Work Environments – Creative Chaos vs. Sterile Bureaucracy

Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.
Anna Freud

Looking at work environments, I think there are two different types of environments.

The first one is characterized by, well, discussions about different topics, some work related, some not. People being visible beyond mere work characteristics and attributes. You see the whole person. Ideas, including from fictional sources, being brought in to stimulate thinking different about issues. At a university, the websites of the persons might look messy (prior to content management systems and corporate design guidelines), but at least you know who you are dealing with.

The other is … more bureaucratic. A focus on procedures and processes. Of doing your job, and then returning home to do whatever is important to you. Or just has to be done in that context. No discussions beyond the work topics, no personal perspectives or ideas. In a word, both intellectually and creatively totally sterile.

It’s possible, in both types, to get «the job done», which is the main part. But in the sterile one, if you are doing science or other creative work, you can do — at best only incremental work. You do stuff that does not rock the boat, that is safe, that gets you nods by people who cannot think differently, who will never get (or even promote) revolutionary ideas. And yeah, it gets you funding, for the things that get funding.

But I think it’s the first one that is both fun and challenging — and that leads to major improvements.

Unfortunately, giving the huge focus on metrics, on accountability, and the general lack of courage when it comes to changing things, the bureaucratic one becomes more and more common. Even in creative environments like the university.

It’s just the one that is rewarded, a bit like Gold’s old article about «New Ideas in Science».

Which makes me wonder — what will replace universities as places of knowledge and innovation? Not companies, that’s for sure, they suffer from the same problem. Some startups still work this way, for now.

But what will be the place where innovation will happen?

Time will tell.


Update: Some minor edits.