Places of Invention that Work

Places of invention that “work” share some common features. 

  • Flexibility. Truly creative spaces are flexible. They are easily reconfigured, modular, and responsive to the needs of different people and different projects. It can be shown that as buildings and spaces become more solid and permanent, so do their occupants, often with a resulting waning of creativity.
  • Leadership. Places of invention are characterized by managers who articulate and promote a clear mission, support individuals’ research freedom in pursuit of that mission, encourage interdisciplinary teams, and manage with a “soft touch” characterized by minimal hierarchy and bureaucracy. Often, an influential mentor is responsible for originally bringing a group of creative people together.
  • Communication. Creative places make it easy for people to discuss, share, and argue ideas, whether in the laboratory or the cafeteria. By maximizing both formal and informal contact between individuals, such spaces encourage cross-fertilization of thinking.
  • Balance between inclusion and seclusion. In order to succeed, inhabitants need to balance their need for solitude with their need for interaction with others. Essential to achieving this balance is giving the individual private, personal work space, while at the same time offering inviting communal spaces, especially those that foster interdisciplinary and multigenerational interaction. A space that is dictated and inflexible is unlikely to succeed as a creative space. Similarly, individuals working in creative spaces exhibit some common desires and tensions.
  • Arrangement of the space. Creative individuals want to arrange, modify, and adapt their personal work spaces to meet their own needs and whimsy. It is almost a cliché that creative people have messy spaces and espouse a hands-on mentality.
  • Control and lack of control. Chaos and lack of control are vital to creative people. It is crucial to remove them from normal, predictable surroundings, and to give them the freedom to do what they want if they gather the resources needed.
  • Tension between planned and unplanned spaces. Is it possible to “plan” for spontaneity? Probably not. Planning creative space seems to work best if done in stages, with evaluation and adjustment along the way.

— Report on Places of Invention: The First Lemelson Institute from The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation