Thursday, April 2, 2009

Working Conditions & Innovation Success

Media reports indicate that elegant facilities are important to innovation success in this modern age. Many companies hire a “starchitect” to design their plush surroundings, and then regularly lead customer tours through the facilities to remind them of how advanced the company is. As Becker and Steele asserted, “Just as a Ferrari performs much better on a well-paved road than on a sandy beach, a high-performance team or organization requires a high-performance workplace.”

Hang on! A thorough historical study of innovation generally refutes this concept. As Bennis and Biederman noted, “The tendency of great things to be accomplished in dreadful places should give architects and decorators pause. There is something about the controlled chaos of a garage, the joyless interior of a Quonset hut, that seems to spur the imagination. Perhaps the charmlessness of these places forces the people who work in them to turn inward, where problem solving takes place. Certainly these environments offer few distractions, including comfort. For reasons still to be discovered, creative collaboration seems to be negatively correlated with the plushness of the office or the majesty of the view. Awful places have come to be seen as almost a requisite for a Great Group.” Silicon Valley icon Guy Kawasaki echoed their thoughts: “A lousy building and lousy furniture are necessary because suffering is good for revolutionaries. It builds cohesiveness; it creates a sense of urgency; and it focuses the team on what’s most important: shipping! If you are ever recruited by a team that claims to be revolutionary and see beautiful, matched Herman Miller furniture, run, do not walk, from the interview. On the other hand, if you see a lousy building, lousy furniture, but fantastically creative workspaces, then sign up immediately.”

The apostle Paul, certainly no stranger to difficult conditions, was nonetheless incredibly innovative. Paul clearly explained his reasons in his letter to the Philippians: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Dr. Gary Oster
Regent University
School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship


Innovation, Christian innovation, facilities, workplaces, human resources


Becker, F. & Steele, F. (1995). Workplace by design. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bennis, W. & Biederman, P. (1997). Organizing genius. New York: Addison-Wesley.
Kawasaki, G. (1999). Rules for revolutionaries. New York: HarperCollins.