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Setting the Mood

Spur brilliant ideas by spicing up employees' surroundings.

Enter the work space of Vital Marketing in New York City, and you'll find a plasma TV in the lobby as well as an open reception area. No cubicles for founder Joe Anthony's employees. "We group our project teams together.... We try to almost create these bullpens so people will always be able to turn around and troubleshoot," says Anthony, 32, of his business, which specializes in multicultural and youth marketing and averages $20 million in annual sales.

For a space to truly inspire employee innovation, it needs a good balance of collaborative and personal space, says Jonathan Vehar, senior partner of New & Improved LLC, an innovation training and development company in Evanston, Illinois. Though it may be fun to design a creativity room with funky chairs and crazy colors, remember to incorporate innovation catalysts in other areas of the office, too. Consider adding visual stimuli, such as artwork, video monitors and windows looking out onto other environments. Says Vehar, "The four categories we use are pictures of people, machinery, food and nature. Those spark really interesting ideas."

And ideas can come from things wildly unrelated to your company. Vehar recalls an auto parts manufacturing company that had problems with product pieces getting lodged in machinery. To find a solution, the company used an exercise called "forced connections," showing employees photos of un-related objects. A photo of a kitchen sparked an idea for a nonstick cooking spray-like solution that ended up saving the business $40,000 a week.

Change your space to encourage more communication, says Vehar. Set work spaces far away from bathrooms-though seemingly less efficient, it will create more occasions for employees to run into each other, spurring ideas. Also, change your setup and d├ęcor every three months; seeing the same things in different ways can inspire employees.

Vital Marketing facilitates brilliance not only with its wall photos of celebrities and its collaborative environment, but it also turns the office into party central on Champagne Fridays, complete with a DJ booth and dance floor.

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This article was originally published in the August 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Setting the Mood.

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