“Ideas are the currency of the new economy,” said Richard Florida, an economist and social scientist, who authored The Rise of the Creative Class in 2002. He argued that creative work is not exclusively about artistic pursuits but rather a focus on generating new ideas and solving complex problems. He said that creativity was a critical skill for people to develop and for cities and businesses to foster to be able to thrive in the coming century. It was an idea that took time to build momentum.
Design thinking — the notion of using the same creative strategies designers employ to solve problems — was gaining traction around the same time. Ideas about creative work generated plenty of conversation, and Florida’s work spawned its share of debate. Business leaders weren’t losing a lot of sleep over the creative output of their organisation. They were far more focused on efficiency, getting lean and going global.
Fast forward to today: Creativity is an idea whose time has come on multiple fronts. Cities around the world that fostered great environments for creative work have thrived, as Florida suggested. People who lived through the cost squeeze of multiple recessions are looking for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose from their work, and stretching their creative muscles helps scratch that itch. Meanwhile, recent college graduates aren’t content to sit in a beige cubicle and do routine work just for a paycheck, causing employers to rethink their strategies for attracting new talent.
In many organisations, creativity isn’t bubbling up spontaneously. According to Adobe’s State of Create 2016 study, most employers feel their organisations aren’t creative enough and most employees say that they’re not living up to their creative potential on the job. Contrary to popular myth, creativity isn’t about a ‘Eureka!’ moment that happens among truly brilliant people. It is a process in which everyone can engage, if the conditions are right. Steelcase and Microsoft recently joined forces to begin thinking about the challenges organisations and people face as they try to engage in more innovative work. Understanding that both space and technology have a role to play in supporting this work, it was critical to begin with insights on how creativity happens. “It isn’t a linear process. It’s not even a predictable process,” says James Ludwig, head of global design and product engineering at Steelcase. “It has a rhythm of different activities and requires both convergent and divergent thinking, with people coming together in small or large groups, and moving apart to work alone.”
“Creativity is an inclusive process in which something new emerges,” says Ralf Groene, general manager of Microsoft Devices. “As the concept becomes central to our work, the importance of where we work is being reaffirmed. Cloud and mobile technologies may be untethering us from the office but our need and desire to do creative work is luring us back in.”
Yet, Despite the desire to be more creative at work, the majority of people don’t believe they’re living up to their potential. The solution is finding the right balance between convergent and divergent thinking, and having the right range of spaces and technology to support all the diverse stages of creative work. In a recent study by Microsoft and Steelcase, people reported what would help them be more creative is to have more time to think and time to be alone without disruptions. “The way to support people is to provide the ability to move between individual time and collaborative time, having that rhythm between coming together to think about a problem and then going away to let those ideas gestate,” says Donna Flynn, vice-president of WorkSpace Futures at Steelcase.
The collaborative side of creative work is not without its challenges either, despite the investments that organisations are making in group workspaces. The vast majority of leaders feel that they’re providing the right kinds of spaces for group collaboration but only 25% of respondents in the Steelcase/Microsoft study said that their spaces for groups and teams are conducive for creative work.
“We’ve come to realise there’s so much value in people coming together,” adds Groene, “We’re no longer coming to work because that’s where your files and phone and computer are or because it’s the only place where your laptop connects to the corporate network. Now we’re coming to work because it’s where we share, collaborate and build on each other’s ideas. That makes supporting the modes of thinking, communicating and creating a super relevant task.”
Creating the conditions for creativity at work
While exploring how workplaces can successfully drive creative performance, Microsoft and Steelcase found that the process starts with understanding behaviours and modes of work, and then envisioning how place and technology can help. “It’s really all about the intersection of the digital and the physical — having the right place and the right technology at the right time,” says Ludwig. “That’s why we’re starting to see movement away from the traditional corporate office toward workplaces that are more like creative studios — a plurality of spaces, each designed to support people and the technologies that can make their work easier.”
The Creative Spaces ecosystem
To help organisations accelerate the shift toward more creative work, Steelcase and Microsoft co-developed Creative Spaces, an interdependent ecosystem of spaces and technologies designed for diverse modes of creative work. These spaces deliver key spatial attributes such as…
Privacy: acoustic, visual, territorial and psychological
Posture: seated, standing, lounging and perching
Proximity: people-to-people, people-to-tools + technology
Maker Commons: designed to encourage quick switching between conversation, experimentation and concentration
Focus Studio: is a place that allows you to be alone to focus on ideas and let them incubate before sharing them with the group
Ideation Hub: a high-tech destination that encourages active participation and equal opportunity to contribute as people co-create, refine and share ideas with co-located or distributed teammates
Duo Studio: supports a trust relationship in which two people can co-create shoulder-to-shoulder, while also supporting individual work; includes a lounge area to invite others in for a quick creative review or to put your feet up and get away without going away
Respite Room: allows employees to balance active group work with solitude and individual think time