Would Your Workplace Creativity Benefit From A Naughty Step?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Neil Usher (@theatreacle on Twitter.) Part property professional, part performance poet, part parent. You can find out more about Neil at the end of the post.

So where do you do your thinking?

This post had its roots in some tweets between @ThinkingFox and @JulesJ85 where the former suggested that I might be on the naughty step, and the latter that we both might be. I responded that this location was where I did my best thinking!

I’ve spent almost twenty years designing workplaces, focussing on creating spaces that are motivating, enlivening, and that foster both interaction and focus. I’ve visited numerous great examples of the “latest thinking” in design, and hung out with those on the fringes of the profession such as psychologists and anthropologists, all to try and increase my knowledge and capacity to improve the design and build with each iteration.

Much to my immediate dismay, I recently concluded two things:

Firstly, that given a choice between the latest fast and chic IT kit and connectivity or a superb flexible workplace, I would choose the former. Human beings are amazingly and inherently adaptable and we can devise workarounds for the latter but in this day and age its hard to work around slow and cumbersome IT kit and infrastructure.

Secondly, that we all have our own special places to think that are – in the vast majority of cases – not the workplace. Effectively the workplace is used for everything else – and therefore everything but. The artificial just cannot compete with the unique and natural pull of our own creative essence.

Why is it that we find our inspiration in the gym, the shower, the pouring rain, the 65 bus to Kingston, the café, the splintered bench third on the left through the park gate, or the naughty step?

In the case of the last of these, I imagined that creativity was inspired by reproach. However a stimulus of any form may not always be required, the space may just be the spot that sparks creativity or lucid reasoning. I am not sure that there is a reason why, it just is – and there is nothing wrong with that.

However there are implications for workplace designers. We have to acknowledge that however much effort we put into delivering spaces to think and create, the occupants will always find their own special space, most often outside of this environment, regardless of what we do. It’s not easy realising that your opportunity to make a difference is fundamentally limited by human nature.

And just for the record, the idea for this post came to me on the number 23 bus between Oxford Street and Paddington. My workplace just provided the facilities I needed to write it down. ;)

Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Neil Usher a global workplace manager, with nearly 20 years’ experience in a variety of sectors and countries. He writes today’s post in a strictly personal capacity and as such, to find out more about Neil, please visit his Theatreacle Blog or head over to Twitter and say hello.

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  1. Michael Martine, Blog Alchemist says:

    At first I totally misunderstood what you meant by “naughty step.” I took it as doing something naughty, not a place to sit as punishment. Maybe it’s just because I’m American, or maybe it’s because I grew up as isolated nerd-child, but I’m unfamiliar with the phrase.

    Maybe you should start designing people’s showers as idea capturing facilities. New line of work for you. :)

  2. Christine Livingston says:

    What a great idea, Neil. A workplace naughty step!

    I have many creative moments in coffee shops and on country walks. But my biggest breakthrough ideas come when something has pissed me off and I’m stewing about it. Interestingly, I’ve had two such experiences recently, and I can’t remember now where I had the ideas, only that I was furious about something else!

  3. I’ll be honest I think most people get their backsides into gear when your in a bad mood.
    For some reason that kick makes you want to be able to do stuff the downer you had on yourself and sort it out. Trust me i’ve been there and someone else has made me realise I can do something and funny enough I could. Naughty steps rule!

  4. Cathy Hayward says:

    The way people get their backsides into gear when they’re in a bad mood (maybe they’ve just been told off by the boss and put on the metaphorical naughty step) reminds me of the way we can often do our best work when we’re really up against a deadline. You procrastinate all day doing anything but the key task that needs to be done by end of play and then have a burst of energy and creativity late in the day and the task gets done brilliantly and quickly.

    The holy grail is surely the ability to harness that energy and work like that all the time? Or is that just never going to be possible?

  5. Archan Mehta says:


    Great Post. Thanks for your contribution. Chrissy has a talent for plucking a star from the night sky.

    I don’t know why, but I almost never get any great ideas when I am on the job. At work, I turn into a zombie, just going through the motions.

    In contrast, there is something about our subconscious that seems to free the imagination.

    Like Chrissy, for example, I “receive” my best ideas when I am not actually doing anything on purpose.

    Over the years, dreams have also been a major source of brand new ideas. I wake up and jot down those ideas.

    I think there is somethng magical about our being-ness that we take for granted and that has not received that much attention in conventional society.

    Conventional society tends to disregard our “creative” moments as something that is lazy and unproductive.

    How sad, alas, if we only had more downtime, took frequent breaks, and went on vacations…that would do us a world of good. We are human beings, not human doings, after all. Ah, the mystery of this realm.


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