Designing for Workplace Innovation (Demystified)

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We’ve all become pretty familiar with the idea of innovation, and the theory that the workplace can be designed to deliberately foster innovation and creative thinking among employees.

But what does this really mean? And are there ways to encourage innovation that are inexpensive as well as easy to implement?

If you ask three people what does innovation mean, chances are you will get three different answers. So I started by revisiting the dictionary definition of innovation:

in·no·va·tion (noun)

  1.  the introduction of something new
  2.  a new idea, method, or device : novelty


To me this appeared to be rather simplistic considering all the discussion and debate about innovation. But in reality innovation requires more than a novel idea. Countless “new ideas” have fallen flat before ever taking flight.

In today’s technology-rich society, to truly innovate you have to think long term strategy and have the knowledge (or partner with those who have it) for how to implement and sustain the idea.

I wonder how many ideas have experienced failure to launch simply because the “idea-generator” never had the opportunity to partner with someone who could help explore the potential of the idea and develop a strategy for implementation.

And what this suggests is that in order for a workplace to foster true innovation it needs to cater for three core components:

  1. Idea Generation
  2. Idea Exploration
  3. Idea Implementation


Ideas are generated by creative people, so here’s what I recommend as a starting point for creating an innovation-ready work environment: take some time to find out what your people need to be creative. In other words, what makes them tick!

I read somewhere that if you are most productive after working out, and you like to work out first thing in the morning, then you should schedule meetings and creative discussions for early in the morning right after your workout.

Along the same vein, if your team thinks best in a relaxed setting, then perhaps your meetings can be working lunches. Be sure to try and cater to individual needs as well – for example, allowing for schedule flexibility for someone who thinks best late at night, working away from the office when a change in environment is needed, or providing alternative work areas that may be more comfortable than sitting at a desk.

Once the seed of an idea exists, it has to be explored to discover its true potential. This is where most people find strength in the melding of the minds. By providing areas for groups to get together and “hash it out” you can encourage thorough exploration and development of an idea.

The challenge here is to provide the right type of spaces for your people and the work they are doing. In some cases, a dedicated team room will be most effective, while, in other cases, the group may float around from one space to another, finding whichever space is most comfortable at any point in time.

An important aspect will be access to tools that will aid in exploration – whether this means whiteboards, chalkboards, shared screen technology, overhead projector, flip chart, or post-it notes that can be stuck on the wall.

Always take into consideration the need for privacy and confidentiality: you may need to protect new ideas under development.

Thus, the area selected for implementation activity should be one with an appropriate level of privacy – that showcase glass-walled conference room right off the reception area may not be the right choice. Unless, of course, public exposure is critical for the implementation, like when you need to solicit public opinion on a product prototype, for example.


What solutions have you incorporated into your workplace to foster innovation? How has your work environment encouraged you to think creatively? Where do you come up with your best ideas?

I hope this helps to get you started on creating the right environment in your workplace for the generation, exploration, and implementation of the next great idea!

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