Cubicle Hell

January 25, 2011

Why do we do stupid things to smart people?

I know a brilliant, world-class graphic designer. She has worked on the best brands in the world. I partnered with this gem to re-brand one of my clients. He  made a million dollars in six months. You read that right seven figures in six months*

I treat this design star like gold because she is. She is talented, professional and kind. Your remarkable talent needs to be loved and protected not corralled in open-concept cubicle hell. Knowledge workers use their brains to innovate. They need alone zones: places where they can think without interruption.

Sure I get it, not everyone can have a corner office: there are only four corners. But, we need to stop expecting fresh ideas to come from stale spaces that are bland, conforming, confining or disruptive.  We know more about the brain than in any other time in history yet we chain people to desks and wonder why some act like wage slaves caring and doing just enough.

The industrial production line has been re-engineered into workplaces hives but there is little honey. Fluorescent lights fatigue eyes, interruptions disrupt thoughts and recycled air fatigues brains. Regardless of whether you call this time ‘the era of the knowledge worker’ or ‘the creative age’ it is critical to cherish your innovators. Dr. John Medina who wrote Brain Rules says if you want good ideas get out and exercise before you create. The brain loves the oxygen and the stimulation. Newton wouldn’t have discovered gravity if he hadn’t seen the apple fall from the tree. Leonardo Di Vinci wouldn’t have sketched a helicopter if he hadn’t watched a dragonfly. JR Rowling wouldn’t have written Harry Potter if she hadn’t had a ‘third space’, not her home or office but a coffee shop, to write and write and write.

Give your staff  noise cancellation headphones if they want them. (Your more introverted talent will quietly weep for joy). Use ‘don’t bug me signs’, a fly with a line through it that cubicle workers can hang when they must be interruption-free. (I created this for legal staff in cramped quarters).  Let your people work from home, at the library or coffee shop when they need to concentrate. Trust them with some autonomy and they will gratefully deliver. If you can’t trust them you shouldn’t have hired them.

If you want people to think outside of the box let them out of it.


*I led the process to rename Colin Dombrowsky’s  companies Sole Science (SoleScience Clinic, SoleScience Lab, SoleScience Symposium and Holiday Sole.) I collaborated with this talented designer to create brand touchpoints from logos, banners and business cards to innovative referral pads. Her visuals were so remarkable that the brand became irresistible  – so irressistable that other orthotics professionals are buying into the brand in droves.


One Response to “Cubicle Hell”

  1. JM on May 3rd, 2011 11:21 am

    Love this: Give your staff noise cancellation headphones if they want them. (Your more introverted talent will quietly weep for joy).

If it is not your genius it is not your job.
Louise B. Karch