Coaxing genius through your office design


Attracting and keeping talent is one of the most pressing issues for businesses today – and something in which workplace design plays a significant role. When we say talent, what we mean of course is talented people. But what if there was another perspective? In her TED Talk ‘Your elusive creative genius,’ Elizabeth Gilbert argues that creativity does not come from within us, but instead visits us when the conditions are right.

In ancient Rome, genius wasn’t a word used to describe a person, but a divine entity that lived in the walls of artists’ studios and occasionally chose to pay them a visit. It was only with the advent of the Renaissance 500 years ago that creativity started to be understood as coming from within us and with that the usage of the word genius changed from something people had to something they were.

So, should we instead stop focusing on attracting and retaining talented people, but attracting talent to the people we already have? This then encourages us to coax the genius out of our walls by creating spaces that enable our people to do their best work. With that in mind here are three ways to coax the genius out of your walls:

1. Supporting the ambiverts

There has been a lot of attention paid to creating spaces for introverts as well as extroverts – cubby holes for those who detest open plan offices. But the truth is two-thirds of people don’t strongly identity as either one or the other, leading to Adam Grant’s research into ambiverts. It turns out that most people oscillate between the two extremes depending on how they’re feeling or what they’re working on. Getting the best work out of ambiverts is about designing spaces that support different types of work, rather than different types of people. Creating opportunities for dynamic collaboration, spaces for focused introspection, and everything in between – and most importantly encouraging people to move freely between these spaces – enables people to do their best work regardless of where they sit on the introvert-extrovert spectrum today.

2. Making time for play

Jeffrey Davis recommends the best way to solve a problem is to clearly define it, analyse it, think about it until your head hurts, and then ‘step away and play.’ Creating spaces for seemingly idle recreation, attracts moments of genius, whether you believe in the spirit in the wall or just the power of the subconscious mind. The cliché of the table-football table in every advertising agency across the land is actually backed up by science, but it’s not the only solution. Anything from a climbing wall to an Etch-a-Sketch on every desk will encourage breaks from work that foster new connections

3. Encouraging ownership

Research shows that people work best within environments for which they feel ownership and control. Bickering over the thermostat rarely has as much to do with the temperature as it has to do with autonomy and power. As communal spaces, hot-desking and clear-desk policies risk depersonalising individual workspaces, it’s important to ensure staff feel at home and empowered to do their best work. Involving staff in designing their own office spaces has been shown to increase productivity by as much as 32% and companies that encourage personalisation have better cultures and lower staff turnover rates than those that don’t. Customising digital spaces, team areas or mobile carts that move from desk to desk are all ways of supporting personalisation within a flexible office.

Office design can be a method of promoting productivity and a way of engaging different personalities and generations in the workplace, but it’s also important to consider the impact design has on engagement and inspiration. Productivity often comes in fits and spurts, and to attract and retain talent employers need to accept that there is a requirement for office spaces that provide moments for play, embrace the diversity of working styles, and focus more on outcomes rather than methods as we all discover our muse in different circumstances.

Detail shot of brown terazzo worktop with brown leather seating

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