Where Innovation Happens

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Where do you think innovation happens?

Are you doing your best work when you are alone with your ideas? Are you doing your best work when you’re collaborating at the office with your peers? Do you do your best work early in the morning before the chickens get squawking? Do you do your best work late at night while wearing headphones that are blasting your favorite tunes? Do you do your best work while sitting at your desk or are you more comfortable in the cafe at the corner? Does your best stuff come from tinkering in the shed or asking your colleagues at the office for an opinion.

Spend some time in deep meditation about this.

This past week, the tech world (and those paying attention to the business of Silicon Valley) were shocked that Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, has put an end to telecommuting and working from home if you’re an employee of Yahoo (you can read more about it here: The Yahoo memo and Marissa Mayer’s big innovation gamble). From The Washington Post article: "It might just be one of the biggest ‘bet-the-company’ moves to create a culture of innovation that we’ve ever seen in Silicon Valley. Marissa Mayer is essentially saying to her employees, ‘If you’re not 100 percent vested in making Yahoo one of the greatest companies in Silicon Valley once again, then you’re not the right fit for us anymore.’ The telecommuting ban functions much like a tempting buyout offer from a company trying to slim down via attrition. It’s a test of how dedicated employees are to her vision for the New Yahoo…"

Ask yourself again, where does innovation happen?

Yahoo is an interesting company. With as much business as the generate as a media entity, few (if any) people see Yahoo as a progressive or innovative organization. Rather than this being a slight against employees who have young children or those who are not regularly required to attend pre-determined meetings, Mayer needs to do this. It’s less about an "all hands on deck" (although that too is needed) and much more about innovation. Breakthroughs, collisions, ideas and sparks happen when people can bounce things off of one another. There is an energy, feel and pulse when people get together, hang out, push each other and force the work. Sure, there’s no problem when individuals need time alone to get the work done, but this does not mean that any individual can remove themselves from the overall corporate culture. Every team needs a home base. Every team needs a place to regularly and consistently get together to hack the system.

It’s not for everyone.

I realize that my comments may have some of you rolling your eyes. I realize that many people have some harsh thoughts for what Mayer has done. I would encourage everyone to take a deep breathe, step back, look at Yahoo’s position and ask where this innovation is going to come from? There is no doubt that moments at home to toil on some deeper reflections that might bring out a new result are a critical component of where innovation happens. But the real answer to the question: where does innovation happen is this: it happens everywhere. You need all of the inputs and places and people and inspiration listed above. Still, with that, you need a true home base. Working from home can work for some businesses and there are countless examples of organizations that make it work, but humans really do create amazing things when we get together, rally around a specific ideology and reach for the stars.

It’s painful but it shouldn’t be.

I don’t think that Mayer was trying to make people not like her or perceive her to be counter-current-culture. It seems like she cares deeply about making things work at Yahoo and, with that, she wants her team to be together and get the job done. We’ll know in a few short years if Yahoo is able to pull it off. True innovation comes from many and multiple inputs. It’s not just from home. It’s not just from the office. Bringing people together to encourage that ideology is a smart move and another brave step in attempting to make Yahoo today what it once was.

What do you think?


  1. I can only agree with you Mitch that it is the mixture of ideas that produces creativity. Although part time at home might be appropriate, full-time work isolated at home is certainly not going to contribute to creativity. Instant messengers do not replicate the one-to-one contact and the serendipity of moving out in the world!

  2. Mitch, I agree that innovation happens everywhere – and i also think that it’s different for different people and in different situations. I also think that there are better ways to encourage it than to issue a company wide mandate for everyone to work in the office daily. Instead, couldn’t yahoo have set clear goals for people, held them accountable, and maybe even brought under performing teams into the office rather than blanketing everyone? This seems more like a problem of lack of leadership and accountability than of working from home. I know for me personally I need a mix of in person collaboration and quiet alone time to produce my best work, and a lot of it happens at home.

  3. It’s hard to argue with the points you’ve made. What troubles me are the reports that Yahoo employees working from home are not productive. If they aren’t productive, and the work from home arrangement isn’t working, pulling the cord on the whole thing seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water. There was a clear implication that the employees working from home were holding the company back with the words, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
    I can see how this is a decision that was both difficult to make and is designed for the greater good of the company. It just wasn’t communicated in a way that got employees on side, since it got leaked. I think Yahoo/Marissa Mayer are now experiencing the backlash of good intentions poorly implemented. Of course, given that Google doesn’t have telecommuting, I also wonder if this is about creating more of a Google-like environment.

  4. Seems like a 1/2 day (after the kids get to daycare: 9-1?) in the office on Tues and Fri would have been a good 1st move.

  5. Regardless of Marissa’s motivation or long term goals with this strategy, whether right or wrong, whether she will lose dead weight or risk losing some good folks, all of this can be debated for a long time to come. But all that aside, it has a terrible feeling of DESPERATION and that is what struck me about such a move. Was it a bold move or a desperate move??

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