Jul 2017 // Matt Walsh
Published on HOW Design

Reconnecting with Creativity

What Does Creativity Look Like?

For generations, the answer to that question has typically included a semi-circle of stylish people standing around a whiteboard in a smartly designed office.  A smattering of oversized post-it notes with multi colored Sharpie scribblings (often supported by tree-branch incinerating printouts of mood board imagery) line the surrounding walls as 20- and 30-year old trendy urbanites search for meaning after shaking off the cobwebs of yet another 16-hour work day.

Look at almost any design firm’s website, recruiting materials or company blog, and you’ll find some variant of that exact image. That firm may have a dozen offices across time zones and continents. They may be product designers, marketers, digital craftsmen and beyond. But the vision remains the same:

Cool office.
Post-it notes.

It is so ingrained in our industry’s collective consciousness that many never even think to question if it is still the best path to inspired creative with meaningful value.

But, what if it isn't?

What if those same offices that we spend years of our lives in, and money on, are actually limiting our creativity?
What if the long days that often serve as a dedication index are making us professionally obsolete faster?
What if those endless semi-circles are actually hindering our depth of perspective? What if the strain of creative process we’ve all been subscribing to was designed decades ago for a different world and a different time?

What if the dynamics of our world need, moreover demand, a vision for creativity and creative process that is more nimble, scalable, sustainable and appropriate for our hyper-fast-moving, connected, modern playground?

What If We Retired The Office?

The entire point of an office is to insulate a company from the outside world.  Whether they be concrete, wood or glass, walls exist to shelter the team from the chaos and noise outside in order to enhance efficiency and galvanize company culture.

And what’s the cost?  Disconnection.  

Disconnection from a world that’s moving faster than those “morning-read” industry publications could ever keep up with.

From a new generation of entrepreneurs ushering in an era of rapid invention that’s changing the face and soul of the business world -- and the finances that fund it.

From opportunities to actively use, understand and form points-of-view on the experiences shaping the future rather than just passively watching videos about them.

From almost the entirety of the world’s workforce that could help achieve goals through best-in-class contributions and perspectives, but just don't live within commuting distance of your office.

The cost of the traditional office model is a disconnection from the energy, ideas, perspective, inspiration, experiences, talent and opportunities that lead to great creative work.

In today’s world, creative individuals and institutions can’t disconnect if they plan on staying relevant.    

A new approach is needed:  Make The World Your Office.

Don’t sit next to fifty coworkers working on the same products in an office space.
Sit next to fifty companies working on completely different products in a co-working space.

Don’t stay at the office until 10pm because you think it shows commitment.
Spend every single minute of your eight hours going full throttle, and then commit to spending those "extra" hours exposing yourself to a far more valuable network of experiences, ideas and thought-leaders from realms far beyond your immediate vertical.

Other industries have shown that this is possible, from coding firms to business consultancies. Why can't we?

Because antiquated notions about what it takes to make great work handcuff open-mindedness about a better way.

"Everyone needs to be in the office or it's not going to be good."

The misconception on the efficacy of hallway conversations is staggering. More often than not, the nature of those dialogues is political, non-HR compliant or making someone who sees it feel left out, exacerbating the politics.

"If I can't see you, how do I know what you're doing?"

The meter maid mentality need not apply. All that matters is the potency of the output and the timeliness of its delivery. But if it's just too much, we’re only a Skype, FaceTime, Hangout or join.me away. Just don’t expect to see drywall in the background.

"Freelancers are a ragtag bunch of heathens who couldn't hack it in the agency world."

To follow up on the previous point; if doing world-class in your underpants, with toes in the sand or head in the clouds, it really only matters if your eyes remain on the prize. Undeniably brilliant work that delivers on strategy is all that counts. And if you're good and experienced enough to have earned trust and to work on your own terms, doesn't that make you a shepard? As opposed to doing bad work in a cubicle?

Or maybe the naysaying is Johnny Madman's way of self-justifying the five more years of rent he's got on the open-plan pseudo-industrial TriBeCa loft that smells like Intelligentsia from 9-12, takeaway Pad Thai from 12-3, and disgruntled thereafter every day?

Whatever the intention, chiseling away at the notion that the semicircle is the best/only way to summon good creativity and that a workforce has to be in the same physical location to be energetically connected is the new resistance.

There is a better way floating out there.

And like the awards shelved in waiting areas and the trust accrued by those who thrive in this new economy, the new business that goes up for grabs each quarter will be earned.

Earned on the merit, soul, flavor, relevance and authenticity of the work.

Not the location in which it was created.

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