Soccer team in a huddle

Creating a Space for Innovation

March 11, 2015 by Andreas Hauser 0

As I’ve said previously, CIOs stand at a crossroads, where one road leads to “more of the same,” and the other leads to the transformation of their role into a Chief Innovation Officer.

Should they (wisely) choose the more forward-looking role, they will also need to understand the main ingredients for building a culture of innovation: the right people, process, and space.

The third element, space, is where it becomes obvious – in a very visible way – that when it comes to innovation, we’re not in Kansas anymore. If we want to inspire developers, business experts, designers, customers and users to break from the status quo approach to thinking and interacting, we need to give them an environment that looks and feels very different from a traditional office. The space needs to be conducive to mixed groups of people from different disciplines coming together, working differently, feeling inspired, and being creative. This just can’t happen in traditional meeting rooms.

So, what does this look like?

If you’ve ever been inside a startup, some of these elements will be familiar to you. If you haven’t, imagine one and you’re likely pretty close. The space should favor openness over offices and cubicles, with walls that double as whiteboards. The furniture should be easily rearranged to meet project and team needs. The chosen accessories should signal that this is a place where people can relax, share a beer, even bring their pets – just feel like home.

For a quick look at how an innovative space can inspire creativity and encourage design thinking, check out what SAP has done in Heidelberg, Palo Alto, or Dublin. We call these our “SAP AppHauses,” and we’ve specifically designed them to encourage developers, designers, and customers to work together on innovative projects.

Since 2010, SAP has established several SAP AppHauses globally to foster teamwork, collaboration and creativity. Internal software development teams were co-located to explore new innovative solutions. In 2013 we did the next logical step and opened a new AppHaus in Heidelberg. This is SAP’s first “customer facing” co-innovation space in which customers, SAP, and users collaboratively work on projects.

The AppHaus in Heidelberg is housed in an old tobacco factory and purposefully echoes aspects of a startup culture. Each room is individualized to reflect a key design principle reflected in the work that takes place in the building.

For instance, a “Sherlock Holmes” room stands for the importance of research and  asking the right questions; a “Games” room stands for creativity; a “Sheherazade” room stands for storytelling and imagination; and a “Bauhaus” room stands for attention to clear and simple solutions created through diverse skills.

We’ve had more than 3,000 customers come through the AppHaus in Heidelberg, and they consistently say, “This doesn’t look like SAP at all.” Before you know it, their ties and jackets are draped over chairs, and amazing work gets done.  When they leave, many ask if we can help them build similar spaces for their organizations.

I did an interesting experiment when building the AppHaus in Heidelberg. In the spirit of design thinking and empowering people, I gave the task to design the space to my team – a team of design experts. Together with our facility management team they created an amazing environment. It was very interesting to observe the power of “empowering” the team. They got a fixed budget and they could do whatever they decided as a team as long as they stay in budget. People brought their sewing machine, decorated rooms, went shopping to IKEA and had some very creative ideas… not to forget the 30 wooden cable roles they bought at eBay to build tables. It became their space and they love it.

Innovation isn’t only a matter of what takes place in your head.  For really new ideas to emerge and be executed, you need to create a physical space that feels different from the work life – and in which people are inspired to make new things happen.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

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