Design for Innovation


10 February 2016 - TIM HAWK

This week has been review week here at WSA Studio, and as a part of this process, everyone was invited to take an online test through the website, This site uses a line of questioning based upon the historically significant Myers-Briggs Type Indicator research to align individuals with one of sixteen distinct personalities. Test takers answer 100 probing questions and then a supercomputer assigns a personality type. After the testing, one might expect a group of architects and designers to possess a collection of similar typologies.

Nope. Not at all.

How strange. How on earth could a firm of fourteen architects and designers be composed of individuals holding ten or more types?

We mix it up. We always have. We always will. Why?

Diverse viewpoints foster creativity. Different approaches drive innovation. Multiple perspectives within a small organization can dramatically increase the effectiveness of the design process. Our profession has long known that engagement, criticism, and diverse viewpoints can propel the creative process forward. We know that creativity can exist in isolation, of course, but more importantly, we know that design is enriched by various perspectives. We must look at our design challenges from all angles. Buildings and spaces endure the test of time much better when a wide array of considerations envelop the design process. How does the design stand up to time if its original idea cannot withstand an ideological challenge? Buildings must endure; the stakes are too high to only consider a design challenge from one perspective.

Last June, I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by former President Bill Clinton at the AIA National Convention in Atlanta. Clinton spoke of his foundation’s global initiative to impact client change, improve health and wellness, and positively impact global economic conditions. Of course, Clinton is a charismatic story teller, but one story in particular stood out to me above all. Clinton spoke about the processes he uses to solve complex problems and stated that he has found that teams made of individuals with average intelligence will solve a complex problem more quickly than one subject-area genius working independently. Often, problem solving is not about individual brilliance, it is about considering the challenge resolution from several perspectives. The collection of diverse attempts sparks a creative fire in the group which will fuel and evolve the process of innovation.

True story.

So, given this, and the amazing amount of research that exists in our society on this topic, why are so many of our business sectors not embracing this fact? Why do many of us sit at work each day in complete isolation from one another? Why does “Dilbertville” persist? Why do those who hold more seniority often move towards even greater isolation in a private office? What have we been thinking?

Productivity. Efficiency. Isolated tasks. Much of our workplace culture has been set up to support these ideals. Think Henry Ford and the production line. Each person has a job to do. They become an expert in their contribution. We all split up tasks. The car churns off of the assembly line more quickly with higher quality. If one is merely charged with the implementation of ideas, and your individual contribution has little to do with the design of the whole, then focus is key. Individual expertise is most important. Repetitive tasks need support.

That’s not today. This thinking is not about the here and now, nor is it about a fast future where global competition drives the need to more rapidly solve complex problems.

The future of the workplace will be much more similar to a design firm, where a group of diverse individuals, all motivated to support problem-solving can foster innovative solutions.

Mix it up, people. Let them all co-exist. Give me your ENTP’s, your ISFJ’s, and all those who fall in between. Mixing people fuels innovation.