The Gift of Innovation
This blog is a seasonal catch-up letter for my old clients, fans, friends, and family but I wanted make it a useful gift as well, and so I will tell my MAYA story in a way that answers this question:
What does it take to be creative, collaborative, and innovative?
MAYA is a design consultancy and innovation research lab and quite possibly the coolest place I have ever worked. In October of this year I joined their team of super-smart, super-creatives and signed up for being pushed out of my comfort zone, challenged to learn, create, and know more every day.
MAYA has industrial designers, software engineers, human scientists, service designers, business strategists, animators, behavioral specialists, and visual designers. When I ask a fellow MAYAn about their background, it isn’t unusual to be surprised at the response. I asked one of the business strategists about his career history and among other management consulting positions that you might expect was a surprisingly recent stint as a custom woodworker. Oh, and outside of work he is a jazz guitarist….and one of of our animators is fluent in 6 languages…and people are headed “home” for the holidays to Jamaica and Buenos Aires. Of course.
The Power of Diversity
At any given point there are groups of people, mixed from many disciplines trying to figure out a better interface for a washing machine, improving customer engagement for a healthcare company, creating an effective business strategy for a large company that needs to be more competitive, inventing an alarm system for complex industrial machinery, or even figuring out how to 3D print an Oreo cookie. For years in my own consulting business, I have been helping my clients create and empower diverse teams, sharing the research that shows that teams with diverse backgrounds are better at innovation and problem solving. Check out my earlier blogs on diversity and coffee. The innovative results generated by the teams at MAYA prove this out but there is more to learn here.
The Power of Engagement
Our business development pipeline is very transparent and as a project becomes real, the team can be both curated with the right skills assigned to the job, and staffed with interested volunteers. Depending on the project and its needs, people occasionally have the opportunity to self-select into projects that match their interests, working in their personal passion zone. Watch the video about how we work which we wrote, filmed, animated, and acted in. Of course.
These opportunities to self select into a project result in teams that include people who really want to be there because they are interested in the work that needs to be done. That is just one of the things that MAYA does to support an engaged workforce and we know that systems that create engagement drive results. Towers Watson, a global consulting firm reports that in a study with 50 global companies, those with low engagement levels had an average 9.9% operating margin while those with high engagement reported an average of 27.4%.
The Power of Make Time
MAYAns are encouraged to block off big chunks of working time on their calendars. We are makers and as such, we need space to think and make uninterrupted by meetings. Our space includes desks arranged in neighborhoods, but also numerous alone spaces, felt lined alcoves with booths that snuggle you in acoustically, a library with comfortable chairs, and a workshop with tools for making rough prototypes. Solo making and idea incubation provides new content to feed our collaborative conversations, adding to the range of possible solutions and increasing innovation.
The Power of Trust
One day I needed a stamp for a personal letter and asked for the location of the closest Post Office. I was shown to the cash box where I could borrow money or stamps and leave an IOU. Trust is a core part of the culture at MAYA. Policies and procedures are only those that are legally necessary. They are guides for our behavior and we are expected to use our best judgment and do the right thing for our projects, clients, and company. This matters because Trust is # 6 in the top 10 indicators of peak performance in knowledge worker teams based on a recent study by the Center for Evidence Based Management. As a side note, numbers one, two, and three are social cohesion, perceived supervisory support, and internal communication.
Making Things Visible
We also have lots of systems, spaces, and tools that specifically support making ideas visible. Every possible meeting place whether a conference room or casual sitting space has stacks of sticky notes and a variety of writing tools. Making our inner thoughts visible is a big part of our process. See this blog from one of our long time team members.
For our own use, we also invented something we call Teamboards (TM). These 4’ wide by 6’ high panels hang from pegs and cover all of the walls in our office. They are lightweight with a whiteboard side and a pinboard side. That means in my make-time I can work out an idea alone in a space that allows for concentration, and then carry the whiteboard I was working on into another space where I can work collaboratively, and then park it on the pegs behind my desk so I can continue to develop it until I want to carry it to the next conversation.
The tools you use impact the results you get. Environment matters.
Which brings me to my role as Practice Lead of Creative Environments. I know from my academic research, from experience running my own business, and from working with clients on their businesses, that the environment has a significant impact on human behavior. In an organization those collective behaviors deliver the results you get. The challenge is usually when people talk about environment they are only talking about the physical space and that isn’t enough to solve the problem so it is no longer enough to fuel my passions. The organizational structure, the programs and amenities, the technology strategy and numerous other factors physical, digital, and cultural, all join together to create the environment that supports (or interferes with) the behaviors that are needed. The design of a “creative environment” has to address the entire environment. Read more about that in my first MAYA blog.
That is the practice I am building here at MAYA. Beautiful design is not enough. Following the open office trend is not enough.
I am inventing a future where smart physical space leverages capabilities, where both no-tech and high-tech tools enable local and remote collaboration, and where a path to cultural change creates alignment around purpose and vision.
My new projects involve much more than solving an architectural space problem. We move businesses into the future.
I still have a lot of friends and followers in the western US, clients and employee alumni from Woolsey Studio, former academic colleagues from Arizona State, design fans who have followed my work for years, and friends that are wondering if I have lost my mind. I left my own successful practice and sunny Phoenix to work for someone else in Pittsburgh.… but here is the thing, I love Pittsburgh. Who knew it was such a great city! and MAYA is the poster child for creativity, collaboration, and innovation. Fantastic! So, I will learn to drive in snow because it looks like we are staying.
I am actually still working with a couple of my old clients on the west coast so I will visit and see you from time to time and I love touring people around MAYA so feel free to come visit anytime!
Best Holiday wishes to all of you and your families.