paucity of reflection in the workplace isn't simply an introvert issue -- it's an ideas issue.

We're working with lots of clients who want special spaces where they can super-charge creative and innovative thinking to get new ideas to their markets. And that typically means they want to super-charge collaboration.

They're not off-base, of course, since it's well known that group interaction is an effective way to reach ideas nirvana. Steven Johnson describes the critical nature of collaboration well in his book "Where Good Ideas Come From:" "The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table." (Our brand studio team adds Smartfood and DC Brau, which I heartily support.)

It's our job to help our clients amplify the power of innovation spaces with the balance of rejuvenation. Without the license and space to step away and absorb what has been learned, synthesized, theorized and rejected/accepted/modified in a collaborative session, people's brains just run into a wall. We're like children over-programmed with music and sports and tutoring who lose the magical and powerful experience of letting their imaginations run wild without structured activity.

But this isn't just for introverts -- I know the feeling well, even as a strong-E-ESTJ. Ideas suffer in quality and quantity if all we do is huddle and brainstorm and sticky-note-plaster our walls. It's most often when I retreat to another corner of the office, take a run after a long day, or sing in the shower each morning that I put the 2s together to make 4 or 6 or 8. Re-gathering with my brilliant colleagues, we build further on our personal discoveries. Without these periods of reflection for introverts and extroverts, we'd be a dull knife indeed.

Penny also suggested that rejuvenation is a 5th work mode that we should add to the original four developed by Gensler through our workplace research: focus, collaboration, learning and socializing. Just as it's not the sole concern of introverts, I think rejuvenation is not entirely its own work mode but an essential component of all four. Focus and learning also benefit from breaks in intensity. Part of the value of social activity is its contribution to mental and emotional refreshment. What if it's the secret weapon for my favorite workplace topic: engagement?

I'm certainly not suggesting that addressing the needs of introverts and different personalities is not important: one of the largest trend waves in workplace design is tailoring work environments as much to individuals as the crowd. But we have to be sure to cook reflection and refreshment into our innovation processes and places. When it comes to recharging your mind and your state of mind around work, we need more of the same than different.

Kate Kirkpatrick is a writer who found a career in design based on her fascination with people and figuring out why they do the things they do. In 17 years at Gensler, she’s worked in brand design, practice management, marketing, executive communications as well as advising Gensler's D.C. office on beer and wine selection for social events. She’s a Washington Nationals season ticket holder and NASCAR aficionado working her way through a bucket list of big college football games. Contact her at kate_kirkpatrick@gensler.comor follow her on Twitter @LifeWithKK.

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