John Gertner for the NYTimes on Bell Labs:
So how can we explain how one relatively small group of scientists and engineers, working at Bell Labs in New Jersey over a relatively short span of time, came out with such an astonishing cluster of new technologies and ideas? They invented the future, which is what we now happen to call the present. And it was not by chance or serendipity. They knew something. But what?
The guy who was responsible for creating the creative culture was Mervin Kelly.
How did he do it?
One element of his approach was architectural. He personally helped design a building in Murray Hill, N.J., opened in 1941, where everyone would interact with one another. Some of the hallways in the building were designed to be so long that to look down their length was to see the end disappear at a vanishing point. Traveling the hall’s length without encountering a number of acquaintances, problems, diversions and ideas was almost impossible. A physicist on his way to lunch in the cafeteria was like a magnet rolling past iron filings.
Sounds like another building from an institution known for creativity and innovation, the original MIT Media Lab building (via):
The Lab, which has its origins in architecture (the founder of the Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, is an architect) draws upon the tradition of studio design critique; we have daily visits from our industry partners and other practitioners with whom we engage in an authentic critical dialogue about the work. In this exchange, the work is discussed within a broader context — ideas (and prototypes) are exchanged, improvements and alternatives suggested. We then advance to the third phase of the innovation cycle — iterate. Iteration within the Lab means returning to ‘Step One’ to push our ideas further. Iteration within our partners’ organisations means taking a prototype towards real-world application. In both cases, we can learn from our mistakes (and successes).