Innovation Is Wonderful. So How Do You Do It? 

Electric cars, cars that drive themselveswatches that double as phones, phones that double as cameras, burgers that taste like burgers but aren’t burgers, apps that let you order fast food, concert tickets, groceries, book flights, meet the a person for a date…the list of life-changing innovations goes onand on. And then there’s the very industry that Carr Workplaces helped innovate way back in 2003coworking. Why should individuals or even small and medium-sized companies undertake the great expense and stress of negotiating and leasing office space and then hiring IT and support staff when they can get great offices with those amenities and more for a fraction of the cost by sharing office centers with other like-minded folks? It seems like a no-brainer today but even just a few years ago such an idea was often met with quizzical looks.  

Every week seems to bring a new trend that we are likely to soon adopt and then, love it or hate it, wonder how we ever lived without it. How, though, do we make space for innovation to happen – first, in the literal sense, we all seem so swamped with never-ending emails and meetings, that simply having time to think about how we can do something smarter or easier, seems hard to come by. Then, second, how do you breed a culture of receptivity to new ideas that might seem strange, costly or too hard to undertake?  

For this blog we spoke to two people who have embraced innovation throughout their careers in the hope of gaining some perspective. First, we talked with Oliver T. CarrJr., from which Carr Workplaces takes its name. Not only did Mr. Carr help pioneer the coworking industry, but he’s been credited as being a major force in the revitalization of major urban centers such as Washington DC and at the youthful age of 94 has strong opinions on the importance of community for building innovative companies. “People need a sense of belonging. When they feel like they have a say in things then they want to take care of it more and make it better,” he said. “Companies that have profit-sharing, like, for instance, the Green Bay Packers, view the company differently,” and have a greater interest in its future, he explained   

Mr. Carr, who started his career nearly 70 years ago, said that with innovation it’s equally important to “recognize the parts of a whole.” He feels that community can take place anywhere and it is often little details which inspire people to become more invested in their homes and places of work. “With any building, its main purpose should be on improving quality of life. An office shouldn’t just be a workplace but also have green spaces, have an educational component for the employees, and serve as a social center.” He recalled one of his earliest major constructions, an office building near the White House at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave, where the trees lining the street weren’t being properly maintained by the city, “so we decided to take those spaces in front of our building and make small gardens. It made a huge difference. People coming into the building would marvel at how nice our green spaces made them feel when coming to work.”  

To further explore how innovation happens we also spoke to someone who literally has the term in his titleDavid Broeckner is the Chief Innovation and Collaboration Officer at Purdue Research Foundation, and he stressed that innovation isn’t just nice to have but, “as an organization or business if you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind. In a nutshell, the PRF pursues scientific and technological advancement by harnessing the tremendous intellectual property developed Purdue researchers, faculty and students and then channeling those ideas into patents for start-ups or licensing agreements, such as for new pharmaceutical drugs or IT components. Mr. Broeckner was quick to underscore the value of coworking for boosting innovation because of how it eliminates isolation. “Coworking allows creative collisions to take placeso business can interact naturally,” such as in café or lounge areas forming a natural birthplace for new ideas and relationships. The Purdue Research Foundation has actually teamed up with Carr Workplaces to bring a coworking center to the Purdue campus’ Discovery Park , a 40acre research campus, in 2020 precisely so that “students and faculty aren’t in isolation. They can interact with businesses, bringing the outside world to Purdue,” Broeckner said.

When speaking about how to create space, if you will, for innovation, Broeckner again gave a nod to Carr Workplaces because of its emphasis on support services, saying that “time is fixed and will always the biggest limitation. When you have great services where others can take care of mundane or routine things for you, that’s time-enabling and creates value for you to focus on innovating.” 

Here are some things to think about when pondering innovation in your life or the culture of work at your organization:  

  • Do you routinely do the same tasks each day or week, and is there a way to automate them, such as with apps or via outsourcing to virtual assistants? It can feel great to get to inbox zero, but it may not be a productive use of your time. 
  • Are your tasks creating value? Are they multipliers for profit or the goals of your organization, or are your duties merely helping you stay afloat? If your time is spent merely staying busy it’s probably not helping you or your organization in the long run.  
  • Seek outside counsel. Hearing the same ideas and opinions can be suffocating to growth. Getting outside perspectives can open your eyes to how things can be streamlined.  
  • Create space simply to think. Maybe it’s 20 minutes of meditation each day, perhaps it’s a walk after lunch, or a regular white board session with colleagues. Having scheduled time away from emails and notifications can do wonders for your creativity and innovative juices.  

Are you curious about experiencing life at Carr WorkplacesVisit here to receive a complimentary week. And if you’d like to learn more about the new partnership between Carr Workplaces and Purdue Research Foundation, you can read more here 

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