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LAB BLOG

22-Oct-2010

Inside Google: how nuts, nap pods and scooters inspire genius!

Visiting NYC, LAB managed to wrangle a private tour of Google HQ in the trendy meatpacking district. At Google, we learned a lot about creative workspace design. The first thing one notices as one walks into the building is behind the high security official façade it feels like a very cool university campus. The space is informal, with vast corridors and large open areas. In fact, it’s massive, designed for expansive thinking. Per storey the building has the largest floor space in New York. So big in fact that one needs a scooter to travel around.

It seems that Google, the ultimate tech design thinkers, have spotted something important about agile thinking … and this discovery is threaded throughout their building. There’s a lot written about Google and the lack of formal structures, and hierarchies. Where smart people come together, somehow seamlessly, to solve tough problems without formal processes. 

However, we noticed that there is some structure, the creative process is actually facilitated, albeit in a subtle and savvy way.  It’s facilitated by the work spaces, the way they encourage people to open up, close down, interact or process solo, do something unrelated or even rest the brain to allow it to make new connections and solve problems in an unbelievably natural way.  We all know that we often solve problems or realise that vital insight in the shower, at the dinner table, while riding a bike or going for a run. It’s not natural in fact to be sitting in an office building at a computer or in a brainstorming meeting to ‘generate’. Never in any natural evolutionary circumstances would this have been the way it has been done.

What Google have done is cunningly replaced cumbersome and counter- intuitive processes and all the ‘stage gating’, ‘ or what ever you’re used to, with clever, enabling environment design. Behind the ‘fun stuff’ you’ll see that every element is designed with a role in mind that facilitates the creative process.

For example, there are healthy snack stations situated every few hundred meters, where Googlers can go grab some nuts, power their brain, have a drink and chat informally with colleagues. Inevitably the conversation will be about what they’re working on, stuck on or thinking about. It’s these serendipitous meetings that create the collisions that build ideas, open up fresh avenues and inject the vital rocket fuel from someone else’s brain, into your problem.

We spotted the nap pods for a bit of creative down time.  How many times have you felt the need to take a power nap at work, knowing that even 15 minutes of rest will revitalize you for the rest of the day?  Of course often those vital insights flow once the mind has had a chance to rest.


We saw table tennis tables, pool tables and video games…not just childs play, but games that encourage conversations, or even just get the brain into a different mode to process problems in the subconscious. And of course the scooters, not only useful for travelling from one department to another, but like riding a bike, the sort of repetitive physical activity that allows for useful background processing.

And all of these things, taken together, with the canteen of gorgeous food, the endless gaming opportunities, the other smart thinkers working under the same roof and the vastness of the space …  much like the MGM Grand, the Bellagio or any of the hotels in Vegas, one never really needs to leave. Just the kind of workspace that blurs the lines between work and social life, between downtime, and office time, the ideal conditions to enable the hardcore to work all hours in pursuit of the next big idea!  All in all a stroke of facilitative genius!