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Work spaces that do more than work

At Back End of Innovation this week, Melissa Steach’s talk about the built environment and interior spaces impacting mood and productivity in office spaces struck a chord with myself. As I looked around the audience, many others who were nodding along in agreement to the findings she presented.

What I took away from her talk was the idea of office spaces reflecting values, and having a personality, the way people do. Spaces for creativity are so much more than whiteboard walls, and open spaces – a few couches, but identity can be so much more challenging to convey. The linkage of mood and aesthetics is so intuitive – we think about the ambience in restaurants, the décor of our homes and personal spaces and what they say about us, but with office spaces, perhaps the lack of direct influence in selecting the aesthetics or changing it around makes it something that I personally don’t think about on a day-to-day basis.

The other aspect that came to my mind was how do you overcome some of the challenges to productivity and mood when people are not co-located. For teams that are global, or team members who are remote, we try to use technology to bridge distances, but the talk got me thinking about what we lose from not having a shared environment that could potentially put us in the same sort of mind space or mood to be creative or collaborative.

Listening to this talk at possibly the most creative venue I’ve ever been in - I haven’t been to many conference events where the speakers are in front of a graffiti wall, or surrounded by an eclectic display of art and sculpture –highlighted the importance of having visual stimuli around you that gives your mind something to ponder over. Whether it’s through exposure to nature, art, or the built environment, there’s probably a good understanding about how human creativity, problem solving and innovation thrive where there a way to deliberately break out of the functional and utilitarian spaces that we come to expect and have trained ourselves to adapt to.

The role of culture and the right organizational dynamics:

As a consultant, understanding the particular challenges for my clients around product innovation is the biggest reason for me to be at Back End of Innovation.

During the roundtable sessions, I was able to participate in a vibrant discussion about “red flags” the realities of innovation and new product development challenges that highlighted some key themes about organizational dynamics:

  • New products and innovations are more likely to fail internally than because of external market dynamics and customer response.
  • When your project has a timeline that is longer than the average tenure of the executive leading it, the product itself needs to have a solid rationale and backing.
  • Understanding the market, anticipating competitor response, and optimizing speed to market are critical. Getting trapped into trying to deliver a superior product while others capture market share may be a recipe for failure.
  • Better technology does not mean it’s a better product that meets the customer’s needs, and the temptation to over-engineer a product needs to be overcome
  • There needs to be a balance between technical, marketing and business teams at the table when looking at a market. Over the course of a project, assumptions about the potential market need to be reconsidered and re-tested to ensure that they are still valid.
  • The decision to enter white spaces where a company has no expertise is always going to be challenged by the expectation that the financial metrics of the new product or business model being launched will be comparable or better to those of established brands or products.

As companies feel the pressure to become more innovative, the risk aversion and internal organizational dynamics can be a severe hinderance to execution. The big unknown of potential competitive actions can be perceived as a major risk, but could also push companies to think more strategically about what place in the market they want to capture and how to do it well. Taking the market risks into account through out the product development process, as opposed to book-ending it, needs to be an integral part of the strategy, and company culture and dynamics should support this.

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