If you wanted a really great idea for improving something, who would you ask? If you had to think of a really great idea, where would you go? If only there was a foolproof answer...
Together with some of my colleagues in the creativity business, we have researched the question, “Where are you when you have your best ideas?”
And guess what, having asked the question of thousands of people on workshops and ideation sessions around the world, nobody has ever said they get their best ideas at work – it’s never happened!
Maybe one of the reasons is that very few organisations have creative workspaces. If you spend your work-life in a tiny grey cubicle it’s not exactly going to inspire great insight.
Okay, so you might not have a big grey office workspace on the corner of the building, but from our research people still don’t mention ‘work’ as the place for great ideas.
Instead, here are the top five places where people have their best ideas...
1. 57% : Shower, bath, bathroom
2. 51% : Bed
3. 42% : Driving (or passenger)
4. 28% : Walking
5. 25% : Exercise, running, swimming
Does this mean we need to have showers fitted in all the grey cubicles? Or should we simply look at what these five places have in common and how they differ from typical workplaces?
For a start they are all places where people are doing ‘something else’ rather than just thinking about the problem. The primary activity is not thinking, but that activity, and the mood it encourages, creates the opportunity for those surprising connections which are the backbone of creative ideas.
All these places also offer the opportunity for relaxation, not necessarily in the sense of resting, but certainly as a way of ‘getting away’ from the pressure to find the great idea. Mostly people report that the ideas ‘came to them in a flash’ whilst they were busy walking, running or taking a shower.
The business environment in many ways follows on from many school environmentsin that it doesn’t offer the opportunity to ‘get away’ from the pressure, but rather insists on immersing everyone ‘in’ the pressure cooker!
For example you might have 30 minutes in a meeting to decide how we can improve the sales of product X! Or 30 minutes in this classroom to finish the exercise on page 47...
Unfortunately, brilliant ideas and time constraints don’t live together very well.
Whilst creativity and productive thinking can certainly be taught, the breakthrough idea often just appears out of the blue. So to make this happen more often we need to create the ‘blue’. And creating this in the workplace is often ridiculed by those that "know best".
But the work environments that have creative spaces seem to be paying off for their owners and investors. Unfortunately they are very few and far between.
Like the company that has pinball machines, easy chairs and table football, free fruit and snacks in various places around the office, and has no problem with people bringing their pets to work and listening to their iPods on teh job.
How irresponsible! But this company seems to be doing pretty well. In fact you have probably used their web search product today.
But what about the people – who has the best ideas? The very short answer is that it’s generally the person who knows most about the issue. And very rarely is that person one of the managers, even though that’s where answers are most frequently sought.
If you want to know how the product should be improved, don’t ask the design team, ask the user. If you want to know why it takes so long to fix air-conditioning on a train, don’t ask the schedulers, ask the guy who fixes the aircon.
Want to know if deliveries are up or down this month? Don’t wait for the financials, ask the guy who drives the forklift.
And where should they be when you ask them? Well, the obvious answer is to put the place for good ideas and the people who might best find them all together.
Create the creative space and bring in the easy chairs. Go for a walking meeting. Take a packed lunch and head to a park. Go to a museum or take a tour of a shopping centre. Take everyone to the beach. Go to the zoo.
But above all, get away from the grey cubicles, inspiration just doesn’t live there.