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Whether you call it “flexspace” or “skunk works”, a separate space can work wonders for creative innovation
Ask a friend to picture a coworking or flexible office and chances are they’ll imagine a bright, open space furnished with designer desks and the occasional sofa. Solitary entrepreneurs tapping away on laptops, and small groups of coworkers clustered around breakout areas, might also be included. In the corner, a barista prepares freshly-ground coffee for those in need of a gourmet caffeine fix. And your friend wouldn’t be wrong: many coworking spaces do tend to look a lot like this – but what is sometimes forgotten are the other business-friendly amenities, like a meeting room or a private office, that are also available.
For the writer, podcaster and marketing extraordinaire Seth Godin, it all came down to a question of space. As the founder of Yoyodine, an online marketing agency he set up in 1995 that used contests, games and the like to promote companies, he knows a thing or two about how to engage an audience – and Yahoo! thought so too.
In 1998 he sold his company to the internet giant for a cool $30m (£23m) – and became its vice president of direct marketing in the process. That new role involved being tasked with some knotty problems, not least among them the need to develop innovative new in-house products so that Yahoo! could avoid having to buy supplier companies like his again.
In an interview on the Everyone Hates Marketers podcast, he explains how finding radical solutions can be difficult when you’re part of a huge machine like Yahoo! and you need the core product to keep functioning while innovating in other areas: “Because you don’t want your asset to get broken. But if you take part of that asset and put it into an experimental mode, that’s how you can grow with advantage,” he says. And to do that, Godin needed time away from the office and space to think. “I sat down with the CEO and cofounder and I said, ‘Jerry, here’s what I want to do. I want you to … give me two employees, and let me go across the street.”
What he’s describing is a “skunk works”, a collaborative office space dedicated to a project that’s set apart from the main centre of operations to boost creativity and productivity improvement. The term was coined in 1943, when the US Army’s Air Tactical Service Command (ATSC) asked the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (now Lockheed Martin) to develop a fighter jet. Without any of the usual bureaucracy or rules a large organisation typically demands, the engineers were free to do something truly innovative – and the XP-80 Shooting Star was delivered in 143 days, a week ahead of schedule.
Today’s skunk works may not require a fighter jet at the end of the project but they need be no less revolutionary. Coworking and flexible offices are ideal candidates when the need for a creative workspace is in the offing, since the day offices and meeting rooms that sit alongside the shared working areas can be leased (and even reconfigured) according to specific requirements. And whether it’s a day, a week or a month or more, it’s all possible.
With over 1,000 locations in the US alone, a global network like Regus also has the added benefit of choice, so you’re likely to find somewhere close to base yourself. Business amenities like photocopiers and printers are included, and there’s a friendly team on hand to help with any admin. When you need a break, that communal area with the good coffee is ready and waiting – after all, great ideas come when you least expect them – and who knows what other like-minded folk you might run into.
So, the only thing left to ask is: what will your next big idea be?