When I went to Street Wisdom late last year, it began with a question. ‘Where do you get your best ideas?’
The answers varied. The shower was a popular place. But one thing that all the answers had in common, was not one of them involved being sat at a desk or in an office. None of them took place within the constraints of the 9-5.
I asked the question of others recently. The answers ran along a similar theme. The shower made another appearance. Someone said in the car. Another said whilst outside, running. Places and spaces where we are not deliberately thinking or doing or planning, but thinking all the same, unconsciously, unintentionally.
I like my office. It is light, and there is a tree outside the window. Birds come and go all day long and I find myself watching them when I’m on the phone. Inside I have plants, photographs, posters and postcards. It is a place I have deliberately filled with colour, images and sound. Because we know that place matters. But it isn’t where I have my best ideas, or where I am at my most creative. It is not a place of flow. Few offices ever can be; there is simply too much going on.
Creativity, for me, happens some place else. This week, I took a few days off. A trip to Dorsett for long walks and afternoon teas. I came back with some home-made jam, two extra pounds around my waist, and a whole host of new ideas. Because stepping away from the desk and stepping away from the email and the IM and the phone ringing and the LinkedIn connection requests and the sales calls and all of the other stuff, gets the brain working in a whole new way.
I took my running gear with me in a futile attempt to balance out the cake consumption. Whilst jogging along by the sea, thinking about nothing much at all, I had an idea for our leadership development programme. Then whilst browsing Twitter over another afternoon cake stop, I read something that sparked a thought that led to another thought and suddenly I’m planning a whole new project in the notes section on my phone. And then in the car on the way home, I drafted three blog posts.
Here’s the thing.
It is time to let go of the idea that sitting at a desk, sitting in an office, sitting round a table, equals doing good work. If you want innovation, ideas, creativity, then we need to create the space. Get people out of the office. Break the routine. Work somewhere new, even just for a little while. I have held 121s in coffee shops. Made folks I am coaching walk around the local streets. Held meetings in all sorts of different locations just to shake things up a bit.
I know that it is a luxury only available to some, when work does not have to be tied to a physical location. But if you are one of these folks, then why not do something less traditional instead? Another quote I love, from A Year Without Pants, says it all: ‘Every tradition we hold dear was once a new idea that someone proposed, tested and found valuable, often inspired by a previous tradition that had been outgrown.’
Working in an office is a tradition. Commuting is a tradition. So is the Monday to Friday 9-5 routine. Some places have already outgrown them, others will one day follow. But these are big things to change. For some roles and some organisations maybe a step too far, for now. But one thing we can tackle is where we meet and where we think. There is not a lot at all, except maybe our own prejudices and those traditions held dear, stopping us from recognising that good work and good thinking can happen everywhere, and encouraging people to do what they need to do and be where they need to be to allow it to take place.
So when you see me putting on my walking shoes at lunchtime, I’m not off for a jolly. I’m not off to the pub. I’m off to do some thinking. So look out when I get back, just in case I have had an idea or five.