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Ian McCallam: This Ain’t No Disco

Ian McCallam, head of workspaces blog This Aint No Disco, shares his observations workplace efficiency and the karma of creativity.

Ever wanted to see the inner workings of a creative company?  Wonder what furniture they use at Chiat or if there is open-plan architecture at JWT?  So do we, which is why we’re big fans of creative spaces (especially ones that facilitate productivity) and also why we love This Aint No DiscoIan McCallam is the founder and creator of the website This Ain’t No Disco, which provides a ‘sneak peak’ into some of the best agencies across the world.  He invites agencies to submit their inner sanctums and, like Pandora’s Box, once you look inside nothing will ever be the same again.  We caught up with Ian to discuss ping pong tables, interior design, and hip workspaces…

Ian has the golden key into a plethora of agencies, from global players to boutique shops.  Apart from open-plan architecture, Ian shares his insights and observations on successful creative workspaces that combine inspiration and execution:

40 second meetings.

  • An agency I did some work with had a great system of 40 second meetings. Only those who needed to be present were present. It was their job to ‘gather the facts’ before the meeting. Each person had 40 seconds to get across their point and updates. Members of the meeting had truly learned how to cut to the chase and make their point the most important. This skill followed through into their day-to-day work. They now have a stronger ability to identify the true action points from the clutter. Timelines for jobs have since been dramatically decreased.

Seat signs.

  • In this method, employees would place quirky signs on the back of their chairs displaying the status of their work mentality. Examples were: ‘kinda busy, but up for random play’, ‘I’m at one with myself – do not disturb’, Looking for inspiration’ etc. It was a silent message to all team members of their current state of mind. It gave other team members a better understanding of how to approach one another and ultimately how to get the most out of someone, depending on their mood.

Too much junk/clutter.

  • I was discussing this once with an agency and they explained how clutter became frustrating because it also caused competitiveness amongst employees. I assume ‘who has the coolest stuff?’. Ultimately this all lead to confusion and could often affect concentration. They told me: ‘We want our staff to create their own personal space, but to the same extent it needs to be controlled. Once a month, we will completely clear all of the desks, bar the telephones and the computers. Everything goes in a box on a Friday and we start again on a Monday. It’s extremely cathartic.’

Places to escape to.

  • Freedom to roam.  Sometimes people just need to escape and get away from their desk. Having the opportunity to provide break out rooms and ‘productive distractions’ such as foosball tables, games etc can often lead to increased productivity. However, with the productive distractions also comes a fine balance of work, rest, play.

As for applying his insights to making his own ideas happen, Ian shares his views on collaboration and productivity through Dark Ark, an innovation house and idea broker that he founded.  “All of our principles are taken from past-experience learning and studying some of the best techniques adopted by other companies. For example, our slogan is ‘We Work At Night.’ You wouldn’t believe how true this is. Absolutely no work occurs on any projects in the Dark Ark throughout the day. Not because we’re lazy, or have other projects/jobs we’re working on, but because we recognize we are at our most creative at night so that’s when we choose to do this type of work.”

The more inspiration and ideas you put out there, the more you get back.

In order to collaborate, Ian believes that we have to share our ideas to gain feedback.  He states, “I embrace feedback on what I do and get a buzz when I hear of people enjoying something I have created. Daily feedback from people you’ve never met (from anywhere in the world) is one of the best things you could hope for and is a huge source of inspiration and encouragement. Ask any blogger what it was like to receive their first comment from someone they didn’t know. I’m sure they will all say it was a massive boost and inspiration for them to write more. Likewise, negative feedback is also a great kick for striving to be better and to add to my learning curve.”

Ian believes that creativity is kind of like karma.  The more inspiration and ideas you put out there, the more you get back.  “Allow yourself to have ideas on everything, go off on tangents. Go to places that you’d never normally go to, use the library, talk to people, talk to everyone. Share ideas and they’ll coming flooding back to you. Try and use different parts of your brain through mental challenges, it creates interesting pathways to solving creative problems.”

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