Steve Jobs on the Creative Environment

Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio is as good as everyone says. Isaacson avoids the psychologizing impulse and focuses on how Jobs fostered innovation, dealt with setbacks, and created partnerships with companies resistant to technological innovation (e.g. Sony, Disney). As someone who works at the intersection of a traditional industry and the opportunities afforded by advances in technology, it’s often insightful and even inspiring.

When Pixar grew too large for its original offices, John Lasseter proposed setting up a campus in the tradition of the studio movie lot. If it worked for Warner Bros. and MGM, it can work for Pixar, right? Jobs countered with one big building, designed around a central atrium:

Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

So he had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” The front doors and main stairs and corridors all led to the atrium, the cafĂ© and the mailboxes were there, the conference rooms had windows that looked out onto it, and the six-hundred-seat theatre and two smaller screening rooms all spilled into it. “Steve’s theory worked from day one,” Lasseter recalled. “I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.” (431)

Wouldn’t you love to work in a building like that?

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2 responses to “Steve Jobs on the Creative Environment

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