Remote Working: Is Creativity Lost?

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When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer issued a memo earlier this week ordering everyone to stop working from home and come back to the office, the inevitable complaints followed (it didn’t help that she built a nursery in her office to be close to her own baby). Mayer’s intention, however, wasn’t necessarily punitive. Some analysts see it as a Hail Mary pass to restore the level of innovation at the floundering company, and she’s doing it the best way she knows how: a la Google (her former employer).

Companies like Google and Facebook have heralded a new era in workplaces, engineering every detail down to the length of the cafeteria line to maximize opportunities for creative collaboration, and, ultimately, innovation. But, does it work?

Look at the numbers, suggests John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University. Google is No. 3 in market capitalization. Yahoo is No. 238.

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“At Apple, employees generate $2.2 million per year,” Sullivan said. ”At Yahoo it’s $350,000. The data says it will increase innovation. It’s not an opinion.”

So why can’t you innovate from the laptop in your kitchen just as well as in the office? First, it’s important to distinguish between creativity and innovation.

“You can come up with a great idea on marijuana or walking along the beach at night,” Sullivan said. That’s creativity: a novel ideal. When it’s put into place it becomes an innovation, said Mike Fox, co-author of a book called Exploring the Nature of Creativity and faculty member at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State.

“An innovation is an outcome after creativity,” Fox said. “And innovation in the marketplace is associated with cash.”

Not to say that creativity is easy to define, either.

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