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Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge intensive work’


Photo credit: ZeroOne, Flickr

According to a case study by Jarmo Suominen at MIT on campus mobility, creative thinking and new discovery does not solely happen in labs, meeting rooms or classes but all the more in leisurely and informal places like out at a park where people go out for picnic lunches. In general, a big theme in the explanation of innovative thinking and creative information intensive work is “encounter”. People seem to be at their most creative when around and in contact to others. New ideas come about in relaxed settings and in contact.

What does fruitful encounter require? As it seems, the surroundings matter. Although a work place may have designated rooms for interaction around work subjects, the most rewarding and rich places for coming up with new ideas are ones that are less obvious, or ones that do not deliberately try to direct people’s thinking towards work. These places include coffee shops, lunch restaurants or parks where colleagues can easily get to from the work place and that aren’t specifically built and designed for efficient working. They are also places where people across business areas and departments can meet, share information and create unusual connections. As work places and offices typically aim at getting cost-effective solutions from human beings as well as the office solutions, what people are mostly surrounded by may not be the most fruitful place for creative thinking.

What do the places that spur on creative thinking have in common? Coffee shops, parks, bars and restaurants are designed for recreation and pleasure. They aim at helping people enjoy themselves in each others’ company, have their needs met, making people feel relaxed, safe and at peace. These spaces are not designed for containing, controlling and streamlining the use of human resources, they are meant to produce good feeling. One way they do this is by supporting relaxation through a combination of thought-out choices and structure but at the same time freedom of choice for the customer. When entering a park of coffee shop, the person can freely choose where to sit, what to do although the surroundings obviously permit only a limited set of actions. Through relaxation, feeling of safety and satisfaction, people can enter into encounters through a positive and energetic mindset.

If a company wishes to support the creativity of its employees and coming  up with innovative new products is a core function, it may be unwittingly be working against these goals through tightly set boundaries for work time and work place. Most employers may think that it is not their responsibility to be there for employees’ “recreation and pleasure”. Employers are however required to provide work tools and other requisites for completing the work they are asking employees to do. The main question here is: is the office a good tool for creative work?

The need to control processes and streamline human action as part of production may have lead to environments that stifle new thought. A process can be defined as repetition of a function that has been defined beforehand. If a company wishes to create something new, they need to free their employee minds from previously defined processes and environments that encourage repetition towards freer interaction and thought.  Making offices more leisurely, personalized and relaxed may be one way to increase creativity at the workplace. At a minimum, it is essential to make sure that people are situated at the office so that are able to relax, concentrate and yet freely interact. This is something that sounds simple, but when you think about how offices are typically arranged, there are a lot of small things that could be changed with big results. For instance, the open office where people sit behind each other creates a, evolutionarily understandable feeling of insecurity – someone can be lurking behind your back.

Nevertheless, even though the office could be transformed to resemble a coffee shop, it will still not be as spontaneous as the outdoors. In the search for new ideas that produce new connections, chance and randomness are important.  Allowing more choice about work places and supporting voluntary, undefined out-of-the -office encounters and engagements with other people is one way for companies to support creative thinking.

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Photo credit: Nrbelex / Brett Weinstein

Computer-based information systems are an analogy of the dynamics of the mind and human information processing, just as the steam engine was in its time. However, the human mind is never as direct in its logic and decision-making as information systems seem to be. In fact, human decision-making is full of irrationality and prejudice and is often based on the use of simplification and heuristics. It is the only way that people can cope and balance between the mass of information that comes from the environment and the mass of internal information and activity.

Corners are cut in reasoning especially when complex mind structures attempt to make sense out of other complex mind structures. People tend to group and judge others based on single experiences and make decisions in relationships according to obscure feelings and irrational logic. Situations that are especially full of questionable logic and reasoning are ones where people are required to evaluate each other. Most are familiar with development discussions and job interviews. It has been shown that without specific advice on what to evaluate, the assessment that people make of each other and themselves are influenced by e.g. gender and acquaintanceship or even height. In competitive situations at work, our evolutionary base and survival instincts take control and bias our evaluations in favor of the opposite sex.

The only way to keep objective in situations where people evaluate others is to tie the assessment to some objective measure that directs thought and eliminates the influence of irrelevant factors. Another way to increase objectivity is to develop self awareness so that personal bias can be recognized and questioned or to use experts that have more awareness and objectivity.

One method of the mind that permits function with the amount of information available is creating categories, hierarchies and relationships. Within large groups of people such as companies and other organizations, people are bound to try and organize information about others through perceiving hierarchy. Some people in leading positions would rather not be perceived through power structures but as equal coworkers with only somewhat different responsibilities. However, due to the weight of past experiences and management practices originating from industrial times as well as the nature of human thought processes, equality is just an illusion in most typical organizations.

Perception of authority and leadership can also produce feelings of security. Leaders are expected to take final responsibility which diminishes pressure from others. It is also simpler to think of business occurrences as the result of only one man’s decisions instead of complicated interaction between all the employees involved, global economic customer needs and pure chance.

Perceiving work through task content and not outer structure such as work roles or positions in corporate hierarchy will in itself be a huge challenge for information processing. Luckily, the cognitive burden of this change will be divided among individuals.  Because leaders will no longer have to manage the metacognitive elements of work, they can freely concentrate more on the information content and the potential of people doing it. Also, as work is identified with task content and the people that work on tasks, the bias that people have of attributing the company’s success or failure to single people will diminish.

As business becomes more knowledge intensive, human centered and less computational, there are specific laws that come to effect. Specifically, obscure human reasoning and creative thinking, which cannot be reliably modeled or predicted, will have to be somehow managed and fostered to reach company goals. This requires that leadership incorporate an understanding of human reasoning and offer structure and specific tools to overcome prejudice and oversimplification that are innate to everyone. In addition, tools to assess and support personal development and potential can no longer be viewed as a service for only the few but as essential part of every employee’s work.

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