Does what we see matter for newness?
Does what we researchers see on the way to work influence what we think when we get to our desks? Might it affect our capacity to generate newness? Having moved this month to a new office in a completely different setting from my previous one, the sights I pass have changed dramatically.
For years, I used to take a bus along the broad shopping boulevard Kurfürstendamm, then walk across a little bridge on the tree-lined Landwehrkanal, an aesthetically stimulating experience that I reflected on in an earlier blogpost. The pink and blue stripes around the circular building beckoned each morning, an unusual choice taken by the architects who worked with James Stirling to design the new WZB campus in the 1980s. Beyond our buildings on the Reichpietschufer lie the museums and concert halls and library of the Kulturforum.
My new destination is the EUREF campus, a science and technology “park” where the WZB has offices in the 4th floor of a modern building. The route to work starts with the S-Bahn Charlottenburg-Westkreuz-Schöneberg, then a walk that takes me under a dark bridge for the train tracks, past graffiti-covered brick walls, up a narrow bumpy road with minimal sidewalk.
The beckoner here is a huge circular tower, the old “Gasometer”, at the foot of which are some beautiful old brick buildings. I walk through a series of parking lots to the building at the far end of the campus. Throughout the site numerous modern buildings are cropping up, one round and the others rectangular. Spaces for many kinds of experts to work on all the phases of innovation processes. And spaces to talk about them: 3 restaurants/cafés serve breakfast and lunch during the week, and on the weekends the Gasometer comes alive as the television studio for one of Germany’s top talk-show masters, Günther Jauch, attracting all kinds of guests, including Hilary Clinton and Angela Merkel.
The location also affects what we see after we get to the office and settle down to work. When the WZB first moved to the Reichpietschufer site, it was on the periphery of West Berlin, close to the Wall, a stone’s throw away from the no-man’s land of Potsdamer Platz. Looking out my office window there I saw the city change, old sites disappeared, new ones emerged. It was interesting to let the eye wander over the expanse and a delight to experience the change in the light. From my new office window on the EUREF campus I look out over another huge construction site, currently a hole in the ground. By the end of this year I will see nothing more than someone working in an office just a few meters away from my window. Little will distract me from focusing on my computer screen and the books on my desk. Will this reduce the scope of my ideas? Will my powers of imagination and/or concentration be enhanced by the lack of a stimulating view on the world outside?
Will the views along my way and at the office influence the scope and direction of my thinking in the coming months and years? Maybe so, because there is a sense on this campus of being part of a working culture focused on making innovations happen, quite different from the privileged, reflective atmosphere of our academic campus in the Kulturforum. However, not being a believer in mono-causal analysis, I realize that numerous other factors will play a role as well.
- After seven years in the unit on “Cultural Sources of Newness, ” I am being welcomed into a different research group, “Science Policy Studies” where I am shifting to a new research project (more about that in a later blogpost!). Becoming embedded in a different research team offers fresh perspectives, the opportunity to learn with and from colleagues about ideas, and to discover new connections between concepts and bodies of knowledge.
- The very fact that the physical move is stimulating me to changing routines is, as colleagues pointed out in our research team on technology and innovation many years ago, most likely to have an impact on my work.
- And the move to the new office entailed ridding/freeing myself from files that had accumulated over many years of research on a wide variety of themes relating to business and society, thereby clearing physical and intellectual space for new ideas and themes to occupy my thoughts. The process reminds me of the reports from some of the artists we interviewed about how important they believed it was for their practice to start afresh in a new studio, uncluttered by the reminders of their earlier work.
Walking through the deadly expanse of parking lots on the EUREF campus, I cannot but hope that the people responsible for the site’s development are believers in some connection between what we see and what we do. Might artistic interventions help them to develop a greater aesthetic awareness of the site they are creating and to generate ideas that would enliven our daily walk and expand the views we have on the world outside?