Want a Creative Team? Co-Locate

Remember how a decade ago conventional wisdom dictated that we’d no longer need office buildings, the Internet would eliminate the need for travel and face-to-face meetings, and we’d all be working from home every day in our jammies?

Things didn’t really turn out like that, and in his new book, Imagine, Jonah Lehrer provides some pretty compelling evidence to demonstrate not only that cities are never going away, but also that if you want to run the best possible creative teams and businesses they need to be co-located.

The Serendipity Effect

This is my term, and not Jonah’s, but the idea behind the serendipity effect is that the best solutions from thorny problems come from outside of you. You may have your a-ha moment while talking it through with someone, or it may be something as random as overhearing a conversation on an unrelated topic while waiting in line for coffee. But, because your brain was still subconsciously chewing on the problem it’s looking for anything in your environment that can help click a solution into place.

Why Cities are Here to Stay

Cities are definitely a mixed blessing. Regardless of where you live you know the downsides of urban life, but what about the upsides? Other than obvious benefit of nearby amenities, turns out that creativity thrives where there is a lot of activity – it’s the serendipity effect that I was talking about.

There is something about the hustle and bustle of daily life that makes us more creative. As a matter of fact, repeated studies show that creativity (measured by the number of patents and other similar markers) is directly correlated to the pedestrian traffic speed of a city. The faster people in an urban area walk, the more creative the region is.

Co-Location and Creativity

The clever business owner reading this could just say, “Well, I’ll put my team in the cities of their choosing, and we’ll still rock the world.” But, unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. A metastudy of Harvard studies analyzed all of the research studies coming out of the school over a period of years, carefully pinpointing the location of each contributor to the study.

The findings were fascinating. It turned out that the more “successful” the study was (based upon the number of citations upon publication) the more closely the study authors sat and worked together. It turns out that there is a HUGE value in the ability to turn around and say, “hey, what do you think about <x>?” or run into them on the way to lunch.

Does every team and every person on every team need to co-locate? No. Some job roles don’t require it, and for other distributed organizations, co-locating everyone could be too disruptive. But, if you are looking to launch a truly innovative product, finding a way to co-locate your team, even temporarily, can more than pay for itself.

Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos

About Jen Waak

Jen Waak is a health, wellness, and fitness coach that works with entrepreneurs and other crazy-busy professionals to help them have the bodies they want without having to give up their lives. Also the author of the Keyboard Athletes Guide to Pain Relief & Prevention, Jen lives, trains, and coaches in Seattle, WA. Sign up for her no-cost course How to Have the Body You Want (Without Giving Up Your Life) at http://KeyboardAthletes.com.