Creativity Doesn’t Require Isolation: Why Product Designers Bring Visitors ‘Backstage’

by Thomas Kelley, Robert Sutton

Fall 1997

Volume 40
Issue 1

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Most existing writings imply that creative work is best done in physical and social isolation from outsiders, including case studies of successful product development teams that worked in isolation and psychological research showing that novel responses are inhibited when observers are present. In contrast, this article describes how one organization, IDEO Product Development, innovates routinely even though it has a constant and diverse stream of backstage visitors. IDEO uses visitors' knowledge to enhance its creative work. Other benefits of such visits include enhancing the organization's reputation and improving the innovation process in client organizations. This case implies that creative work does not always require isolation and that visitors can be brought backstage in ways that help rather than hamper creative work.

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