Creating Space for Change

Welcome to the Grand Cafe in Oxford, England.  The Grand Cafe was one of the first coffee houses to open in England in 1650.  With the replacement of alcohol as the daytime drink of choice, the English coffee house blossomed into a locus of learning and was crucial to the development and the spread of “The Enlightenment.”  The open layout and informal atmosphere of the 17th century coffee house gave rise to “penny universities” where virtuosi from different backgrounds and specialities came together and “conducted research” without the formality of the university setting.  “The coffeehouse was a place for like-minded scholars to congregate to read, as well as learn from and to debate with each other…” (Bryan Cowan).  Many of the innovations that developed during this period in world history have a coffee house somewhere in their story.

Like the english coffee house, the use of space in organizations can play a critical role in creating a environment which facilitates daily process innovation.  From the layout of the physical work area to the design of systems which expose problems in real time, leaders would be wise to pay attention to the flow of work, people and information when establishing expectations for rapid change.

When designing your space, let the flow of work drive the location of people and materials.  Seek to open up the space and make it easier for everyone to see the entire process at a glance as well as communicate in real time without physical barriers.  Create opportunities for people to “bump” into each other throughout the day and have spontaneous interactions.  Design collaboration zones in close proximity to the work where teams have the room and the raw materials to experiment with new solutions to daily process problems.

Above all, demand more from your work area than just a place to house computers and cubicles.  There is a magic dynamic which occurs when people are able to connect with their process and engage with other in collaborative activities.  The more successful you are at using space to help drive these behaviors, the more surprised you will be at the rate and impact of the changes that will result.


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