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Does Mobility Destroy Creativity?

With Telework Week fast approaching on March 4th and the leaked memo from Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, turning back the clock on workplace flexibility, it seems like a good time to comment on the twin concepts of “connection” and “innovation.” Whatever Mayer’s real motivation for wanting to bring the Yahoo workforce back into the office, her stated goals include promoting the idea that people are more creative when they interact in person, both through formal and unplanned meetings. Is there is something in this? Are mobile work environments really less creative? My own experience says “no.” Creativity is a curious thing. By its nature, creativity is not something you can plan, organize, or order up. Some people are more creative in their own quiet space, developing innovative ideas on their own before bringing them to a larger audience. Others are more creative when challenged by the interaction of a group. Surely there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creativity, no necessary link between innovation and proximity. And if we decide that face-to face interaction provides an organizational benefit, can’t we schedule or promote these interactions in such a way that they do not require a corporate edict – thou shalt sit at one’s desk every day? Strong, resilient, innovative organizations that trust their employees do not need to order them into the office. People will connect because they find that those connections provide value, both professionally and personally. And they will build on those face-to-face interactions with virtual connections. Isn’t that what the Yahoo’s of the world are supposed to promote? What is the betting on when this edict is recognized for the reactionary mistake that it is and is recalled?

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I wonder if all of Yahoo’s employess have Ms.Mayer perks – on site services, people to delegate things to (including the thinking), and so on? Do all type workers really need to collaborate on day to day, face to face basis?

Dean Halstead

To look at the answer to the question, all one needs to do is to look at the history of creative advancements. Whether it is the “coffee shop” or other gathering places, innovation does come from people interacting. Unfortunately for Yahoo, generally, innovation comes from interacting with people OUTSIDE of your organization. I am happy that my regular interaction is from a wide variety of people and professions. From this “cross-pollination”, I get to steal ideas from say healthcare that may map into software. The point that innovation can’t be controlled is definitely an astute observation, I would further say that innovation happens when many people with problems to solve come together and talk. I think innovation is more of a personal and cultural thing that a “place” thing.