Need to come up with your next thought leadership campaign? How to create a Building 20 at your professional services firm

Named for a decrepit, dark, unsafe structure on the M.I.T. campus, Building 20* is regarded as one of the most creative spaces in the world because of the wide range of discoveries it birthed.  In its life cycle, it housed an electronics department, laboratory for nuclear scientists, linguistics department, machine shop, piano repair facility, cell-culture lab and the R.O.T.C. among others.

While you may not have departments that diverse in your professional services organization, you most certainly have people with assorted backgrounds, who bring their own thinking and creativity to the issues at hand.  But, often that knowledge sits untapped.

Diversity of thinking is a powerful commodity in professional services organizations, so how do you make sure you get the maximum benefit? Here are a few ways to virtually create your own Building 20:

  1. If you have more than one specialty, such as professional services, financial services or healthcare as we do at Bliss; invite people from all disciplines to brainstorm big ideas together. Everyone brings something different to the party.
  2. Include different types of staff in creativity exercises on behalf of clients. The people in your HR department may approach a problem by thinking about how it will affect employees first, while the finance department may use an efficiency lens – both valuable approaches when brainstorming new ideas.
  3. Look outside your organization for inspiration and ideas. Invite outsiders to speak to your staff – and don’t just consider the obvious. If you are in PR, bringing in a reporter is interesting, but also consider inviting successful entrepreneurs, change agents, disrupters and people who grew companies out of an innovative idea.
  4. Have originality sessions that are not about clients or even directly about work. Here is a great blog post from How Design that outlines several exercises that can be adapted by any professional services firm for jumpstarting creativity.
  5. Lastly, make sure you have a physical gathering space in your office – one bigger than the area around a water cooler! Whether it is a lounge area off the kitchen or an open area with some iPads and a huge round work table, create a space where your staff can bump into each other and collaborate, or simply talk about what they are working on.

What other ideas do you have for jumpstarting creativity? Has anyone tried to create a space conducive to fostering creative thinking around thought leadership at your company? Did it work?

*Building 20 originally housed the Radiation laboratory at M.I.T. (1942) and was responsible for the Allied war effort research in 1942. The radar device for fighter aircraft that would allow pilots to identify distant German bombers was developed here.  After the war it became a building for scientists and laboratories that had nowhere else to go.


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