Google’s Amsterdam offices

Preparing for innovation: Environment

We live in times of almost extreme organisational disruption, in order to survive, organisations (and individuals) must develop the ability to innovate.

When reflecting on how to best facilitate organisational and personal creativity, one of the most critical points of leverage is what is often referred to as the organisational climate. Or in other words, a more (work) focussed version of the organisational culture — these are the recurring patterns of behaviour, attitudes, and feelings that characterise life in the organisation.

The work environment can either spur us on or majorly detract from our ability to be creative, maximise productivity and ultimately innovate.

Interestingly when we talk about the critical dimensions that make up the creative work environment, we are not necessarily referencing physical attributes — no table tennis tables needed.

Idea exploration: You can’t think about innovation without employees being given space to explore, generate and develop ideas. This requires time to spend on creative, ambiguous endeavours.

Encourage failure: In environments where employees are expected to have clear answers and decisions for everything, creativity will not thrive. Employees must feel comfortable saying “I don’t know” or “that didn’t work”. Similarly innovation does not happen instantaneously, Thierry Henry — a famous Soccer player — once stated that “Amateurs call it genius. Masters call it practice”.

Employee freedom: Employees must be given freedom to approach tasks and problem solve in a manner that suits their individuality. Organisations with constrictive ways of operating do not exhibit high levels of creative performance.

‘Flat-structures’: in the most innovative companies, colleagues in management positions demonstrate support for and encourage new and potentially useful ideas. Co-workers in creative work environments also treat their peers’ ideas with excitement and the desire to help build upon them through collaboration. By creating the illusion of a flat structure we foster the climate that the best idea wins and we must all work hard together to incubate that idea.