How Steve Jobs “Forced” Creativity

from Jonah Lehrer over at The New Yorker comes this fascinating tidbit on Steve Jobs’ obsession with forcing his employees (Pixar, in this case) out of their cubicles and into the common areas.

His theory was that those chance encounters (i.e., bumping into someone and creating a knowledge spillover) WERE how work got done, especially in creative cultures.

Jobs soon realized that it wasn’t enough simply to create an airy atrium; he needed to force people to go there. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the lobby. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria, the coffee bar, and the gift shop. Finally, he decided that the atrium should contain the only set of bathrooms in the entire building. (He was later forced to compromise and install a second pair of bathrooms.) “At first, I thought this was the most ridiculous idea,” Darla Anderson, a producer on several Pixar films, told me. “I didn’t want to have to walk all the way to the atrium every time I needed to do something. That’s just a waste of time. But Steve said, ‘Everybody has to run into each other.’ He really believed that the best meetings happened by accident, in the hallway or parking lot. And you know what? He was right. I get more done having a cup of coffee and striking up a conversation or walking to the bathroom and running into unexpected people than I do sitting at my desk.” Brad Bird, the director of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” says that Jobs “made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.”

Jobs’ theory tucks neatly inside a larger one called “the propinquity effect” that I’ve always loved, mainly because propinquity is such a fun word to say.

—but here’s what the word describes: The state of being close to someone or something… Proximity, in other words… and its effect can be seen in everything from the way coworkers often get too ‘close’ to one another… to the fact that major art movements tend to occur in dense urban cities (the Renaissance, the late 70s post-punk explosion in Manchester, UK, the literary expats of 1920s Paris).

Perhaps the greatest way to see the propinquity effect in action is through Jobs’ last great “and one more thing”: Apple’s ‘spaceship’ campus, where the massive circular-shaped structure has been designed to eliminate hallways, grids and (seemingly) linear approaches of all kinds in order to force employees to walk out of their offices and into one another’s minds.

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of King Tchingthang to this effect: “Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.” I can understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages.
Thoreau

FACE OF A BOY HEARING FOR THE FIRST TIME

In 1974, Readers Digest published this picture from photojournalist Jack Bradley depicting the *exact moment* a boy hears for the first time. His doctor, an otorhinologist, has just placed an earpiece in the boy’s left ear. 

—and as one door shuts, another opens.

What did he hear? we wonder. His father’s voice? His doctor’s? Or his own? And what did he do next? Try his hearing out for awhile? And what did he say?

Imagine that: Trying your hearing out for awhile.

It’s the questions that stay.

 

(With thanks to Readers Digest, Jack Bradley and the young boy in the picture, Harold Whittles.)

((For a video of someone hearing for the first time, meet Jonathan.))

What Innovation Really Is

Asymco’s latest deconstructs the problem society has understanding innovation, as compared to novelty, creation and invention.


  I define innoveracy as the inability to understand creativity and the role it plays in society… The definition of innovation is easy to find but it’s one thing to read the definition and another to understand its meaning. Rather than defining it again, I propose using a simple taxonomy of related activities that put it in context:



Novelty: Something new
Creation: Something new and valuable
Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful



To illustrate further, here are some examples of the concepts.

Novelties: The choice of Gold as a color for the iPhone; the naming of a version of Android as “Kit Kat”; coining a new word.
Creations: The fall collection of a fashion designer; a new movie; a blog post.
Inventions: Anything described by a patent; The secret formula for Coca Cola.
Innovations: The iPhone pricing model; Google’s revenue model; The Ford production system; Wal-Mart’s store design; Amazon’s logistics.

What Innovation Really Is

Asymco’s latest deconstructs the problem society has understanding innovation, as compared to novelty, creation and invention.

I define innoveracy as the inability to understand creativity and the role it plays in society… The definition of innovation is easy to find but it’s one thing to read the definition and another to understand its meaning. Rather than defining it again, I propose using a simple taxonomy of related activities that put it in context:

  • Novelty: Something new
  • Creation: Something new and valuable
  • Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
  • Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

To illustrate further, here are some examples of the concepts.

  • Novelties: The choice of Gold as a color for the iPhone; the naming of a version of Android as “Kit Kat”; coining a new word.
  • Creations: The fall collection of a fashion designer; a new movie; a blog post.
  • Inventions: Anything described by a patent; The secret formula for Coca Cola.
  • Innovations: The iPhone pricing model; Google’s revenue model; The Ford production system; Wal-Mart’s store design; Amazon’s logistics.