I did a cover story on Marissa Mayer in 2006 for IN: Inside Innovation and spent time with her. She was many things at Google, but her most important role was as a designer. There was pressure from Google’s engineers to put all the functions they could dream up on that page but Mayer kept Google’s engagement with its audience simple, clean and clear. It beckoned us to use it. Google’s search page had aura and still does.
Mayer’s other big role was innovation. She did much of the hiring and shaped much of the way innovation happened at Google. Mayer knows that creativity is social. Creativity comes out of the interplay of people and ideas. Which is why, as head of Yahoo, she wants everyone to be physically present.
But simply “being there” may not be the kind of social interaction that generates the creativity Mayer seeks. I write in Creative Intelligence that “As much as we love stories about serendipity,” seeking out the right people may be as important, if not more so, than accidentally bumping into them. It’s very hard to play with strangers that you can’t trust.”
Creativity tends to flow out of small teams of people who trust each other and know how to play with one another to puzzle out new challenges. They also tend share deep knowledge of specific fields. I believe that this is the “magic circle” that generates the best creativity.
And if that is true, then it just might be possible to use the great new videoconferencing technologies like HALO and Telepresence to bring these small teams together wherever they are, including home. I’ve personally used them and you can talk to people anywhere and its like chatting across the table. They are emotionally powerful.
Cisco is putting Telepresence into apartments in Korea. Yahoo should consider putting them into the apartments and houses of those potential creators who are now working at home. If serendipity isn’t all that its cracked up to be and sociability is the key to creativity, then you just might be able to build those magic circles with people tending to their kids at home.