Sharp piece (sorry, subscription required) in the January 30 edition of the New Yorker about the myth that non-judgmental brainstorming is the “ideal [creative] technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity.”
There’s a problem with brainstorming, the Jonah Lehrer article says.
It doesn’t work.
But chance encounters do.
The New Yorker piece provides as examples two buildings that fostered creative thinking:
1) The Pixar headquarters, designed by Steve Jobs, that was “arranged around a central atrium, so that Pixar’s diverse staff of artists, writers, and computer scientists would run into each more often.”
2) MIT’s legendary Building 20.
Originally a 1942 makeshift structure to house the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, “the main radar research institute for for the Allied war effort,” Building 20 became a catch-all after World War II “for scientists who had nowhere else to go.”
By the nineteen-fifties, Building 20 was home to the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, the Linguistics Department, and the machine shop. There was a particle accelerator, the R.O.T.C., a piano repair facility, and a cell-culture lab.
And then something wonderful happened:
Building 20 became a strange, chaotic domain, full of groups who had been thrown together by chance and who knew little about one another’s work. And yet, by the time it was finally demolished, in 1998, Building 20 had become a legend of innovation, widely regarded as one of the most creative spaces in the world. In the postwar decades, scientists working there pioneered a stunning list of breakthroughs, from advances in high-speed photography to the development of the physics behind microwaves. Building 20 served as an incubator for the Bose Corporation. It gave rise to the first video game and to Chomskyan linguistics.
The hardworking staff bets it gives rise to a really interesting book as well.