Pulp Innovation XXXI: The Creative Environment

Marlow describes the space they have created at the firm to take clients out of their sterile offices and into a room conducive to cross-fertilization, brainstorming and prototyping. Now if only Marlow could get the Accipiter team out on a field trip...

Matt and I walked back to the office from Darby’s.  The mid-day sun was hot but the awnings of the buildings cast a dark, cool shade, and a breeze was picking up from the water.  All in all, a day that even a hard-living, hard-working cynical guy like me could enjoy.

Matt and I had bought our small office building on the edge of a very sketchy neighborhood several years ago, betting on the come.  The neighborhood was a mash-up of funky bohemian, edgy marketing agencies types looking for the rough, exposed brick and wood buildings, a few used clothing stores, a boarded up grocer next to a thriving tienda.  The city and its high rise sprawl ended just a few blocks from our neighborhood, and already the developers had their eyes on the real estate just down the street – perfect for some new yuppie condominiums for highly paid investment bankers and fashion models.  The real people, firemen, teachers, police and innovation consultants, would continue to have to find shelter in the outer burbs.

Our building was perfect for us, because we took an entire floor, even though we didn’t need all the space, and rented out the ground floor to a tailor and a florist.  Our space was the entire second floor, a couple of offices and a reception room flanking an open space we could configure as a classroom, an ideation space or for other purposes.  Really, just a big, open space with lots of bare walls, wood floors and large windows for natural light, perfect for a lot of the group work we did on site.  I liked being a story above the street, so we could look down on all the goings-on without having to deal with the noise and distractions, while our tenants on the first floor relied on the walkup traffic.

Adding Meredith to the mix wasn’t going to be a problem from a space consideration.  Matt and I shared an office because we liked to toss ideas back and forth, and we’d probably just add more room and add another desk for Meredith.  Having her in the office would probably mean a little less Scotch and soda and sports motif, such as it existed.  The iconic dogs playing poker painting, hanging on the wall near my desk, or the faded brainstorming rules poster near Matt’s desk could probably stay, but the picture of the Thanone client manager, currently used as a dart board behind the office door, might not give the best first impression.

Additionally, Matt and I had learned to work together, so we didn’t disrupt each other.  I could be on a conference call with a client and Matt could tune it out.  As we grew, we’d probably need to create some separation and quiet space for each other, so we didn’t interrupt or disrupt each other’s work.  June’s reception space was probably OK.  Coming up the stairs and entering the Marlowe Innovation office doors and looking at the reception space with critical eyes didn’t produce any significant issues, but I made a note to ask Meredith to give us her thoughts – after all, she had fresh eyes and Matt and I were probably too close to the forest to see the trees.

Several things we’d done had made the open space a lot more viable for the work we did.  First, we left a lot of blank wall space, so that when we were generating ideas or capturing trends we could hang these ideas or trends on the copious wall space, and do a lot of our work in groups.  There was no crowding or difficulty organizing the ideas.  We’d purchased a couple of very heavy whiteboards on rollers, which we could use to spark conversation or to divide up the room into virtual classrooms.  We’d also collected over the years a veritable Sanford and Sons junkroom of cast off furniture and fixtures, giving the room an interesting dimension.  It was completely possible to sit in a chair that would remind you of your childhood with the sticky vinyl covering, or find a comfortable rocking chair rescued from a second hand shop.  The point was to get people out of their Herman Miller Aeron chairs and gray cubicles for just a few hours, and to have them think differently and act differently in a new environment.  That was our goal, plus most of the furnishings had come cheap, and gave us a somewhat urbane, funky appeal, not something you could say about Matt and me generally.  In honor of Edison, we had a collection of oddments from many different industries – tools, toys, electronics and a range of other materials to encourage cross-fertilization, brainstorming and prototyping.

Thinking about our space and the advantages it offered, I was struck by the fact that I should try to get Thompson, Briggs, Phillips and Johansen out of the Accipiter mahogany and glass birdcage and into a less formal environment for some radical thinking.  Perhaps if we could get them to visit, and to participate in a trend spotting session or an ideation they could see how the program would work, and the change in environment would weaken the corporate resistance to change.  I made a note to speak to Susan about bringing her team over to interact with us on our playing ground, thinking that might break the logjam in their minds.  Of course, with her skunkworks program proposal, she might be doing that herself already.

About the author:


Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project.

Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” a book that encompasses much of the OVO Innovation methodology, and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities. In 2010 he chaired the Innovate North Carolina conference and was a keynote speaker at Queen’s University, University of the Pacific, UNC and several other colleges and conferences. Jeffrey has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Virginia.

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