With about 70% of U.S. employees working in open office spaces, the humble office cubicle, with its felt gray walls on metal feet, feels like a sign of a workplace out of touch with modern work culture. But Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts is speaking up about the torment of open office spaces designed to increase communication, creativity and the flow of ideas. Cain herself gets the irony of the self-professed introvert speaking up and taking a stand, but she felt she had to question the dominant mindset of American business culture, that extroverts have it all and work spaces must conduce to them. Experts in work productivity concur. Some forms of collaboration, such as brainstorming sessions on the whiteboard, are actually inhibiting innovation and universal participation. There are other ways to use the whiteboard.
It's now all about 'Brainswarming'. The conventional brainstorming session happens when participants gather in the conference room, and ideas are scrawled or sketched on the whiteboard without judgement. It feels like a storm of energy and ideas. But according to research, brainstorming does not show an increase in ideas or creativity over individuals working alone and then bringing their ideas together. Only, with brainstorming the 1/3 to 1/2 of the population that is introverted can't quite bring their ideas to the storm.
Dr Tony McCaffrey, who researches and develops innovation tools at Innovation Accelerator, Inc., coined the term brainswarming, setting the work place abuzz. In brainswarming, a problem or question would be posed on a common space, like on a whiteboard in the conference room. Participants would add their ideas, building off ones that are already written down, or tackling things from their own angle. This is an iterative process, unfolding over time as people - introverts and extroverts - have time to think, research, reflect, or talk to one another, and then add to the swarm. The art of thinking collaboratively just got a new chapter to its guidebook.
As for the cubicle, it deserves a comeback, and possibly a modern makeover. Experts suggest offering a mix of work spaces that can accommodate the diversity of functions in an office: time to focus, time to collaborate, and time to socialize.
Interested in Susan Cain's 2014 TED talk, The Power of Introverts? Bill Gates named it one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.
Interested in brainswarming? Here is a video that says it all.