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Stop calling your office an office

Posted in the following categories: Life Lessons, Problem Solving

A few weeks ago, I held a funeral.

It wasn’t for a person. It was for what I used to call my “home office.” But unlike most funerals, no one was mourning this particular death.

I’ve called this room my “home office” since we first moved in. I didn’t have a good reason for it—other than an “office” is what people conventionally call a room where work is supposed to get done.

You might be wondering: What’s in a name? Who cares what a room is called?

Names matter—much more than you might assume. In psychology this is called priming. The exposure to something—a word or an image—can have a powerful influence on later behavior.

In my mind, an “office” is where good ideas go to die. An office conjures up images of cubicles, mind-numbing water-cooler conversations, half-empty cups of awful coffee, and headache-inducing fluorescent lights.

An office, in other words, is the antithesis of creativity. So instead of calling my room an office, I started calling it an idea lab. An idea lab is where innovative ideas are born. An idea lab involves experimentation. An idea lab is for daydreaming. I love my idea lab (and I hated my office).

The importance of naming extends far beyond your office.

Don’t call it a “status meeting.” The term was invented by risk-averse people with zero imagination. Call it something that inspires the attendees to show up in a way that will move the needle—a visioning lab, a collaboration cave, or an idea incubator.

Don’t call it a “living room.” Call it a creating room, as Derek Sivers does.

Don’t call it the Senior Director of Operations. Call it the “head of getting moonshots ready for the real world” (which is the real title of my friend Obi Felten at X, the moonshot factory).

Don’t call your staff “employees.” The word “employee” reinforces the notion of a top-down bureaucratic system where the employer tells employees—the cogs in the machine—what to do. Not the ideal environment for innovation. Instead, follow the lead of Brasilata, a can-manufacturing firm that’s at the forefront of innovation in Brazil. There are no employees at Brasilata. There are only inventors—the title given to all staff. When they join the firm, the inventors sign an “innovation contract.” Brasilata then reinforces these names by actively encouraging its employees—sorry, inventors—to take ownership of their work and submit original ideas.

The idea is simple: If you give it a conventional name, you’ll get conventional results.

But if you want unconventional results, pick an unconventional name that primes you for what you’re trying to achieve.

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