Last fall I perused the book, “I Wish I Worked There!: A look inside the most creative spaces in Business” By Kursty Groves, Will Knight, and Edward Denison (photographer). The book goes inside many of the world leading design spaces, including Google, Dyson, Lego, Pixar, and others. The authors conclude that any truly creative space must have four key elements:

  1. Play
  2. Focus
  3. Work
  4. Collaborate

Sounds pretty good right?

It should be obvious that explicitly labeling something as a “creative space” entirely misses the point, and is the crux of the joke in the above image. It’s the intersection and overlapping of the four areas, and the absence of fear and stress that creates the emergent environment through which “creative” springs. After thinking about this for nearly a year, it’s easy to see that traditional companies and universities have substantial room to improve fostering of creativity.

Why these four elements? Raising a toddler, research lab, and debating the levels of human existence with Dr. Chuck have provided some data. Over the last several years, Chuck and I have come up with the following list of system-level awareness traits:

  1. Spatial (space)
  2. Temporal (time)
  3. Energetic (resources)
  4. Information (knowledge networks)

Comparing the two lists, it’s easy to see the overlap. As my son is growing up, he definitely had the spatial figured out first, he’s working on understanding the timer in quiet time, and it’s going to be awhile before he realizes how much work it is to carry that rock up a hill, let alone a car, or the values of having friends with very different knowledge/skill sets.

Part of the reason we’re unbalanced culturally is the rewards/metrics system is primarily geared at work/resources. No coincidence that these are the values of authoritarian/legalistic/performance leadership, and hence we’re all overworked, under-networked, and tend to escape from, rather than play with, our work.

So let’s make a change.

Let’s start generating ideas of how we can play as individuals and a lab community. How can we use our space to value, promote, and respect focus. How do we help each other play in the lab? There is a very good reason that Google allocates company-wide days for pursuing personal interests on company time — and that some of their most brilliant products (gmail and others) have come from this time.

In the spirit of Kaizen, and recognizing that we all have a long way to go to fully realize our creative potential, we must continuously improve in each of these areas. Following the 5S system — Sort, Sweep, Systemize, Standardize, Sustain — post your ideas to the #kaizen channel and sort them by play, focus, work, and collaboration. We come through and sweep up our spaces and ideas when we start systemizing the process.