Strategies & Insights

Creating environments that encourage sustainable innovation

Posted: July 30, 2015 by
Linda Casey

Victor Ermoli, dean of the school of design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, speaks to Package Design about how to create environments and encourage lifestyles that
keep teams innovative and productive:

How do you make space for creative rhythm in a high cadence business environment?

Ermoli: One aspect of the creative rhythm is the leadership, and the other aspect is environment.

I’ll start with environment because it’s tied to the leadership. For creatives, it’s important to have an environment where they can sit down, look at a white wall and try to solve the problem.

If you go to the new IBM center, the design center in Austin, you will see a huge area that houses hundreds and hundreds of designers. Here, they not only brainstorm, but they also have a space for quiet, higher thinking. This area has Herman Miller chairs and big ottomans where you can raise your feet. Written on the wall are messages that encourage higher thinking.

When leadership creates a dynamic environment like this, they will not only motivate people and help them feel excited about their work but also encourage them to be truly productive.

Now, this is all simple to say, but the reality is, if I’m a business leader working in an open creative environment and I see this guy staring out a window, I can’t help but wonder what is he doing? Then, I come back an hour later and he is still sitting on the chair, this time with his feet raised, looking at the window. The natural thing for most bosses is to ask, “What are you doing?” The employee can explain that he is working on solving a big problem, and the manager, supervisor, director, etc. might leave and let him continue to think. But if the business leader comes back an hour later and this guy is either continuing looking out the window or just scribbling on a piece of paper, it becomes very hard for the leader to not say, “Okay, it has been two hours. You haven’t produced anything. You haven’t done anything. Get busy.”

We expect to see productive people on the computer, answering emails, working on a diagram or analyzing numbers within a spreadsheet. But on the other hand, this person could be working on big challenges that will move the business more than answering emails would. They could be asking themselves, how can I increase the sales next month by overcoming this problem that we’re having? He needs time to reflect—time to really think on the big picture. That’s rarely recognized. But the ability to encourage, manage and teach people how to reflect is a process that a business leader can learn.