Managing Innovation and Leading Creativity Within Generative Space (Co-Creation)

modern contemporary office with "punch today in the face" written on wall

by Stephen Hobbs

Over the past 30+ years, I have managed, lead and consulted with many organizations. I’ve seen the effects these organizations have had on their people.

In one organization, people were frightened to update their managers because of what they thought might happen should they made mistakes or not deliver on time.

In another workplace, where people were cut off from each other, employees ended up gossiping, getting caught up with internal politics and climbing the leadership ladder at whatever cost.

And yet, in many other organizations, people commit to their work and foster their relationships in respectful ways.

With these experiences in mind, I ask clients and workshop attendees, “What does the workplace of tomorrow look, feel, taste, smell and sound like?” With any hint of workplace negativity, I follow up with this request, “If what you have is not what you desire, then explain and describe what would work for you.”

The responses are enlightening.

To hear how their visions live is inspiring. To hear how their visions fall short of how they are voiced is disheartening.

Connecting with You and Your Workplace

My ask… take 10 seconds… envision the workplace YOU desire to work in.

Are you inspired or disheartened, or somewhere in between?

If inspired – share gratitude and appreciation with all with whom you work. Leverage the appreciative story you just imagined (and felt).

If you are disheartened, what is really stopping you from sharing your workplace vision with others and most importantly with your manager?

Whether inspired or disheartened, in moving forward, “With whom might you share your story and ask for their assistance?”

More so, weave these seven actions into your organization of work to fashion “generative space” through which to realize your preferred story:

1. frame your story with the help of others

2. inspire others to work with you to edit the story (add, alter, delete) you proposed

3. create a space that allows for the old and new to meet, a place where possibility, authenticity, and personal connections can breathe and be nurtured

4. explore the authority and resources (time, effort and money) necessary to make it happen

5. guide all to move from reactive learning through adaptive learning to generative learning via mentoring and coaching

6. implement 2 through 5 – take the action individually and in groups

7. evaluate the results of your actions and adjust 1 through 6 in continuous improvement

Defining the Terms Space and Generative

To create generative space requires a better understanding of what is meant by “space” and “generative.”

Let’s start with space.

~ Space is physical in that it can be measured and a boundary placed around it.

~ Space can define your position; that is, the role you play according to your placement in the organizational chart.

~ Space is psychological in acknowledging your “headspace” about work.

~ Space can be social in that it suggests where your group meets and creates ‘things’ and how it collectively thinks about an issue.

~ Space can be political as people come together to share power or not.

~ Space can be spiritual as you discover who you are and the truths that accompany that discovery.

~ Space is a place in time… just as time is a place in space.

Generative refers to possessing the power and/or having the ability to produce, reproduce, contribute or originate some thing that adds value or potential value to one’s life or workplace.

In the workplace, when new products and processes are offered for use, some form of generative activity was used to create them. Therefore, a person or persons entered into a space (time and place) that was generative.

When I am working on a problem, I never thing about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.
Buckminster Fuller

Artists and Organizations

Artists are the most obvious promoters of generative space. They create this space when they design, develop, implement and evaluate their work.

In their case, generative space can be physical. It’s within their studios where paints, canvases and potting wheels are used to create pieces. It’s within whatever place they generate their artwork.

They have mental space from which they see what needs to be birthed and find the ways and means to give it life like Michelangelo who “saw” David in the stone.

In organizations, generative space is where you experience relative safety to bend and twist, turn upside down and inside out, and test ‘things’ without misfortune.

Some organizations have research and development (R&D) departments that create such space. Other organizations, by the nature of their culture, support pockets of generative work in the everyday dealings of employees with employees, and with customers.

Managers and Leaders

For your organization of work, “Are the managers and leaders creating generative space for employees to deal with workplace issues?

There are two types of issues. First, there are issues that need to be celebrated because they are about what is working in the organization. The celebration involves finding ways to do more of it.

Second, issues can identify what is not working and therefore solutions are required to resolve the issue. Feelings of concern are present.

When managers and leaders create a place for learning, reflecting, questioning, reviewing, and finding commonality within the community about workplace issues, they are fostering and fashioning a time and place for employees to experience generative space.

In doing so, there is anticipation that employees will generate more than what is present. And because of the employees’ involvement, they will share their gratitude, enthusiasm and inspiration for a job well done which in turn encourages their continued involvement.

Generative space is a place of thinking and being that embraces transition because of change and the creative process involving creativity and innovation. It can be a wonderful addition to work when nurtured.

Knowing when it is or is not present alters what a person is doing. It guides a person to generate new futures and to fulfill visions that would previously have seemed impossible. When employees are inspired and can inspire others, they know the flow state of being, having, and doing.

Also, managers and leaders must realize to guide generative space is difficult. This time and place is open and has multiple outcomes that are themselves unpredictable in form and function. This situation can be frustrating and confusing at times. Yet, not to spend time in generative space means receiving less than what is possible.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
George Bernard Shaw

Your Sense-Making

As YOU create the conditions for generative space with others, you are creating personal and/or collective time and place opportunities for personal sense-making and establishing links for future work.

In generative space you construct, test, and retest your ‘meaning pattern recognition’ – your framework of what the world means to you as you experience it.

Through generative space you have the power to bring some thing into ‘thingness’ through originating it, producing it, and/or reproducing it. And because of these actions, generative space is a great place from which to create the well-living workplace and to live your great life.

Your Task

Over the upcoming weeks and months, ask yourself these two questions each morning when you sit down at your desk:

“How did I encourage and participate in generative space or generative conversations yesterday and what does it mean for me today?”

“How will I encourage and participate in generative space or generative conversations today that will have meaning for tomorrow?

About the author

To learn more about generative space and its relationship to organizational culture and mentoring in the workplace, go to []. Enter your name for Free Instant Access to the Preface, Chapter 1 and a related article from the book Help Them Help YOU Manage-Lead – an excellent addition to your book library.

Brought to you by Stephen Hobbs, EdD – Business Transition Mentor and Chief Experience Designer in Creating Tomorrow’s Workplace Today. Visit to access a one-stop shop for knowledge capture and sharing through mentoring.