Four characteristics of collaborative environments

Doug Hayes
August 22, 2019

Not needed for release

The expertise and ideas needed for meaningful innovation are not always found in-house

To establish a culture of creativity and innovation, you need to allow ideas to flow from everyone. You’ll need multiple players contributing their expertise and perspectives to develop the best solutions. The most innovative environments have four common characteristics: 

  1. Diverse mix of spare “parts” in one place: within biology, these “parts” are the various species (and genetic codes) found within a small area.
  2. The spare parts have ability to combine….
  3. A matrix that allows parts to move around….
  4. And semi-permeable boundaries, meaning there is always some new parts coming into the environment to refresh it...

These four characteristics promote random collisions between the spare parts, which form novel combinations, rapid iteration of new combinations, and an efficient recycling system.

Examples of Collaborative Innovation Spaces

The taverns of the American colonies

which brought together Enlightenment ideals with colonial practicality to form a new idea: revolution & self-governance. 

Or look to the Left Bank of Paris in the 20th Century,

in which the likes of Einstein & Poincare traded ideas with Picasso, Oscar Wilde, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Hemingway. This small neighborhood attracted hundreds of pre-eminent thinkers, who moved through the salons and coffee-houses freely - like a fluid matrix - and combined ideas to create innovative movements in art (cubism), science (relativity), politics, and philosophy. 

Today, we can look to innovative powerhouses like MIT’s Media Lab to find the same 4 characteristics of innovative environments;

  • A small building
  • with large open spaces for mingling
  • in which you can see, on any given day...engineers working with visual artists, global mega-cap corporations partnering with student teams, and co-development projects across biotechnology, computer science, and music.

The diverse mix of expertise and perspective found within the four walls of the Media Lab have led to some of the most transformative innovations in modern society....things likes

  • GPS
  • touchscreen interfaces
  • and wearables, including Google Glass.

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