of the Institute offer insight into the qualities
of physical space that are conducive to innovation;
the ways that creative people shape the spaces in
which they work; and common creative features among
places ranging from the garages and basements of independent
inventors to academic or government laboratories to
regions and cyberspace.
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
- 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
- Balance between inclusion and seclusion.
In order to succeed, inhabitants need to balance
their need for solitude with their need for interaction
with others. Key to achieving this balance is giving
the individual private, personal space to work,
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 spaces seems to
work best if done in stages, with evaluation and
adjustment along the way.
Communities, whether large or small, play
an important role in shaping places of invention.
- The individual and the group. While
the idea of the “lone inventor” has
been dismissed as a myth used to explain the work
of inventors to the world, it is still true that
most teams have a leader, that a charismatic person
is often the reason teams form, and that in spite
of the move towards building consortia and other
types of groups, individual fiefdoms of invention
persist. Why? Part of the answer lies in a continuing
bias to focus on the individual, a bias that is
supported by the prize system and the patent process.
- Replicating successful models. With
few exceptions, spin-off institutions and replicated
regions have not been successful.
- Changing forms of communication and interaction.
Social networking and forms of distributed knowledge
are changing the ways in which inventors work (for
example, by reducing secrecy and creating “virtual”
teams of colleagues in disparate places).
- The role of patents. The patent system
still acts as a constraint and a benefit to invention.
While inventors point to the time that the process,
and possible ensuing litigation, take away from
creative work, inventors who live in countries with
a weak or nonexistent patent system see that as
a disincentive to invention.
The idea of “flow” or continuity
is an actor throughout the history of invention.
- Science v. technology. While definitions
of “science” and “technology”
abound, it is more useful to see science, technology,
application, invention, and art as part of the continuum
of creativity. This viewpoint is useful in understanding
the changing nature of the inventive process from
the late 19th to the 21st century.
- Temporal nature of creative spaces.
Creative institutions have life spans. On average,
research laboratories, for example, are productive
for about 20 years. It is important to examine how
the factors that make a creative place successful
in the beginning may come to stifle it later on.
Creative regions exhibit a similar, though longer-term,
pattern. Questioning what resources exist, how long
they last, what the competition for them is, and
given those factors, how long the institution’s
way of operating can be maintained, will begin to
explain this phenomenon.
- Encouraging interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary
interests. Invention brings together knowledge
from different disciplines to create something new
and exhibits a long history of mapping ideas from
one field onto another.
- Connections across time and topic. Linkages
are important to understanding the history of invention.
One of the inventor’s most powerful tools
is his or her ability to create analogies. The act
of “transgressive cognition,” or the
ability to leap over intellectual barriers, is a