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Headspace: Where Do You Find Yours?

Microsoft London, Image © Hufton and Crow

Of the more popular words that characterise growth in the nine years since the 2008 recession is innovation! The word is all around us. It is used in every industry from automotive, technology and media, to consumer goods, healthcare, government and non-profit. It’s not just an ordinary word, but a value that we identify as cutting edge, disruptive or rebellious, and it’s often demonstrated through a positive benefit, product, service or experience.

A typical Google search on ‘what is innovation’ will give you about 92,000,000 results. According to the Harvard Business Review, establishing a sharp, shared definition of innovation with comprehensive innovation metrics can take months for any company.

What enables innovation?

People, creativity and a plethora of other factors play into innovation. As curious designers, we are interested in what makes people and organisations tick and take-off, and the space where it happens.

Enter the World Economic Forum’s forecast of the 10 skills required for 2020. While we can debate which of the lot are best attributed towards innovation, what sticks out to us is creativity. Especially when comparing with the top ten skillsets for 2015, creativity jumped from number 10 to number 3, a bronze medal nonetheless! While listed as a ‘skill’ the WEF classifies it as an ‘ability.'

Creativity is a process that inspires and nurtures exploration, dreaming, trying and failing. Creativity does not just happen on its own, but requires strong organisational commitment with everyone on-board. Convincing everyone is often the hardest part.

Enabling Creativity in Your Organization

In his book, "Too Fast to Think," Chris Lewis sets out a creative cycle with the four I’s of ‘Induction, Incubation, Inspiration and Ignition in the ratios of 40/30/20/10, with 70 percent of creative thinking occurring before you realize you have an idea.’ In reality we need time and quiet ‘headspace’ between each of these phases for ideas to mature before they take off.

Lewis further highlights the "Eight Creative Traits of Quiet, Engage, Dream, Relax, Release, Repeat, Play and Teach." An organization needs any to all combination of these traits to enable a successful creative process. Of the traits, depending on the organization, they could be divided 50/50 between individual-based activities or traits associated with a group or team. The time required and the space where sparks fly matter. Most offices tend to lack a proper amount of quiet space to focus and clear your head, as well as shared social spaces to release, play and teach.

In the Gensler 2016 UK Workplace Survey we found that while most of the UK workforce operate in an open-plan environment, most of the ‘have-nots’ (non-senior staff) in the workforce do not have a choice in their work settings. Most do not have access to a quiet space or alternative work setting. This means 89 percent of those in senior leadership positions have access to a shared private office or space, whereas only 23 percent at lower levels of the organisation had the same access. Could lack of choice and access to quiet, focus-oriented space stifle career trajectory, especially those in a creative industry or role?

Aon, Image © Tim Soar

Creativity Beyond the Office

Some of the more individual-based activities like dreaming, relaxing, inspiration and engaging ideas don’t always happen in the office, nor should they! They can happen at the kitchen table, when you first wake up, on the airplane, in the park, in the shower, walking through the city, the pub, on the tube, the bus, cycling, after you read a story to your child…you get the point. Wherever you have your ‘aha moment’ or napkin sketch, it always comes back to the office for ignition, and to play it out with others.

While the boundary of the office is becoming blurred even further, the office cannot enable creativity on its own without an organisational process to support it. But what the office could do is support the process through choice in work environments that create a physiological extension to location and destination-making within ‘the office.’ This can be done by creating unique atmospheres both inside and outside the traditional boundary of the office, even extending to ‘satellite’ spaces.

In the past 10 years, we have seen the resurgence of ‘garage spaces’ in corporate campuses to urban office spaces, co-working hubs and co-share maker spaces, in nearly all industries, from financial services to consumer goods. These uninhibited spaces with little digital noise or expensive finishes are often just raw space. While there is nostalgia of this space type reflecting early pioneer start-ups, the visual and physiological experience of a raw, imperfect and messy space often reflects, and is conducive to the individual and collaborative process (and bumps) in the creative journey.

In a world where the fourth industrial revolution threatens to remove 40 percent of task-driven jobs through the proliferation of automation (for example, 38 percent of U.S. jobs could be wiped out by 2030) as previously monotonous task work will be done by computers and robotics, human ingenuity through creativity will continue to discover and create whole new industries, products and services in the decades to come. Fear not!

"Creativity is contagious," said Albert Einstein, which is why we are addicted to the creative journey and the unexpected twists, turns and discoveries we make along the way with each space we create. We believe the future is much brighter than we would like to admit. Certainly, with a little oomph of creativity and changes to the space we live and work in, we can design our way out of the uncertainty of now.

Adam Phillips is a senior designer in Gensler’s London office. Broad experience and design thinking enable him to bring a fresh approach to each project, from visioning and concept to construction detailing, producing design solutions which exceed client expectations. His current speculative research extends to changes in technology and the effect on work, the city and the way we live. Contact him at adam_phillips@gensler.com.