Innovation and location: BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren

As I pack my holiday reading I realise that the books I am taking might be considered to be “work”orientated but after a momentary hesitation in they go to the suitcase. It’s clear now that my work interests are very close to my own life interests, and that is a good thing So books I have dipped into are going to get the proper attention they deserve. And my big question is this : is the power of the network strong enough to overcome the advantages of proximity?

I am thinking about this again as people I work with regularly are all on the move.

I am sad to miss the Kingswood Warren 60th Birthday party however obscure that might soundKingswood Warren has been the home of BBC R&D for 60 years and there is a party to celebrate next week, and a day of demos. But I read in the Guardian yesterday that there may be strike action to coincide with that day. That was news to me and got me thinking about the relationship between innovation and place.

You may have read articles in the press about the closure of Kingswood Warren and what that means to the the BBC , and there is undoubtedly a lot to think about when you start a discussion about the relationship of innovation and creativity to a place, geographical location or to a building.

BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren

BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren

But the fact that this building looks so opulent and other worldly obscures a proper discussion about the relationship between a place and the work that goes on it it. When we talk about an “esprit de corps” in an organisation or team, it’s a body of people we are talking about and their spirit we are highlighting – but does the place in which they work together count in the equation and if so what does it count for? Or can we say that wherever teams who know each other well work it will be the same? Is the power of the network strong enough to beat the power and advantages of proximity?

At the BBC this is the first move for the Kingswood Warren staff to London and that is likely to be followed by a second for some of them and many others to Salford to the MediaCity Development. This is a very interesting and exiciting development and the opportunity to create a groundbreaking research and production centre – but it will be a few years until it is all up and running and lots of transition time is hard for even the most dedicated to handle while keeping productive .I say this as someone who has worked in an organisation for many years whose propensity for change is high, and whose need to change is great.

BBC at MediaCity

BBC at MediaCity

This is not only being debated at the BBC, but more generally by writers such as Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater writing about collaboration and the network. What can be done virtually and what has to be done face to face? My take on this has always been that innovation is a social process. The place can be a garage or indeed a dingy forgotten basement such as the birthplace of BBC Imagineering, but the spirit needs to be willing. Networks work well virtually when there is a common purpose and a vision or mission. They also work in real locations for the same reason – the key is in relationships, language, camaraderie and cooperation – in other words in the social.

esprit de corps (-də kôr)

noun

group spirit; sense of pride, honor, etc. shared by those in the same group or undertaking

Etymology: Fr, lit., spirit of a body (of persons)

esprit de corps Synonyms

esprit de corps

n.

morale, group spirit, camaraderie; see cooperation 1, fellowship 1
Organisations need to move people around and change their location a lot for good business reasons. They also need to move people in and out of their organisations for business reasons too.
But what people find hard is when the web of relationships is broken by movement and limbo and so despite best endeavours output can become invisible, less important and at worst ignored as people try to preserve what they feel makes them tick – their teams and their esprit de corps.
What people like is to create webs of relationships which give them meaning beyond transition, or in transition and that is why the social and human will always drive innovation, whatever new technologies come along for them to investigate, explore and exploit. The social web gives people that opportunity whatever is going on in their workplace, but I wonder if anyone has measured the true cost of limbo and transition?
People skills in managing transition and change are vital as is vision. In my own area we do have a new leader, and there is a great sense of hope about the place that he will pull us all together and integrate and capture all the undoubted energy around and between our buildings. Who knows, I might come back to a whole new landscape.

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Filed under bbc, Behind the Scenes, innovation, research

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