Archive for the Tag 'Creativity'

Pixar: Space as an Instrument for Collaboration

Point: Design physical spaces for unplanned collaborations that spark creativity.

Story: One place to look for advice on designing physical spaces for creativity and collaboration is Stanford’s design school, the birthplace of design thinking as we know it today. (The term dates back to Herbert Simon’s 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial and was further explained by Robert McKim’s book, Experiences in Visual Thinking, but it was Stanford’s Rolf Faste and David Kelley who popularized the term and applied it to business.)

Now, Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, co-directors of the Environments Collaborative at the, have written a book, Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration that’s full of advice and case studies of these creative spaces.

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and of the, writes in the book’s forward: “Regardless of whether it’s a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as an instrument for innovation and collaboration. Space is a valuable tool that can help you create deep and meaningful collaborations in your work and life.”

Example: Pixar
A real-life example of a physical space that encourages creative collaboration is the building that houses Pixar, the computer animation studio that created innovative, Academy-award-winning blockbuster films like Toy Story, Monsters and Finding Nemo.

As Walter Isaacson writes in his biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs designed the Pixar building to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” Jobs said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”  The front doors and main stairs and corridors all lead to a central atrium, where a cafe and employee mailboxes are located as well.

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, confirmed the success of the building’s layout: “Steve’s theory worked from day one. I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”


  • Create open spaces and natural gathering places that draw people out of their offices and into the collaborative social space.
  • Organize entrances, stairways, and passage ways to intersect in ways that encourage random encounters and mingling (help people congregate rather than segregate).
  • Offer movable walls, whiteboards on wheels, lightweight movable furniture (put things on casters), and other flexible objects to encourage reconfiguration and organic development of the work environment.

3 Comments »Case study, CEO, Creativity, How-to, Innovation

Visualizing Insights

Point: Use visual representations to spur innovative thinking.

Story: Scientific visualization is typically used to communicate data and scientific results, but it can also spark ideas.

Felice Frankel is a scientific photographer who works with scientists across many disciplines — chemistry, biology, oceanography, and so forth. As she sees it, the various disciplines share similar ways to represent data. But, “Unfortunately, you rarely see scientists from different disciplines talking with each other,” she says.

Images can jumpstart communication by creating a common language among different disciplines. What’s more, images can spark new ideas, even if those images are of data which you yourself have been working with for years. Seeing your data presented in a new way can yield new insights. The new depiction gives you a new perspective.

For example, in one project, Frankel was exploring how to show glowing nano-crystals suspended in liquid. She zeroed in on an abstraction that cropped the top and bottom off each glass cuvette of the nano-crystals. The resulting image removed all visual references to the nano-crystals’ containers. After seeing Frankel’s photograph, Moungi Bawendi, an MIT scientist who’d been working with nano-crystals for years, thought of a potentially new application for them because the new image reminded him of a colored bar code. Bar codes are used as a form of labeling. Seeing the nano-crystals arranged like a bar code gave Bawendi the idea to use them as an alternative to fluorescent organic dyes that scientists currently use for labeling, imaging, and monitoring biological systems, particularly in their response to cancer.

In addition, the visual language of pictures and graphics breaks down the barriers of jargon, discipline-related terminology, and language, making it possible for non-experts or non-native speakers to provide input and collaborate. The visual language “allows us to talk to each other about an image, point out parts that are interesting or beautiful, and ask questions without hesitation,” Frankel says.

Similarly, for David Macaulay, drawing is his way to figure things out, to question, clarify and think about things.  Macaulay, bestselling author and illustrator of The Way Things Work and 24 other highly-illustrated books, says: “When you draw something, you really have to look at it. And when you really look at it, you can’t avoid thinking about it.”

Macaulay’s books are primarily images, interspersed with words. “How great is it to have those two languages to work with and pick and choose from?” Macaulay says.

I’m looking forward to meeting Macaulay and Frankel at the Business Innovation Factory’s annual summit on Sept. 19-20, 2012. The summit is almost sold out (it sells out every year), but a few seats remain available as of this posting.


  • Look at images from different disciplines to see new ways to present your data or visualize the problems and solutions that you work on.
  • Create images with different arrangements, even abstractions, of your data or system to reveal new patterns in your data or ideas.
  • Ask people what they see in your images, whether it’s patterns, beauty, or metaphors that can spark new ideas about your area of work.


Felice Frankel’s new website:

Felice Frankel and Angela H. DePace, Visual Strategies, Yale University Press, 2012

Deborah Halber, “Smarter Quantum Dots,MIT Spectrum, Fall 2011.

Tim McIntire, Felice Frankel: Scientific Discovery Through Visualization

Frankel, Felice. “The Power of the ‘Pretty Picture,’” Nature Materials.

Comments Off on Visualizing InsightsCreativity, How-to, Innovation

George Lucas Innovates Outside the Hollywood Box

Point: Consider the role and value of outsiders in innovation

Story: George Lucas, legendary producer, director and screenwriter of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones blockbuster hits, shared these thoughts at the World Business Forum. Lucas described how he got his start making movies by going outside the insular Hollywood system.  When he graduated from film school, Hollywood was not receptive to new ideas and Lucas didn’t want to go there.  He and Francis Coppola moved to San Francisco to start American Zoetrope in 1969.  Befitting their 1960’s cultural background, Lucas and Coppola “didn’t trust anyone over 30.”

The choice of San Francisco had paradoxical properties for young Lucas and the new film company.  The bad news was that San Francisco had little of the movie making ecosystem of supporting companies and infrastructure that make Hollywood the mecca for film making.  The good news is that San Fransisco therefore had little of the movie making ecosystem that constrained the industry to the prevailing ways of doing things.  As a result, Lucas had to invent his own ways of making movies, which led him to develop a long string of innovations in camera handling, special effects, sound, and editing.

Lucas also benefited from the corporate buyouts of Hollywood.  As mega corporations bought Hollywood studios, the new outside owners of the movie industry realized they didn’t know how to make movies.  These new owners decided to hire  people fresh from film schools, like Lucas, to bring in new blood.  The ownership change also created a tumult that allowed people like Lucas freer reign.  Sometimes innovation benefits from benign outsiders.


  • Consider how the prevailing ecosystem of suppliers and partners could be hindering innovation
  • Take innovation outside of the existing company and industry boundaries to start true greenfield ventures
  • Look for times when outsiders take over an industry (e.g,, foreign investors, industry transformation) — the tumult of ownership changes combined with owners who don’t know “tradition” provide opportunity.


George Lucas at the World Business Forum October 6, 2009 #wbf09

2 Comments »CEO, Creativity, Innovation

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