I just finished Chapter 2: Liquid Networks of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From. In this chapter, he likens environments to the three states of matter for water. In environments that are too chaotic (like a gas) or too rigid (like ice), people have a difficult time connecting, brainstorming, and maintaining focus on the subject at hand. A perfect environment is more like water, where there is flexibility to exchange ideas while zeroing in on a primary focus.
My favorite quotes come from when Johnson is describing a study done in 1964 by Arthur Koestler, looking at the conditions that were present when scientists made the most breakthroughs:
“…most important ideas emerged during regular lab meetings, where a dozen or so researchers would gather and informally present and discuss their latest work.” (Location 704)
“…the ground zero of innovation was not the microscope. It was the conference table.” (Location 706)
While we have many meeting rooms, common areas, and even a dedicated “collaboration room” in our workplace, I think our biggest challenge to creating this type of working environment is the fact that, especially within my department, many of us are on the road for weeks at a time. While those weeks are energizing, fast-paced days when we are on site with educators, there is a tendency to feel very isolated after the day sitting alone in your hotel room. Times when we come together in our office building often must be planned months in advance. My question for my current work:
How do we create “Liquid Networks” so that even though we are physically isolated, we have a place for informal conversations where we can bounce ideas off of one another? We certainly have the technology (Google Hangout, Skype, Facebook, Twitter), but how do we create this virtual space without people feeling obligated to log in after a long day’s work?
Other folks who travel or often who work away from your building…do you have ideas that have worked?