Nourishing Innovation (Part 2)

Over the past few years, companies have made great strides in innovating the physical workplace, thus creating a veritable garden of creativity:

  • The main entrance First impressions count
  • The main office Do cubicles promote a collaborative and innovative culture?
  • Meeting rooms How long do we have to stare at those Inspiration Posters?
  • Dedicated innovation spaces Populated with useful tools to facilitate creativity and innovation
  • Cafeterias and kitchens Places to meet informally and nourish the mind and body

Inspirational posters do not a good office make.

Observing these transformations is both energizing and inspirational to visitors and employees. Imagine coming to work to the same old tired offices you’ve had for well over two decades (and usually more). How does that inspire you? Do you feel more creative and innovative?

Compare that to a modern glass structure, with a bright and imaginative use of space and lighting. Think of a space that showcases your latest innovations, with plasma screens that highlight current or newsworthy items. It features things you can interact with, and a decent coffee machine to revitalize your weary visitors.

Think of making small changes that improve the environment over time. I remember an Innovation Director buying a super coffee machine for his department in one corner kitchen and adding a simple white board in there at the same time. Soon the brightest people were coming together from all 4 corners of the floor to get the best coffee and most importantly they started to communicate. Problems were then discussed, drawn out, explained and suddenly solutions were created in this brief moment as these creative people waited for their coffee.  Small change = big impact.

Now take some time and think about how people use the space to come together and collaborate where you are. So much is down to how you facilitate this exchange and raise the value in your innovation game.

Is this something that innovation leaders should be thinking about, championing or even caring about? Yes. When you ask employees how to improve their physical environment, you will find this is a topic that they really care about. When you think about it, it’s also a great opportunity to create something of value to any long-term innovation culture change initiative as well.

Going to the office cafe doesn't have to be so gruel-ing.

Now I’m not advocating a wholesale change overnight – but something progressive to address over time. You don’t have to start big.

Providing an in-house café bar can be a great place to begin. This can be achieved with very little investment if you want to bring one of the main chains in who will be more than likely looking to pay you to be inside your corporate walls with a captivated audience. But let’s look at this from the innovation angle. Why would an innovation leader want to do this?

Picture team meetings in the new coffee shop – where people are relaxing with a nice coffee and going through their agendas. As you provide the environment to nourish your innovation culture you can see it grow as they come together in places that inspire them to meet, eat, drink and exchange problems, ideas, opportunities and solutions. So much is down to how you facilitate this exchange and raise the value in your innovation game.

Imagine a cafeteria that you want to eat in, where you are happy to entertain visitors. (How many of us book somewhere off site as we’re embarrassed by how bad it is?). Now picture your employees actually coming together to take a well-earned break, discuss their day, chat about things that are going on in the business.

In my previous post I took a fairly humorous look at how bad some of our cafeterias have got – through years of neglect. I mean, would we take our friends and families there? No, so why should we eat there? I do hope not too many of you recognized yours in there somewhere. You’ll be glad to know some amazing ones do really exist!

Recently I enjoyed a three-course meal starting with the most spectacular non-alcoholic aperitifs in a staff restaurant that would have amazed the denizens of the Groundhog Day Diner. As I looked around I could see business leaders sitting down outside of the management meetings discussing their progress, highlighting the help they needed and coming up with solutions together away from the confines of the office. Think about the savings in time alone by not taking visitors to the local restaurant and being able to showcase the role your environment plays in innovation.

Think of the happy accidents and knowledge sharing that’s happening in this informal environment. Can you hear the flow of communication, innovation and collaboration in your company? Or are you one of those companies where people constantly eat their sandwiches over their keyboards? Maybe you should tip the crumbs out of yours, advocate for a change and “Nourish your Innovation Culture!”

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