In today’s Wall Street Journal, I was struck that there were two stories in separate sections that focused on how large firms had re-vamped their physical space to foster creativity – Sony and Humana. This space allocation and willingness to expend funds to create this space is an indication that for-profit organizations in competitive industries understand the importance of nurturing creativity.
It’s a great start. Davide Sher reports “the Sony Creative Lounge has been conceived to stimulate lateral thinking, find alternative solutions to problems and even envision new possible businesses.” At Humana’s Digital Experience Center, employees work in teams and rotate in from headquarters in an effort to spread its culture throughout the company, according to the story by Tom Loftus.
Although I don’t know the details of Humana or Sony’s practices for fostering creativity, clearly the attention to their “creative spaces” in the media indicates our desire for symbolic representations of that nebulous organizational characteristic. However, large organizations like Sony and Humana, and even small organizations that desire to foster creativity, know that setting a culture for organizational creativity is complicated.
In the article, Organizational Creativity: Breaking Equilibrium and Order to Innovate, Stefania Borghini concedes that individuals are influenced by their physical work environments and the tools they use to accomplish their work - what Borghini calls, “mediating artifacts and other symbolic mediating tools.” According to Borghini, “They are part of people’s cognition in the sense that they condition the way they reason, touch physical objects and feel.”
However, studies of organizational creativity confirm that it is more complicated to instill than building hipster-friendly facilities with concrete floors and exposed duct work. Borghini’s article makes the case that to understand the creative process of the entire organization, it’s necessary to consider: the cognition of individuals or groups; the systems of people involved in the process; the role of the community and of the internal division of labor; and the abstract and physical tools. “Organizational creativity stems from the development of the entire system,” Borghini wrote.
When encouraging your organization to adopt creative spaces, make sure that “spaces” are broadly defined. Start first with considering how people think and process ideas (cognition), communicate, share, work, and then consider the physical spaces needed to nurture those activities.
As Sony and Humana have likely come to recognize, those designated creative spaces are just the symbolic start to a long journey of instilling a culture of creativity.