On the Road with Fast Company: It’s Raining Creativity in Seattle

I’ve seen plenty of whiteboard-crazed companies over the years.  Tech conference rooms made entirely of whiteboards. Designers’ offices with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards (to encourage ideas from every height, I suppose). At the Googleplex, I marveled at a huge idea wall out in the open, near the lobby, where Googlers riff.

While reporting in Seattle last week, I encountered my first whiteboard elevator. Three walls and plenty of markers. I doubt the company expects anyone to dash off an algorithm between floors, but this being a terrifically caffeinated city, you never know.

Instead, the result is office graffiti, an anonymous company-wide conversation. One person writes, “I’m Joe the plumber, and I’m an elite liberal.” Someone else responds, “I am Joe’s plumber.”

Sure, it can become a goofy forum, but it also serves as a creative outlet for employees and provides an interesting view into what people are thinking about in the organization. Got a burning question you want to ask colleagues anonymously as opposed to a company-wide email? A suggestion? A complaint? This is the place.

The subtle message of the whiteboard elevator is this: Express yourselves more, share an idea or two, have a little fun at the office. And in the process, maybe eliminate those awkward elevator silences. Scribbles, after all, get people talking. CS