Have you ever noticed that artists’ studios and a typical office look very different? The former is filled with tools, reference materials, things to inspire and stimulate the imagination and a modicum of happy chaos. The latter is anonymous, regimented, unremarkable, muted, easy to clean, devoid of personality, lacking in fripperies. When there are concessions to having splashes of colour, the brand identity subsumes the character of individual choices and preferences. The message is clear. Your individual brilliance not only doesn’t matter, but it’s to be actively suppressed and brought into line with somebody else’s personality. Heaven forbid that it should stimulate and encourage independent, creative thought. You are replaceable.
Even a writer’s desk differs markedly to an office desk. A writer typically has their books to hand, mementos, trinkets, cups of tea made in distinctive cups, inspiration, calm and a nod toward hygge. The desk and chair are carefully chosen and an individual choice. Writers arrange their writing spaces in this way because they intuitively or explicitly know that to do so makes their creative work flow better. They’re more productive and create better works, when their workspace is not an identikit cubicle, in a featureless office, located in a generic, out of town, bland industrial estate. If your business, as a writer, is creating credible characters, then the character of your surroundings matters.
One of the great ironies of our age is that management theorists and strategy specialists have discovered that hierarchies destroy value. The imposition of rigid structures and strictures positively reduces a company’s capacity to come up with creative responses to their contextual situation. Innovation is stifled. Innovation, it turns out, is not only necessary, but vital for a firm to survive and flourish. Continuous innovation, while even harder to establish and foster, is the crucial culture to keep a company relevant.
Telling the story of a company, its people and its products has never been more important. Those within the company tasked with this, however, have to create vivid depictions of the special and compelling nature of the company while staring at a beige divider, sitting under relentless fluorescent lighting, with their feet on unyielding, nasty, wiry carpet tiles. The chair is cheap and uncomfortable and the desk covered in some non-descript, faux wood-grained, wipe-clean, plastic coating. It’s not the most propitious starting point, is it?
Why, then, are so many offices designed in such a way that they are the exact opposite of what would be beneficial to the company’s own bottom line? Do all the chairs have to match because of somebody’s will and ego, or because it’s so much cheaper than letting everybody choose their own chairs? If the argument is cost, what damage does that saving do, in terms of lost innovation? The open plan may encourage collaboration, or it may kill any tendency to do important work, outside of what people have been directed to do. How do you dissent, or nurture a radical new idea, if everybody is watching, all the time? Is there anywhere you can think out loud? Where is the environment in which you can be wrong?
Offices are designed and constructed to be the silent killers of the companies that operate within them. They are arid, barren environments, that desiccate and shrivel every nascent innovation. They smother creative urges and discourage flights of the imagination. In essence, they are an intellectual cage, where creativity flows are dammed (and damned) at source. Inspiration has been designed out of the environment. They ensure that every departure from the norm is met with instant censure. Judgementalism, the idea that we don’t think things like that here, is baked into the very decor and furnishings.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could express the uniqueness and peculiarities, the interests, curiosities and fascinations that describe you, as a person, wherever you worked? You’d do your best work, in that environment, wouldn’t you? The most profitable thing any company could do is to give you the space and environment to consistently produce your most creative, singular and innovative work. I suppose that’s why so many artists work on their own. They can’t do it any other way. Working from home is also frequently more productive and effective, but companies fear the loss of visibility and control.
In truth, managers are more concerned with maintaining their privileged position, within the power structure, than with the sponsoring and encouragement of continuous innovation. That’s the way they act. It’s an indulgence that costs the company its very future and its viability. Creativity is positively sacrificed, on a daily basis, just to stay in charge.
When will barren workspaces disappear?