The needs of people and the needs of the company are at the crux of the issues facing corporate creativity. Creativity requires give-and-take, communication, thoughtful critiques and alone time. But, all too often, ideas fall between departmental silos or get caught up in corporate politics.
Then there's the bottom line. Companies can't just accommodate their employees; there are stockholders, analysts, the whole outside world less concerned with worker contentment than a healthy dose of profits.
"Within organizations, there are different objectives," says Jill Perry-Smith, a professor at Emory University's Goizueta Business School who has studied the effect of informal social networks on creativity. "In many cases, some of the systems that produce effective organizations simultaneously may hamper creativity within those firms."
Moreover, creativity -- with the promise of newness embedded in its very core ("creative" implies something novel and different) -- presents a risk to the way things have always been done.
So it's a work in progress. America remains a bottom line-oriented culture, more comfortable with doers than thinkers, wary of unorthodox arrangements and nonconformity. But things are changing, whether our offices are ready for it or not. If there's a message to all those books, all those buzzwords, all that cheese-moving, it's this: If you want to improve creativity, you have to be ready to adjust.
What works, researchers have determined, is moderation: a mix of personalities and disciplines able to discuss and critique ideas in a variety of settings. We can hang out in coffee shops. We can use our Wi-Fi-equipped tablets. We can meet in small groups or conference with people half a world away.
We may still have to work, but we're not going to be chained to a cube.
"People know when they're given choice and when they're being forced into a behavior," says Steelcase's Ludwig. "What I love about American business culture is the innovative ways people find to get what they need and do things their way."
So the furniture can help, but it's only as effective as the people who know how to use it. Ponder that the next time you're sitting in your cube.
How do you nurture your creativity in the workplace? Let us know in the comments below.