June 4, 2014

Finding that dream space for summer innovation & productivity

Posted by Laura Guertin

“… if one wishes to tap into the unknown, it helps to work in a place where the imagination can soar.”  —  John Kao, Innovation Nation, p. 134

The semester is winding down or has ended for faculty, and now we shift in to “summer mode” – which, if you are like me, is a time to make wish lists of all of the research I want to accomplish and papers I want to write (and so the dream begins…).  And at this time of year, many articles and blog posts will appear with suggestions on how to carve out time to write, how to create and keep a schedule for research, etc. (see IHE’s Scheduling Summer Writing, for example).  But it is just as important to find that perfect location that will allow you to open your mind and put pen to paper (or for most of us, fingers to keyboards) to work on everything from course improvements to the latest-and-greatest grant proposal.  Some excellent summer writing boot camp programs exist, such as the University of Delaware’s Dissertation Boot Camp to the The College of Wooster’s Junior Faculty Research Boot Camp [URL no longer valid].  For those of us writing alone, it is time to seek out and find a dream space that allows us to keep ourselves focused and on target.

I first read about “dream spaces” in a booked titled Innovation Nation by John Kao.  Kao describes a dream space as “a space that is neither home (where one eats, sleeps, and raises children), nor personal office (where one works), nor conference room (in which formal agendas run the show” (p. 135).  A dream space needs to be a place where an individual or group of individuals can explore, design, experiment – and of course, have enough time to do so.  You can read most of Chapter 6 – The Importance of Place in Google Books, which also suggests how to construct your own dream space.

And dream spaces are not just for faculty!  Some of my undergraduate researchers have found their own locations where they are most productive and develop their own ideas and approaches, typically places that have free Wi-Fi and food.  I can’t count the number of Starbucks and Panera meetings I’ve had with students, but if it helps them open their minds and move their work forward (when they don’t have to be in the lab or in the field), I certainly don’t mind the off-campus meeting location.

The Amtrak station, known as 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, serves as my newest dreamspace for productivity.

The Amtrak station, known as 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, serves as my newest dream space for productivity.

I had a perfect dream space.  It was a local coffee shop in walking distance from my house that was not busy during the day so the noise level was low.  It had lots of open space and big tables, and I would settle in with a juice and toasted bagel with hummus and could work for hours without even noticing how much time had gone by.  I was able to brainstorm and think through new ideas and directions for old and new projects.  For some reason, I was incredibly productive in this spot – yes, I had found my dream space!  Unfortunately, the coffee shop closed a year ago, and I find myself still bouncing around from place to place, not yet satisfied that I have found “the” spot.  My dream space these days – 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.  Don’t ask me why, but this location works for me.

It turns out I’m much more successful finding dream spaces when I travel.  And it seems like more places similar to Breather are opening up to provide a temporary space for those of us looking for that quiet escape (see Smithsonian Magazine article) that – who knows – just might inspire the next great innovation in geoscience education!