Do you feel inspired in certain environments? Stifled and stressed in others? It’s not just your imagination. There are scientific studies that explain why most people hate working in cubicles, or why we’re better at conceptual thinking when we’re in rooms with high ceilings.
In his TEDx Talk, Designing a Better Future, architect Scott Wyatt explores the power of design and how it shapes the way we think and perform. He’s now applying what he’s learned to create elegant, functional floor plans and building arrangements that are designed for the way work gets done today. “Generative” buildings, for example, encourage collaboration, creativity and chance meetings with people you don’t see every day.
Looking toward the challenges of the future, Wyatt reminds us that this is a choice: “We’ll choose to build workplaces that distract, or we’ll choose to build workplaces that motivate.”
But of course, the structure itself is only part of the solution. We have to break down the other barriers that undermine quality thinking and performance. And there seem to be more of those now than ever before. As the world of work changes, your learning and development strategy will have to change, too. The question is, will you wait until the point where you have no other option, or will you take the lead and build that future now?
The Risk of Sticking With Yesterday’s Learning and Development Strategy
A new study has found that 71% of employees are looking for new jobs. One of the primary culprits: “Most employees are just plain stressed out” from things like “unreasonable employer demands and excessive responsibilities.” We can adjust the floor plans, color schemes and building designs to take some of the cognitive load off, but that’s not going to change the workload, pressures and and complex interpersonal dynamics everyone is dealing with.
And then there’s the way work gets done today. The emphasis is on collaboration, but that doesn’t mean the people who are working together are literally together. More remote employees and flexible work policies mean you could be teaming up with people you don’t share a physical space with. Companies have responded by taking advantage of systems that make it easier to interact, like video, chat and instant messaging apps. But even though the quantity of interactions has increased, the quality has declined. The connections are shallower. The social aspects are lower. And the time for uninterrupted, creative thinking is minimal.
If you’re responsible for developing a learning and development strategy, you also have a choice to make: Will you choose to base those strategies around building workplaces that push people to the limits—and out the door? Or will you choose to build workplaces that nurture and bring out the best in people’s thinking?
Wyatt’s example can be an inspiration for how to move forward. Consider how the brain figures into what you do. Learning is a mental activity, and we know what conditions support learning and what factors detract from it. The brain needs social interaction, structure and creativity. It needs context and it needs time for processing. These can look like challenges, considering what the world of work is like these days, but they can also look like opportunities, if we let them.
Knowing this, how can you adapt your learning and development strategy with the brain in mind? You can start by thinking like an architect. When you’re designing a building, you’re designing for a future world. That building isn’t just going to magically appear tomorrow; it’s going to take some time, so the future state is always part of the equation. In other words, think ahead so you can incorporate that future context into what you’re planning today.
If you’re having trouble envisioning the future, try scenario-building: Ask, “What if ______ occurred in the future?” Imagine that is has actually happened. Play it out in your mind. Then capture the story as you create it. Don’t censor yourself. Use dictation, drawing, mind mapping, stream-of-consciousness writing or whatever method works best for you to get it down.
Next, read it and think through the implications for today. What might you do differently today if you knew this was going to happen? Keep asking more and more what ifs, repeating the process and bringing others into the conversation.
As your learning and development strategy begins to take shape, don’t just limit yourself to talking with the people in your department or your company. Talk to learners. Talk to teenagers. Talk to futurists. Read widely. Go outside the lines.
As Wyatt says, “We’ve never had the tools like we have today to unleash the power of design and have an impact on how we live and how we think.” The same is true for the power of learning and the brain at work. But you have to be proactive about it.
Start today. You can’t wait if you want to build the workplace of the future.