Idea Generation & Productivity
How does one best balance the benefits that teams provide for idea generation with the advantages that privacy and solitude afford for productivity?
The modern day coffeehouse can be found in the office buildings of the most innovative companies. At Pixar, for example, Steve Jobs insisted that the architect positioned the bathrooms at the center of the building so that the animator could easily strike up a conversation with the designer who could bounce ideas off of the COO. Likewise, as Steven Berlin Johnson explains, “[businesses] are giving up traditional conference rooms and replacing them with project based spaces…you walk into the room and on the white board is a drawing from six months ago…and there are prototypes they built a year and a half ago. Instead of going into… a conference room and erasing the white board at the end…[These spaces have] a history of the conversation that is triggered by the physical layout of the space.”
Johnson’s point is that brainstorming is horribly counterproductive. Research from the late 1940s and early 1950s clearly demonstrates this to be true. A recent New York Times article laments that, “people in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure.” The problem with brainstorming is its tendency to treat people and their ideas too kindly. Criticism and error are essential in the formation of good ideas after all; brainstorming simply doesn’t facilitate this.
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The important distinction to be made is that when it comes to generating good ideas, other people are key because they are needed for criticism, debate and exchange; this is the story of the English coffeehouse and the architecture of the Pixar building. When it comes to getting work done, well, Sartre nailed it on the head: hell is other people.