Ideas Made to Matter
How a collaborative spirit feeds innovation at an IKEA design lab
If you’ve recently been impressed by the cleverness or creativity of a piece of IKEA furniture, you can thank the minds at SPACE10 for fostering that innovation.
SPACE10, located in Copenhagen, Denmark, is the independent research and design lab that supports IKEA, with a goal to “bring new perspectives and design new solutions that enable IKEA to live up to their original promise of creating a better everyday life for the many people.”
One of the thinkers coming up with ideas like a true-to-scale augmented reality model for interior designers, is lead creative producer Mikkel Christopher.
Christopher recently spoke at MIT about the ways SPACE10 isn’t a typical innovation lab, and how that drives outside-the-box thinking for the world’s largest furniture retailer. We asked him how he works with ideas.
What inspires you?
I always get inspired by people who are willing to take chances. It doesn’t matter what they do, but there is something very fascinating about the drive behind taking a chance and the uncompromising belief in pursuing an idea.
One example that made a big impression on me was Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic free fall back in 2012. During the jump he started spinning out of control and I remember thinking that it would go terribly wrong. But the fact that he kept his focus and managed to get the situation under control and land safely was very inspiring.
Who inspires you?
I am fortunate enough to work with a team of extremely talented and creative people who embody this willingness to take chances and explore what it is to test the status quo.
They inspire me because often working in the world of innovation can feel a lot like free falling, and I would be lying to you if I said I hadn’t felt like I was spinning out of control a few times in my career. The team that surrounds me keeps me grounded, focused, and calm, and I could not ask for much more out of these inspiring individuals.
How are new ideas discovered and developed in your organization?
I don’t believe in an ideation process where people sit around a table with Post-it notes and come up with the next big idea. It’s too forced, and ideas should and will come when you let the mind work on the problem/issue/challenge subconsciously. It is also vital that you include the people you hope to innovate for in the innovation process.
At SPACE10 we try to do this through something we call “playful research.” “Playful research” is a method where we translate complex and sometimes dry research into highly visual and shareable stories. We share the stories with the world and learn from all the input and feedback we get from our community.
How do you keep track of new ideas?
As ideas come to me at very random times (often when I don’t really need them) I usually just write them down on my phone. I wish I could say I had a way of structuring these notes, but to be honest it’s one big mess. I quite like that it’s not super structured or in a fancy app. It should be kept as a random messy back-catalog of thoughts, reflections, and everyday epiphanies.
Who do you share new ideas with?
We share our research and concepts often and early with our community. I don’t believe the world needs another secret innovation lab that works on their plans in a vacuum. I strongly believe that if we are to succeed in creating a better everyday life for the many people, we need to bring the community in on the journey to learn and progress together.
We have a saying at SPACE10: If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. We constantly strive to surround ourselves with people who are smarter than us and we always invite our global research and design community to play an active role in our work. We have a public program at SPACE10 where we invite people in and share the stage with great minds who inspire us. This is also a way for us to actively bring in the outside world to share ideas and thoughts.
Sometimes timing just isn’t right for an idea to morph into an actual project. I don’t think we have ever abandoned an idea or project at SPACE10, but we have realized that we've come to a point where our small team of 32 people cannot take it any further for the time being. That shouldn’t be the end of a project, which is why we very strongly believe in open source projects; to make them accessible to everyone and to enable projects to be taken further than we could have ever done ourselves.
Our project the Growroom [a spherical structure designed with the idea of using architecture to produce food] is a great example of exactly this. The first edition of the Growroom sparked interest and a lot of people requested to either buy or exhibit it. But we didn’t think it made sense to promote local food production and then start shipping it across oceans and continents. So we decided to make a new and smaller version and open source it. It was downloaded more than 30,000 times in the first month.
Since then, people have redesigned it, improved upon it and taken it places we could have never imagined. It is really humbling to see how great an idea can become once you let the global community make it their own.
What was your worst idea?
I get a lot of bad ideas, and I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon. But when it comes to ideas at SPACE10, I do believe we are good at quickly assessing if the idea lives up to our mission of creating a better everyday life for people and the planet. If it doesn’t or we don’t believe it will create a positive impact on the lives of the many people we simply don’t pursue it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea but just that it’s not the right one for us to chase.
To me, an idea is not bad if it fails, it is bad if it never matched what you hoped to accomplish in the first place. I rarely think ideas are bad. Because you can always learn from the mistakes you make or the wrong decisions you take. By having an open mind and not being afraid of failing you will without a doubt learn a whole lot on your way. It might be worth chasing bad ideas from time to time.
If we know the idea is contributing to creating a better everyday life for people and planet it often means that it is a good idea to look into. Naturally, it has to align with our areas of exploration as well.
What's the biggest idea you are working on right now?
I am extremely excited about the work we’re doing with our residency program. We invite people with bold, visionary ideas to SPACE10 and support them in transforming their visions into engaging concepts that can travel the world.
Our residents come from a range of backgrounds and join us for a fixed period to explore and work on the global challenges we’ve identified while providing our team with new perspectives. As an example, we have been collaborating with MIT for the past two years on providing the students the opportunity to join us during their summer break. In my experience at SPACE10 it has been one of the biggest sources of continued inspiration in my work.
At MIT Sloan, we talk about ideas made to matter — ideas that are carefully developed and have meaningful impact in the world. In that context — what is your idea made to matter?
Even though I cannot take credit for it, I am extremely proud of the idea that lies at the foundation of a place like SPACE10: developing concepts that both challenge and inspire IKEA, one of the largest design companies in the world.
We are here to challenge and provoke change and not just design and develop products for the sake of making them. We serve as a kind of interface that connects IKEA to the diversity of the design world around it, with different people, different ideas and new ways of scaling them. This collaboration and way of working is now more important than ever. To solve the massive problems we face, we need to collaborate as a rule, not an exception.