Magazine article Talent Development

The 24/7 Learning Environment: A Thoughtfully Designed Work Environment Can Foster Creativity and the Exchange of Ideas. (Innovation - Workspaces)

Magazine article Talent Development

The 24/7 Learning Environment: A Thoughtfully Designed Work Environment Can Foster Creativity and the Exchange of Ideas. (Innovation - Workspaces)

Article excerpt

Environmentalists use the term ecotone to describe the area where two adjacent ecosystems overlap. An ecotone has an ecology all its own and supports forms of life nor found in the adjacent systems. The U.S. cultural equivalent of an ecotone is between the old economy culture of industrial production and the new economy culture of information exchange. In that uncharted territory, the need for employee learning and development has never been greater. But people process information differently than they used to.

As the economy moves from creating things to creating knowledge, the ecosystem, an ever-changing organic network, serves as the model for a healthy organization filled with spontaneous growth and complex, dynamic human interaction.

The health of an organizational ecology is measured by more than its financial performance. The Balanced Scorecard developed by Robert S. Norton and David P. Kaplan suggests at least these key dimensions of business performance:

* customer positioning

* work-process effectiveness

* employee learning and growth

* financial strength.

With respect to employee learning and growth, idea\span, a design firm based in Atlanta

[_NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] points to these key success factors: ideas, people, and spirit. Ideas are the currency of the future. They break down barriers, create opportunities, and enrich lives. At idea\span, we believe that the workplace, the physical working environment, can be a powerful tool for employee development. A thoughtfully designed work environment touches employees and influences their behavior all day, every day. We also think a physical work environment fosters creative idea generation.

The ideas

There's no such thing as sustainable competitive advantage. "Everybody knows what everyone else is doing. If you've got a lead, the competition will be right there with you three months later," says Kevin Roberts, CEO of international advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. "Only those companies capable of creating industry revolutions will prosper in the new economy."

Creativity is a phenomenon that's poorly understood. Many people think it's a gift exclusive to geniuses and eccentrics. In fact, creativity rarely involves completely new or original ideas. Most creative work integrates existing information into unusual syntheses or juxtapositions, with only minimal novelty.

Another myth about creativity is that inspiration comes in a blinding flash after a long, solitary pursuit. In actuality, making associations across conceptual boundaries is more often the product of collaboration: several people looking at a problem from different perspectives. So, the work environment needs to foster interaction. A great way to get people interacting in a relaxed manner is around the rituals of refreshment. At the venture capital firm Armada Venture Group, that meant combining a think tank and a kitchen into a "think-kitchen" with wired lounge chairs for extended collaborative work as well as a counter for informal banter over morning coffee.

Coca-Cola, a 100-year-old institution, also gets the idea thing. "We're coming out of the dark ages at Coke," says Coca-Cola Americas president Jeff Dunn. "Innovation is what's going to help us turn around our business and our culture."

Coca-Cola Enterprises's executives remark that they often learn more about what each other is doing at work while sharing a snack at their assistants' desks than in structured meetings. Idea/span's response was to design an Executive Cookie Bar where Coca-Cola leaders could get together regularly without hovering over their assistants, who have work to do, after all.

Creativity also requires flexibility and openness to risk taking and a willingness to adopt unconventional points of view. An organization's work environment can send a powerful message about convention. …

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