Making Space for a Zone of Discovery

A recent article in Fast Co. Design enlightened readers to the beauty of having what Google Ventures calls a War Room, their name for a dedicated place for idea-making. 

What this type of space is for is quite the opposite of high-level calculated planning associated with a “War Room.”  Instead, the space encourages people to get messy and non-linear, personal and hands-on, creative and inspired. What happens in this space is pure exploration, in which the goal is the discovery of new ideas and possibilities. Which is why I refer to these spaces as a Zone of Discovery.

A dedicated ZoD isn’t just cool, it’s necessary. Just as we make meals in the kitchen, and sleep in the bedroom, we need different spaces for different functions in our work environment, too. It’s time to stop using the conference room and meeting format for all activities in business; new ideas and new thinking thrive in a much different kind of environment.

I found this interesting because I write about the importance of a Zone of Discovery (ZoD) in Think Like A Futurist. This is where ideas take physical form in as many ways as you can imagine — certainly as drawings on whiteboards and rows of Post-it notes, but also in found materials, models, videos, collages, soundscapes, or any form that helps you fully develop an idea. The physicality engages your imagination in a much deeper way, helps you to understand what works and why, and provides a “thingness” that allows ideas to be turned inside-out, combined or pulled apart. Equally as important is the perspective provided by stepping back to, literally, get the big picture, or moving all the way in to play with the details of a concept you want to develop further.

The ZoD should be a repository for your ideas – a living, growing catalogue of inspirations and insights. Think of it like a real life Pinterest board! In here you create a stimulating environment that immediately triggers right-brain associations. This allows the physical space to become a working model of the big picture – the ultimate context that frames your strategy.

Ideally, the ZoD space is a dedicated room that is reserved for and reflects big-picture thinking, research, creativity, and collaboration. In a perfect world, the physical space is large enough to host several projects at one time and is open as a gallery of thinking and exploration for anyone to visit, anytime. It can be booked for workshops and team meetings or for solo adventures. The Fast Co. Design article brings up a good point in regards to this though – don’t let it become just another meeting space for conferences.

But if a big physical space isn’t possible, find a wall you can claim as your ZoD. Make a board, a file, a collage, a notebook – whatever your resources may be, allocate 5 percent of your physical space to building a Zone at work. You’ll be amazed by the way your ideas evolve when you can visualize the changes.

I’m thrilled to see big organizations like Google Ventures are picking up on the idea of a dedicated Zone of Discovery. If it works for me and for them, it’s got to work for you too!

If you want to learn more, part two of Think Like A Futurist takes an in-depth look at the Zone of Discovery.