Andrea Meyer

Encouraging Unplanned Collaborations for Innovation

Drew Marshall’s post, Collaborative Places – Making Space to Innovate, sparked my thinking about the design of physical spaces to encourage collaboration.

Background: Stanford’s d.School
One place to look for advice on designing for creativity and collaboration is Stanford’s design school, the birthplace of design thinking as we know it today. (The term dates back to Herbert Simon’s 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial and was further explained by Robert McKim’s book, Experiences in Visual Thinking, but it was Stanford’s Rolf Faste and David Kelley who popularized the term and applied it to business.) Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, co-directors of the Environments Collaborative at the d.school, have just written a book, Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration that’s full of advice and case studies of these creative spaces.

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and of the d.school, writes in the book’s forward: “Regardless of whether it’s a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as an instrument for innovation and collaboration. Space is a valuable tool that can help you create deep and meaningful collaborations in your work and life.”

Example: Pixar
A real-life example of a physical space that encourages creative collaboration is the building that houses Pixar, the computer animation studio that created innovative, Academy-award-winning blockbuster films like Toy Story, Monsters and Finding Nemo.

As Walter Isaacson writes in his biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs designed the Pixar building to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” 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.”  The front doors and main stairs and corridors all lead to a central atrium, where a cafe and employee mailboxes are located as well. John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, confirmed the success of the building’s layout: “Steve’s theory worked from day one. I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”

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10 thoughts on “Encouraging Unplanned Collaborations for Innovation


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    DrewCM says:

    Glad to spark your interest in spaces and the way they influence collaborative innovation. I love the design of the d:school at Stanford. I especially love the way they have created spaces in which you cannot get comfortable – the idea being that you are going to be more generative if you are off-balance and out-of-sorts. Reminds me also of why I also hold standing meetings (literally everyone on their feet) with clients, it prevents people from putting their brains in “Park.”


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    dankeldsen says:

    Collaborative Innovation spaces – great conversation to have… and it is so refreshing to see more and more attention paid to physical space, given the rush to virtual collaboration. We need both, more of both, and done far better than most do it now.

    Another book added to the Kindle Queue! (Should I praise you or curse you on that one Andrea? :)


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    Andrea Meyer Andrea Meyer says:

    It’s true, @dankeldsen - the danger of finding all these good ideas and more books to read!


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    Andrea Meyer Andrea Meyer says:

    Speaking of places where you can’t get comfortable (complacent), @DrewCM , I noticed the same thing at ad agency Chiat/Day’s offices in Venice, CA.  One funny thing they had as a huge metal horse in a hallway, placed so that you’d bump into it if you had your head down while walking!

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