IdeaSpaces reflects a concept that I have developed over the course of my career as a technologist, social scientist, and administrator. In those roles, I have come to see that Innovation and Change are multi-causal processes that are often missed because of siloed decision-making structures that are a legacy of a industrial era that go into the development of our environments at all levels. The IdeaSpaces concept is designed to provide a global vision and a series of decision-making principles that come together to create environments where good ideas can flourish and grow into lasting change.
There are three levels to the IdeaSpaces hierarchy. At the bottom are physical and virtual Spaces that can range from learning spaces to collaboration spaces to entire buildings. Next up the level of difficulty is the creation of Time, which is all about creating mental space for employees, students, etc. to get some distance on what they are doing and to iterate solutions to problems. Finally, and perhaps most difficult, is the creation of Structures that facilitate and nurture Innovation and Change rather than stifle them.
People Spaces are the application of effective design into our physical and virtual spaces. Effective spaces are an absolutely necessary precondition for Innovative environments. However, they are not sufficient. I have been involved in the design or execution of dozens of “innovative” spaces that have failed to live up to their potential because they were the end product of the “innovation” process and, as such, were misunderstood as an end rather than as a means. At the same time, if you get this part wrong, the other parts of the innovation equation are fundamentally hobbled.
Reflection Time is critical for the iteration of ideas and their formation in the first place. Eureka moments are the province of fiction. People need time to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Sometimes this occurs individually but often an interdisciplinary group is necessary to gain sufficient perspective on what is going on to initiate a discussion around change. After this initial brainstorming a process of iteration is often necessary to work toward solutions.
Structure is perhaps the thorniest issue that has to be dealt with when it comes to creating an environment of Innovation and Change because it involves changing lots of people simultaneously. Organizations have struggled with this since ancient times. Even today large organizations generally thought of as being innovative such as Apple or Google have had to go to great lengths to maintain an innovation edge as their organizations grew in complexity and size. This challenge is doubly difficult for organizations that are already large and bureaucratized such as institutions of higher education or large industrial legacy firms. Liquid Networks is a concept that I have borrowed from Steven Johnson. It describes an organizational structure that is flexible enough to allow for change and yet structural enough to capture innovation.
It is only with the mindful application of all three of these concepts that Innovation can be sustained in any organization. It is my hope that through an ongoing discussion and iteration, the concept of IdeaSpaces itself will help people take a global approach to creating the kind of change that will help us and our children survive and thrive in a world of endless possibilities and challenges.