Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Where do you have your best ideas?

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 15, 2008

Sheba, a member of the Mindworks team, helping me work from home

Sheba, a member of the Mindworks team, helping me work from home

When I run workshops on structured thinking and innovation, I often ask the participants where they have their best ideas and then get them to stand in different parts of the room according to their answers.

Usually the answers include gardening, in the bath, in bed, travelling and so on.  Invariably, no one says ‘in the office’.  I then gleefully point out that their employers are shelling out vast sums of money for the expensive-to- build-and-maintain offices in which they spend most of their working lives. and none of them has their best ideas there. What the heck, I ask them, is going on?

Offices, to my mind, are virtually purpose-built to prevent people having ideas.  They are – arguably – a good place to turn ideas into useful changes in the world (aka innovation).  But if you thought of all the things you’d do to a workplace to stop people having ideas, you’d end up describing the typical office.  You might like to try that ‘reversal’ for yourself.  And that’s before you even start to think about all the ways that organisations are run and structured which also prevent people having ideas.

Wealthy organisations like Google, Microsoft and some of the large consultancy firms, have special areas which are purpose built to stimulate creativity.  There’s a video here from BBC News, for example, which shows an engineer from Google giving a guided tour of their offices in Zurich and if you read the first few pages of this book you’ll find out how Microsoft encourage their people to develop the products we all know and love.

But if your budget doesn’t run to pool tables, a library with a simulated fire, beds, and slides instead of stairs there are some simple and less costly things you can do.  A walk around the park, a coffee in your favourite overpriced coffee chain, or simply working at home for the day are amongst them.  You probably do some of these already.  One of my favourite methods is to go on a pointless train journey with my laptop or a note book and a pen.  It has to be pointless – to a place you don’t need to go to, preferably an interesting place like Paris or somewhere nice in the West Country, for example – because otherwise when the train breaks down or is late you’ll get stressed and it’ll feel just like being in the office.  Another plus of pointless journeys is that if the train breaks down or is late, that’s a good thing.  You can sit and look out of the window at the superb countryside (or the Paris suburbs) and think even more creative thoughts.

I love working from home and have done so for many years.  There are numerous benefits, but the main one is that I can get up very early and go straight to work.  It’s now 5.55am, and admittedly I’ve spent the last hour writing this and the last post, and changing some earlier ones, but I’m going to do some actual (ie paid) work in a moment.

More on the joys and practicalities of working from home later.  I’ve been wondering recently whether, when oil breaks through $250 a barrel, more people are going to discover that working from home is a really good idea. After all, we have the technology to link our minds together without having to be in the same place at the same time, don’t we?

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One Response to “Where do you have your best ideas?”

  1. […] She comes with me wherever I go and later today I’m going to screw her … sorry, Sheba interrupted me just then …. screw her onto a tripod and spend half an hour videoing something […]

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