The Right Place/OG

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The Right Place
Contributors Christian Kohls
Last modification May 17, 2017
Source Kohls (2014)[1]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

The right place is about setting up the right environment to stimulate your ideas. Make sure you feel well in your environment. Make your first (home) and second (work) place comfortable. Look out for third places (coffeeshops, malls) that inspire you.


People feel most creative in unexpected places. The enlightening moment does not emerge when you are sitting in a cubicle or at your office desk. It comes when you are under the shower, on a walk, sitting on a couch or in your favorite coffeehouse. The physical environment has large effect on our collaborations, our feelings and the state of our minds[2]. Architecture has cognitive consequences[3].


Dull places lead to dull ideas. Yet most workplaces are not optimized for collaboration and creative thinking. Floor plans, meeting rooms and offices are not optimized for flow of information, thoughts and ideas.

Field of Forces

The surroundings need to be in harmony with the persons who inhabit them. We need calm places to work with focus, to relax and let the mind wander…and we need places where we can be highly communicative with others. We also need freedom and open spaces to interact with colleagues and clients. It is often hard to find places to communicate spontaneously. If one has to walk a too long distance it is less likely to go to a meeting room or even talk to a colleague who is sitting too many rooms away[4]. There is also a higher chance to ask colleagues for help if you frequently see them.

Environments with high connectivity and density make it more likely that information between co-workers is exchanged and random collisions of thought lead to new ideas[4]. Office conversation is one of the most powerful tools to stumble about new ideas because a variety of thoughts and backgrounds meets[3]. Yet the best ideas are not of great value if they are forgotten after a quick chat. There is a need to save an idea for later elaboration or follow up an unexpected idea immediately.

Distraction can interrupt the flow of creative thoughts[2] yet at the same time distraction could mean the injection of a new thought. Ideas are often stimulated by external triggers, incubated in calm moments of reflection or during activities that need not all our attention.

Environments that foster interaction between people support the generation of new ideas. Environments can stimulate ideas by allowing workers to relax, feel comfortable or provide an abundance of impulses. Beautiful surroundings – a scenic view, a historic site, people walking by – have positive effect on the creative mind[2]. Cultural knowledge has influence on putting us into a mode of creative thinking. A light bulb signals that we are now “allowed” to think outside the box. Colors and light that indicate relaxing, freedom and openness lead to more creative thinking[3]. When we feel good, the mind is more willing to explore new ideas and look at different things.

Core Solution

Therefore, shape your workplace in a way that it reflects yourself, your team, your culture and processes. Create different but closely interconnected spaces for focussed and undisturbed work, inspiring places for relaxing and reflection, and different meeting areas for planned, spontaneous and serendipitous collaboration. Always provide working space to visualize, organize and save your ideas (e.g. use interactive whiteboards, flipcharts, or bulletin boards).

Solution Details

Look for office space that has a lot of natural light and window fronts that offer a great view. If you are already in an office building, make sure that the rooms with the nicest view are not reserved for the boss but used as meeting points for informal communication[5].

It is not important to have the latest and most fancy building. What is important is that each workspace reflects the workers personality and needs, the group’ spirit and needs and the company culture. Take time to make your workplace more comfortable. Organize events where project teams can build their own “neighbourhood” within a company, reflecting their nature.

Lunchrooms and coffee machines are an important place for informal and serendipitous collaboration. They should be at the heart of every floor, interconnected to as many offices and meeting rooms as possible. While many of the talks at such places might be personal talks about family, sport, weekends, and holidays, it increases office communication and every now and then the great ideas are born. Think about the properties of such a central magnet for co-workers: people come there to relax a little (a good condition for creative thoughts; the problems are handed over to the unconsciousness), people from different projects and departments meet (thus, a project gets sparks from new perspectives or knowledge that is available in other projects), and there is humour. Thoughts are only expressed informally and not immediately attacked, and we have a tendency to speak about the most important information or the problems that just bug us. Steve Jobs believed that the best meetings happen accidently[3]. Such informal meeting spaces can increase the productivity. For example, programming students gathered around a vending machine and chatted about their programs, offering help to each other. When the vending machine was taken away (to avoid the noise), the helpdesk had much more work to do[6].

Casual talks at the coffee machine can quickly lead to the big idea or the long searched for solution to a hard problem. It is now important to take the idea to the next level and elaborate it. There is a need to provide meeting spaces that can be used spontaneously without planning. Such meeting spaces should be close to the coffee machine. There could be some tables and couches around the coffee machine that could be used for both spontaneous meetings and break-out sessions from scheduled meetings.

Jennifer Quillien[4] has identified the pattern Ecology of Niches (Ecology of Niches) which states that a creative workplace needs to support a range of needs. Therefore, one should have a personal work space, calm zones for relaxing, small meeting areas that could be used freely and unplanned, and large group spaces with flexible furniture that can be rearranged by the groups need.

To save ideas it is important to always provide tools for visualisation: notepads, stick-notes, flip charts or whiteboards. Or, from the digital world, bring along your tablet pc and use interactive whiteboards.


Coffee houses, bars, or clubs are often referred to as the “third place”, a place that is neither office nor home and yet a frequent destination. I find coffee houses extremely inspiring, and I have developed many concepts there while enjoying a good beverage, watching the variety of people and having relaxing music in the background.

Sometimes a short trip to a foreign destination means the breakthrough for your new ideas. For me a good place to develop concepts is to wander the streets of London – again a place that has an abundance of exotic and familiar impressions, inspiring and providing space to incubate thoughts. Within one or two hours I can concentrate and come up with more solutions than in 2 months in the office. Successful companies often run work meetings outside of their regular office space and book hotels in inspiring cities or landscapes.

Office spaces of creative companies often have dedicated lounge areas that invite people to meet and chat. Table kicker, table tennis or other games provide a place to meet, relax, disrupt standard thoughts and breed new ideas.

In their book Make space: How to set the stage for creative collaboration Doorley & Witthoft[6] provide a large set of impulses and ideas how to setup the a creative workspace.


  1. Kohls, C. (2014). Dream teams at the right place. In Proceedings of the 19th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (EuroPLoP 2014) (p. 3). New York:ACM.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine: How creativity works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Quillien, J. (2012). Clever Digs. How Workspaces Can Enable Thought. Ames, IA: Culicidae Press.
  5. Kelley, T., & Littman, J. (2001). The art of innovation: Lessons in creativity from IDEO, America's leading design firm. New York: Currency/Doubleday.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Doorley, S., & Witthoft, S. (2011). Make space: How to set the stage for creative collaboration. John Wiley & Sons.