This is the next in my series on innovation. One of the questions we’ve had to wrestle with over the years is, where does innovation happen – physically? Is dedicated space a prerequisite to innovation? Yes and no.

It really depends on what you’re innovating. Many products and services can be created in the most modest of circumstances.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created their first Apple in a garage – not a modern research and development facility. Lockheed’s legendary Skunk Works created the first US fighter jet in just 143 days in a makeshift, under-furnished, top secret, out-of-the-way place, built from the wood of used engine boxes – but it was a place.

The truth is space matters. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll not repeat myself here. If you’re interested, the post is entitled, Work Space Matters. Today, I want to focus on just two ideas.

If your process for innovation includes prototyping, you need a place to do that. In our situation, we’re building restaurants, several thousand square feet each. If we didn’t have a space, this would be impossible. It doesn’t have to be nice space; in fact, we believe the more unfinished the better. It could even be a garage – it worked for Jobs and Wozniak.

There’s real power in space. Space sets a tone, it creates expectations and it offers safety or not. It signals what is valued or not. It nurtures or stifles creativity. Space can be the catalyst for collaboration or its executioner.

A few years ago, I visited Pixar to learn about how space contributed to their unparalleled success in the film business. I was amazed. After several hours of touring and conversation, I believe they may have given more thought to space than anything else! From the centralized café to encourage “collisions” from different divisions to the pods in which every team lives and works – if I hadn’t been convinced that space matters before that visit, I would have come away a believer.

For many, space is a real barrier in the innovation process. Here are four ideas to consider. We’ve tried them all, and they work.

Find temporary space. We’ve done this more than once over the years. My first recollection was almost 30 years ago. We had been a mall based restaurant chain from our inception. The idea to build a free-standing restaurant was new to us. We used some unfinished office space – no carpet, ceiling tile, or walls. In that space, we built our first FSR out of foam core.

Borrow space from a vendor. The first “real” innovation space I ever saw was one of our vendors. Many large companies have a physical space dedicated to innovation. They not only use it for internal projects, they’ll often let a client use them too.

Rent space. The photo above was taken in our new 80,000 square foot innovation center. We call it the Hatch. We do not own the building. You don’t have to own space to innovate!

Re-configure existing space. Maybe you can work with space you already have. We did this a few years ago with an entire floor of our headquarters. We wanted to create a space more conducive to collaboration and creativity. It was not hard to do; all it took was a decision.

Winston Churchill said:

“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”

Shape them carefully.[GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.