The Cure for Infectious Monotony

I had a good chat with Olle last night, on the horn from HQ in Sweden. We talked a lot about our work and our workplaces and our workmates.

We agreed that, among other things, silence is important to us in the work environment (when we first moved into the Reinventorium I was so concerned with the noise made by Johnny’s oldish MacBook that I bought him a MacBook Air; ironically a few weeks later we installed the humidifier which also emits noise, albeit in a consistent fashion, which is more palatable).

As The Guild wakes up from its wintertime sleep and theatre and music starts to fill the theatre and art starts to fill the gallery, I’m starting to realize that being surrounded by other creative people doing other creative things is important to my work environment too.

Earlier in the week, for example, I was in the basement firing up the letterpress when Nudie wandered in (he has a secret bunker buried deep underneath The Guild) and we had a chat about what I was up to and he asked whether I was up for music-poster-making (answer: yes, but with a limited typestyle selection…).

And today, on the other side of the wall from where I type, ACT is busy putting the finishing touches on the set, sound and lights for its staging of Relatively Speaking, which opens tomorrow night. In the last 36 hours they have turned the empty black box theatre into a home for their production. Lots of people doing lots of small creative and technical acts.

In the basement gallery, which I walk through to get to the letterpress shop, there’s a show on the wall from Suzanne O’Callaghan called Survivor: The he(art) of survivors of violence

I appreciate all of this because I’m convinced that when there’s creativity in the air, it’s contagious: sit in 1 of 100 cubicles in an office park and you’ll catch infectious monotony; my theory is that if there’s art, music and theatre washing through your workplace every day there are opportunities abundant for both invisible and entirely practical synergies to result.

In light of all of this, I wonder if initiatives like the Atlantic Technology Centre, which purports to combine “form and function in its leading-edge space to create an atmosphere that promotes and sustains business achievement,” are wrong-headed.

The underlying assumption of such government-supported incubators is that if you colocate a bunch of geeks, hallway synergy will result — “hey, how about we take your municipal water billing application and merge it with our animation engine!” While I’m sure some of this actually happens within the walls of the ATC, perhaps a better tack would be to mashup IT companies not only with other IT companies, but to throw artists, musicians, craftspeople, cooks, philosophers, and longshoremen into the mix.

As Nick Paumgarten reports in last week’s New Yorker in an article on Davos:

I walked very slowly. I was new here, a first-timer. That Wednesday, I was eager to hear Merkel, but on my way I got sidetracked in the lounge by conversations that seemed interesting, especially the ones I wasn’t part of. It was a name-dropper’s paradise. Central bankers, industrial chiefs, hedge-fund titans, gloomy forecasters, astrophysicists, monks, rabbis, tech wizards, museum curators, university presidents, financial bloggers, virtuous heirs. I found myself in conversation with a newspaper columnist and an executive from McKinsey & Company, the management-consulting firm. This was serendipitous, as so many conversations in Davos turn out to be, because, at the urging of many, I was supposed to be angling for an invitation to the McKinsey party, at the Belvedere Hotel. A must, people said, with a glint. I was suspicious, owing to an incongruity between the words “party” and “management consulting.” But this was Davos. The executive cheerfully added me to the list. A McKinsey for a Merkel: a fair trade.

The Guild ain’t no Davos, but it’s got some of the same cross-pollinating potential for me, and I’d be interested in exploring whether this idea has broader application and interest. The key, whether Charlottetown or Davos, is to avoid workplace monoculture and architect for serendipity.

By the way, you should go and read Olle’s corporate elevator pitch — it’s not only simple and endearingly elegant, but it also describes, to a T, exactly what I know Olle is in the business of.  My only clumsy attempts at same pale in comparison. “I don’t want to persuade you, I want to work with you to get to a solution.” I love it.


alexander's picture
alexander on March 28, 2012 - 22:12 Permalink

Jane Jacobs said “New ideas require old buildings.” New ideas can’t pay for the cost of new buildings, so the new buildings are forced to go back to the established organizations to get their money. Density, centrality and affordability seem to me to be the keys to attract the makers among us.

Dave's picture
Dave on March 29, 2012 - 12:54 Permalink

When I first arrived at the university after almost ten years of working in crowded, noisy newsrooms, I was given a private office in which to work.

Um,” I said. “This is really nice. Can I work in a room with other people?”

Hahaha!” they said. “A private office! Everyone’s dream! You’ll love it.”

Um,” I said. “Okay.”

I didn’t love it. It was waaaay to quiet. Whenever I had something to write, I took my laptop over to the student centre so I could work in a chaos similar to what I was used to in a newsroom.

Just over a year ago, I moved my laptop to a shared office with a couple of fantastically nice fellows whose work is almost completely unrelated to my own. It’s been wonderful for both my productivity and mood.

Gimme the chaos any day.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 29, 2012 - 12:58 Permalink

Upon reading this post again this morning I realize that what I have described is, in essence, a university. Or at least my ideal university, one where the departmental walls aren’t as impenetrable. And without all that silly “credentials” layer. And with better coffee and more artists.