Where do you have your best ideas?

It’s a question I love asking. I’m fascinated by the surroundings and situations that people create – whether consciously or not – in order to help them think clearly, solve problems and just really feel ‘themselves’. I’ve found that no matter what walk of life people come from, the answers that come back almost always fall into one or more of the following areas: nature, on the move, in social situations or (alone) in the bath or shower!

Nature

Nature brought indoors at Google Tel Aviv provides a stress-reducing atmosphere
Nature brought indoors at Google Tel Aviv provides a stress-reducing atmosphere

Nature has a profound impact on us as humans. Sunlight, fresh air and natural surroundings positively affect peoples’ sense of wellbeing and happiness. Even a view of nature is powerful. Research has shown hospital patients with a window overlooking trees to feel less pain and get better quicker than those with a view of a wall or no window at all.

And office workers have been shown to experience lower mental fatigue and stress when nature is present. During a typical working day, people can spend prolonged periods of focused attention on one thing, such as a computer screen. This strains the brain and can cause distraction, irritability, impatience and causes people to become less effective in performing tasks. In the 1980s, environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan developed Attention Restoration Theory, which showed that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, where the brain engages in “effortless attention”, which relieves “directed attention fatigue”.  Attention may be “restored” by changing to a different kind of task that uses different parts of the brain. So next time you find yourself stuck or need to crack a problem, take a walk in a park or gaze out of the window.

Activity

A lunchtime run at Nike WHQ keeps body and mind healthy
A lunchtime run at Nike WHQ keeps body and mind healthy

We all know that we should exercise more – that it keeps us physically healthy and fit.  But when it comes to thinking, physical activity increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and also a specific protein that is known to promote the health of nerve cells and improve mental functioning. Moreover, repetitive action also moves the brain into ‘alpha’ – the best brain state for problem solving and lateral thinking.  The alpha brainwave frequency is present when you’re relaxed but alert, and is at the base of your conscious awareness.  It is in this mental state that you have access to your subconscious mind, when your imagination, visualisation, memory, learning and concentration is heightened.  It’s not just physical exercise that can induce alpha; taking deep breaths, driving and other repetitive actions like knitting can also do the job!  This may come as no surprise to you if you find your best thinking happens when you’re taking to dog out for a walk!

Social Settings

A public cafe on-site at the headquarters of Urban Outfitters is an inspiring creative space for people-watchers
A public cafe on-site at the headquarters of Urban Outfitters is an inspiring creative space for people-watchers

 

Some people find that ideas come to them better when they’re relaxing with friends and family or people-watching in places like bars, parks or cafes where there’s a ‘buzz’ of activity. The visual stimulation of public spaces and interaction with other people can be just the right tonic for getting some people’s brain juices flowing.

coffee-shop-working-photo-Liz Clayton

In recent years coffee shops have become unofficial offices of an army of flexible workers, and in just 5 years, the number of people teleworking in the US has increased by almost 80% and self-employed workers has risen by XX% in the same time period.

– Bouncing ideas off other people – stimulates thinking

– Background noise – helps to get you thinking more critically

In the bath or shower!

 Chillaxing in a foam-filled bath in Google's Water Lounge in Zurich.  It's a place designed to refresh stressed minds and maximise the potential for Eureka! moments.
Chillaxing in a foam-filled bath in Google’s Water Lounge in Zurich. It’s a place designed to refresh stressed minds and maximise the potential for Eureka! moments.

For some, it’s the sensation of running water and being relaxed and alone with one’s thoughts that enables real problem solving to occur. That twilight state between being awake and asleep can be a fantastic time for ideas. If you’ve ever wondered why you hear the expression ‘I’m so busy I can’t even think’ at work or why the name of that actress in that film-about-the-dog-and-the-old-guy suddenly comes to you in the shower, it’s all down to your brain’s state and its ability to access your subconscious. Most of us operate during the majority or our day in the 3-4% of our brain’s processing capacity that is conscious. This is where our mind usually operates in daily life. In such a state we have full conscious awareness and attention of everything around us and usually only one side of brain is operating. This is a good state for sequential thinking and processing – actioning things – getting through your to-do list, reminding the kids about their homework whilst driving them to football practice – that kind of thing. What it is not good for is thinking holistically or laterally, problem solving or the often sought after ‘aha’ moment.

Archimedes’ ‘Eureka!’ happened in the bath for a good reason. So the provision of showers at work not only encourage cyclists and gym goers to lead physically healthier lives, they also may contribute to better ideas.

Inspiring work environments

When I ask the “where do you have your best ideas” question, interestingly no one says ‘the office’.  We expect our people to perform at their best; the future of work demands more creative thinking and problem solving, more social connectivity and agility, yet we still tend to force them into environments that do not support them.  So spotting your own needs when it comes to inspiration and considering the needs of others can help when defining the environments that we provide for people.

(Incidentally, all of the images shown here are workplaces).

Moo: “The office maketh the company”

Tucked away behind a grey carpark in the heart of Shoreditch, just off London’s “Silicon Roundabout”, a large, industrial-looking building houses a business card printing company with a bright difference.

I approach the London HQ of Moo, the planet’s fastest-growing print company, and rather than being disheartened by the heavy glass door, I’m greeted with a vinyl sticker saying “Ah, push it – push it real good!”.  With a bounce in my stride and Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s 1998 hit jiggling through my brain, I enter a kaleidoscope of colour – a pantone parade that welcomes me into “the place where they love to print”.

Friendly, humorous communication from the moment you arrive at Moo’s HQ communicates the brand’s values and company culture
Friendly, humorous communication from the moment you arrive at Moo’s HQ communicates the brand’s values and company culture

After a few false starts, Moo kicked into life in 2006 when Founder and CEO Richard Moross realised that he needed to re-brand and find people “better than him” to help build the company.  Now at 230 people and still growing, Moo has three offices in the UK and US, with more plans for expansion.  The company has taken the standard business card and created a new way of sharing information about ourselves in a distinctive, fun and personal way.

Moo’s minicards have been dubbed “the Web 2.0 handshake” and have become a favourite with people in the tech space as well as with designers and anyone keen to share their business or personal information in a visual and creative way.  Products include the unique minicards, high quality “Luxe” cards and stickers – and every one is personalisable.

Moo’s unique mini-cards used here to introduce the Moo team
Moo’s unique mini-cards used here to introduce the Moo team

Putting great design first is at the heart of everything Moo does, and it’s important that the brand values cascade from products and services through to everyone who works there.  These values provide a constant as the culture evolves and include consistency of quality as well as the friendly Moo personality.

“Our brand values are explicit and guide the way everyone should be thinking; the cultural values are more implicit”, says Moross.  So it is the actions of people at Moo – as well as their environment – that serve to remind people what the company is all about.

This is something that becomes increasingly important as the company continues to grow.  As it’s no longer practical to go out to lunch together every Friday as it was when there were 10 people in the business, lunch is now brought in and Moross makes an extra effort to sit near someone different.

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The free-food kitchen features an echo of the colour-filled repeating boxes from reception

For Moo, the service and products they provide is inextricably linked with their culture, and the environment plays a crucial role,  Moross explains, “In my view the environment is incredibly important.  It sets the tone for how our thinking is guided”.

By paying attention to the space – whether the furniture, lights or even the small turns of phrases you’ll see in basic communications such as how to use the loos or meeting rooms – it tells a story of what is valued and how people should behave.  In a similar way to the clothes that people wear, the way the space is dressed is an expression of what the company is about.

“They say the suit maketh the man, I think the office maketh the company”, Richard Moross, Founder & CEO of Moo

Visual wit abounds at Moo's London offices - even the sign for the men's loos exudes a sense of fun
Visual wit abounds at Moo’s London offices – even the sign for the men’s loos exudes a sense of fun

Moross is a believer in the “Broken Windows Theory” (made popular by Mayor Giuliani when he literally cleaned up New York City in the 1980s – and saw an unprecedented drop in serious and violent crime.  The theory argues that in effect, if a place looks un-cared for or misused, then it invites further bad behaviour and a downward spiral of crime ensues.  Moross expands on this: “I think the opposite is also true: if you create an environment that feels creative or looks creative or is comfortable then hopefully you’ll get a different result to an environment that is not conducive to that.” 

Home of great design

So how do you go about creating a place where great design happens and people care about quality whilst also feeling relaxed and at home?  Moo enlisted the help of Trifle Creative to help them bring the brand and culture to life, whilst balancing personality and order, creativity and practicality, function and form.

No two meeting rooms are the same at Moo.  Sofas and rug by Floorstory create a relaxed vibe
No two meeting rooms are the same at Moo. Sofas and rug by Floorstory create a relaxed vibe

Moross wanted to reinforce Moo’s relaxed culture without dropping into a “mish-mash” and at the same time reflect its passion for design and quality.

The “Wonderwall” is a wall with multi-colured cubbies painstakingly painted to exact pantone references by Trifle and some Moo volunteers
The “Wonderwall” is a wall with multi-colured cubbies painstakingly painted to exact pantone references by Trifle and some Moo volunteers

The challenge for Moo (as with anyone) is what to prioritise.  “We could have decided to spend £1m here, but then if it’s too finished, too perfect then that also sends the wrong message”.  A good example of using their smarts when it comes to spending: trunking across the building was quoted as being £20,000 to complete, leaving unsightly boxing – and even more to hide the pipes into the walls.  The then CTO said he would look for alternative solutions and found that washing machine tubing could do the job for almost a tenth of the price – and with a result that looks far better.

Delightful Earworms

One of the founding principles of Moo was born of included the need to create something distinctive.  The first ever minicard borrowed principles from phenomena like Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, where the opening lines of the music are built on an irregular 7/8, 8/8 structure. It jars your memory, and the result is an “earworm”,  that sticks and replays over and over again in your head.  It is this purposeful difference that Moo sought to emulate.

Having an irregular shape to the card – something that was not a business card, not a postcard, but something that allowed people just to share a small amount of information about themselves, and with the ability to personalize every card – created something memorable that jolts people out of their regular patterns and creates a moment of delight.

Moo’s offices are reassuringly urban, industrial spaces –  happy home to “Big Moo” (the print machines) – that speak to you in a fun, friendly tone of voice and that tell stories about what people value with attention to the little details that are delightful and memorable.  In fact, as I leave, I find myself humming “Can’t get Moo out of my head…”

The Moo logo created with fabric butterflies by one of the Moo team
The Moo logo created with fabric butterflies by one of the Moo team