Wonder where companies like Apple get their ideas from? I read about a teen who sold his app to Yahoo for millions of dollars – a teen! 2 things come to mind, one: that I am starting to feel old and two: why didn't I think of that idea. Innovative ideas require a lot of creative thinking, strategy and research. Easier said than done, but we think of ideas everyday and hope to generate profit and change the world. Part of that changing world are groups like Steelcase WorkSpace Futures who invest their time in research and strategy to name a few. To that, I bring in Andrew Kim, a senior design researcher for Steelcase WorkSpace Futures to share with us his insights on innovation and the process involved in making ideas happen.

Where does the idea start?

It seems that the innovative idea that has the most impact to me revolve around how to enhance human activities or how we make our lives easier, better and more productive.

• At Steelcase WorkSpace Futures, understanding human behavior is fundamental in their research and strategy. Andrew says "that internal research and collaboration with academic groups like MIT, Media Lab and Georgia Tech and corporate groups like IBM and Intel. Depending on the nature of the project, their research can include customer participation and feedback. We employ both qualitative and quantitative methods. Our ethnographic methods include such methods as workplace observations, contextual interviews, photographic studies, video recording, diary studies, and participatory design workshops. "

• In a design studio, a design charrette is a brainstorming session where designers learn about the client and project and sketch ideas within an hour. Everyone has to pitch their ideas to the lead designer and decide their direction from there.

• Casual conversations with peers from diverse backgrounds. Pixar saw the value in unplanned collaboration and so their workplace was designed to aid casual interactions.

Ideas are just ideas, unless you build a way to make it happen. So, how do you keep it going?

Bounce ideas off peers and organizations you feel will solidify your ideas. Nowadays, there are so many incubators that help start up companies.

In the workplace, Andrew shares that "work process, culture, and the environment are all levers that need to be considered when cultivating innovation. In terms of work process, applying design thinking, which is a systematic approach to innovation, can help a great deal. You want to create a culture that is receptive to taking risks and making mistakes." Work space can support collaborative activities and steer the team into a more harmonious practice. He also adds that by providing dedicated project spaces that encourage collaborative activities and visual thinking makes a big difference.

So, what are things you can do to cultivate an innovating culture in the workplace?

• Your workplace also has an impact on cultivating an innovating culture. Andrew says that face to face interactions with colleagues are still a vital part of cultivating innovative ideas. Furthermore, space has an impact to your teams attitude and behavior. Workplaces can set the tone for more collaborative culture and informal interactions like cubicles with lower height panels, more meeting space and less hierarchical like large corner offices. Provide social spaces that promote unplanned collaboration and increase the level of transparency. Not all meeting rooms are appropriate for collaborative activities, some are designed for presentation not for brainstorming. Andrew suggests that "to encourage the creation of ideas, things to consider include the formality of the room, mobility of the furniture, openness of the space, the amount of vertical real estate in the room to display thinking, and balancing low and high tech tools in the room."

• Let us not forget the power of working in solace. Provide a good balance of "I" and "we" spaces to encourage group activities and individual critical thinking.

• Make collaboration accessible and easy. Install writable wall covering surface on walls and tables at project areas and tackable vertical surfaces like linoleum surfaces. While you are at it, make it interactive, use movable informal furniture to bring comfort and support different sitting and standing postures. As an example, Mututally Human installed plexi glass on walls of their meeting rooms so they can write and illustrate their ideas quickly.

There is no doubt that innovation comes from human creativity, but having the right space can channel a collaborative and innovative culture.


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