Theory of Creativity

The Play Must Go On

The setting: a Soho office. The players: Moya, Raia and five of their employees.

The office is, by Moya's definition, very casual, very hip. Since both Moya and Raia came from corporate backgrounds, they have very intentionally rebelled against any semblance of corporate order. Walls are taboo. "If someone wants to say something," reasons Moya, "they can just yell it across the room."

"There's a little more respect when principals are involved in daily operations instead of hidden behind the glass doors, behind the oak desk, overseeing everyone like Big Brother," says Raia. "We get more respect from our staff because we'll roll up our sleeves instead of pointing the finger and asking someone else to do something."

"We let our staff know we're here not as their bosses, but as people," adds Moya. "That makes it a little easier for them to think freely."

Moya and Raia set the mood with atypical office accessories that encourage the all-work, all-play attitude. Moya admits the atmosphere is more nursery school than boardroom, complete with video games and a 68-foot track of Tyco race cars. Employees gather not around the water cooler but around the ever-popular Nerf hoop. No framed pastel landscapes in this office. Blackboards, bulletin boards and erasable drawing boards are scattered along the walls, just in case someone is struck by an idea mid-stroll. "I don't want to see blackboards empty," says Raia. "Even if it's a hangman, those are still ideas; you're still using your mind. At least you're not sitting there with a Walkman, typing on your computer."

Casual is more than a fashion statement here. "We've been in the structured corporate environment. We've worn the ties and sat in the cubicles," says Moya. "And that's really stagnant. This casual environment is about letting ourselves and our employees breathe."

This casualness frees employees up to reveal their own personalities. "The way they dress, the music they listen to, the way they speak--everyone's a little different," Moya says. "And in not only permitting that but allowing it to flourish, it helps people be themselves and bring unique ideas to the company."

In fact, traditional formalities such as job titles are banned. "People are treated equally," says Moya. "There are no labels, no lines drawn, so there's less pressure on people to impress us and other staff members."

The time employees of other companies spend schmoozing, Joe Designer's employees spend bonding. "I encourage our graphic designer to walk into the model shop and find out what's going on at the milling machine," says Raia. "I don't want someone to not understand the different principles and procedures. I like the idea of everyone knowing everything."

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This article was originally published in the October 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Theory of Creativity.

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