Long before the voice recognition company TellMe was folded into the Microsoft empire, they were a too-cool Mountain View startup with an open floor plan. When I arrived to do an article on their technology, circa 2005, a few employees sauntered up to the reception desk-not staffed by anyone, obviously-and guided me to a room that looked like a recording studio. I'm guessing they either didn't know there was a light-switch, didn't care, or wanted me to just get used to the darkness.

Everyone seemed to be wearing a T-shirt. I can't remember the details anymore (this was probably ten years ago or more), but the one thing I do recall is the vibe. It was super friendly. The desks were all arranged so that everyone was in a constant state of collaboration. Since I come from the world of corporate dogma (all cubicle walls must be gray, no exceptions) it came as a bit of a shock to discover that no one even had a cubicle. Or a desk. You worked anywhere at anytime, and even being in the office seemed optional.

Most of my discussions for the article were technical in nature, but I couldn't stop glancing out at the warehouse that doubled as an office space. In 2005, it wasn't as common to have an open buffet for your employees anymore, what with the whole dotcom crash. They had one. Employees liked being there. They chatted. They chilled. A few of them seemed to work once in a while. Everyone had a smile and a positive attitude.

I can imagine that this was all by design. Someone had obviously experienced the opposite of creative thinking in the workplace and wanted to make sure people were having fun.

Does your place of work have that same atmosphere?

Here's my recommendation for the weekend. Go see the movie Inside Out. If you don't have kids, don't worry-just blend in somehow or go with your niece. There's something incredibly inspiring about the movie, a fantastic smorgasbord of colors and sounds. The movie resonates beyond the screen. It's brilliant because it makes your synapses fire on all cylinders (the move is all about what happens inside our brains). There's a joke about how facts and opinions look similar, which is particularly apt for a journalist like me. The entire movie looks like one Disney theme park. It's an absolute thrill ride.

I have a few examples of how this kind of wild-eyed thinking could play out at a startup. It goes beyond having a ping-pong table in the breakroom or letting people work at home. It's really an open box that fosters new ideas. This week, I'm working on an article about how some companies have decided to hold meetings that take place while you go for a run or on a stand-up paddleboard. That's one way to destroy the notion of boring old status meetings. I want to go to one of those meetings and I don't even work there.

What if you throw out a few of the rules? Don't just let people eat at their desks or enjoy a buffet. Join a meal service that lets them pick what they want to eat for lunch and have it hand-delivered. Creating a place for everyone to park their bikes is one idea, but how about buying everyone a bike? Or planning a bike trip? If there is anything to learn from the movie Inside Out (and Pixar itself) it's that a little creative thinking can promote incredible growth in business. It's OK to hold a joke contest at work. It's OK to create a room filled with high-end reference speakers and easy access to Spotify, just because you can and just because people love that sort of thing.

Here's where I want to help. Send me a challenge you have in your office that is making people sort of frustrated and stagnant. What's turning everyone into a drone? What's killing your creativity? Are employees arriving late and leaving early? Send me the problem and I'll send you some ideas on what to do about it.

But don't send me that email until you see the movie. Your niece will love you.

Published on: Jun 19, 2015
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