The Right Kind of Creative Environment

There are two things critical for your creativity to flourish – your environment and the way you see the world (perception). This post will focus on the environmental aspect of creativity and I will tackle ‘perception’ in a subsequent post.

One of the criticisms levelled against schools is that they stifle students’ creativity. Kids go to school with lots of energy and imagination which gets suppressed by the educational system. The natural curiosity they take into schools is discouraged because teachers are under pressure to cover the syllabus. It is interesting that kids have flexible learning environments when they attend nurseries and kindergartens but rigid learning spaces in elementary schools, high schools and universities.

Most of the work environments in companies are not designed to stimulate creativity. This is the reason why certain technology and creative companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc designed their headquarters to be more like university campuses rather than traditional offices. They realised that environment is vital if creativity is to flourish. Such companies have open plan offices which encourage interaction and collaboration rather than traditional work cubicles which encourage isolation.

Steve Jobs played in a key role in the design of Pixar’s HQ building. Walter Isaacson in his biography of Steve Jobs provides insight into Jobs’ view on the importance of getting the work environment right for creative innovation to occur.

“Steve had this firm belief that the right kind of building can do great things for a culture,” said Pixar’s President Ed Catmull…. So he had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he (Steve Jobs) said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” (pg 430-31)

A lot of my good ideas at work are a direct result of brainstorming conversations with my colleagues in our shared office space at the University of Huddersfield. I would not have come up with as many ideas if I was isolated in my own office. Fishes do better in the wild (natural environment) than in an aquarium (artificial space). There is a lesson there.

Which environments help stimulate your creativity?

Check out some photos of the Pixar office spaces courtesy of Office Snaphots.

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