Serendipity is that beloved state of happy accidents. According to Wikipedia it means a "fortunate happenstance" or a "pleasant surprise." Is your office space designed to allow for the serendipitous exchange of ideas, and for your associates to have happy accidents and idea-exchanges? And not only around the office cooler but even in the meetings?

On November 18, a group of 30 curious-minded people set out to exchange ideas on the topic of "Creative Spaces at Work." This networking event was held at Vynamic and co-sponsored by Philadelphia University's Strategic Design MBA program and the Design Management Institute as part of their DMI: NightOut series.

Vynamic is a management consultancy whose goal is to be the healthiest firm in America. This is no small feat for a company, despite Vynamic's cool digs and clients who are mainly in the healthcare space: it seeks to have that health ethos reflected in its spatial design and layout. For Vynamic and other companies like it, 'healthy' is defined broadly, and part of that definition includes the allowance of creative flow in our work environments.

Our catalyst for discussion was a 15-minute video clip from a webinar presented by Mickey McManus, chairman and principal of the LUMA Institute and MAYA Design in Pittsburgh, on a very cool structure called the kiva. The kiva has its roots in ancient Native American Pueblo architecture. It was typically a subterranean circular structure used for religious ceremony. It has been resurrected by LUMA and other organizations as the paramount structure to ignite expansive thinking, spark creative abrasion and break down silos.

In its 21st-century version, the kiva capacity is purposefully small (12-25 people), its curved walls lined from floor to ceiling with whiteboard surfaces. Tables are intentionally missing to prompt people to stand up, grab a white-board marker and "show us, not tell us" what they are thinking. This also creates more kinesthetic learning: one woman recounted from memory a complex process flow from 5 years earlier because she was able to physically retrace the points along the kiva whiteboard walls where ideas had been written.

The companies represented at this gathering were quite diverse: e.g., industrial design firm BresslerGroup, interactive agency O3 World, financial services firm Vanguard Group, user experience agency Tonic Design, online retailer Lamps.com, management consultancy The Curci Group, design firm Brandimation and even a public utility- The Philadelphia Gas Works. This diversity in sectors demonstrates how broadly this topic is resonating with people today. The range of perspectives at the DMI: NightOut networking event also illustrated that organizations are eager to experiment with new ways of designing work spaces and work processes that make sense for their number one client: their employees. This inside-out view is an emerging way that companies are thinking through how to deliver value.

It turns out that as we figure out how to innovate for the people who buy our products and services, the physical structures in which we work, is a great place to start!

Published on: Dec 4, 2014