Food for Thought

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Image by Kelley Taghon

What does a former deli in South Bend, Indiana, have to do with imagination? More than you might imagine. Under the leadership of CEO and President Phil Newbold, Memorial Hospital has turned the space into what Gene Stowe of the South Bend Tribune calls “an energetic creativity classroom.” It still looks like an eatery—there are tables, chairs, and display cases—but the objective now is to nourish the right brain rather than the stomach. Open to hospital workers and organizations of all kinds, Innovation Café @ Memorial offers classes and workshops intended to promote imagination, creativity, and innovation. These delicacies are described in a “menu” that includes, for instance, appetizers such as “Pre-Visit Readings”; “Introduction to the Basics of Innovation” as a “Soup and Salad” course; a “Chef’s Choice” entrée of “Putting Innovation into Healthy Community Initiatives”; and a “Side Dish” of “Real World Stories.” Not to mention the “Yummy Desserts”! So how exactly does this unusual “café” function?

CEO Newbold launched Innovation Café because of his belief—which we at Lincoln Center Institute hold firmly as well—that traditional linear thinking skills aren’t enough to ensure the success of institutions. Just as important is a culture of open-mindedness that instills in people the courage to pursue new ideas. This sort of atmosphere led Memorial Hospital, for instance, to take the recent bold step of partnering with Wal-Mart and a regional supermarket chain to provide primary health services in their stores. In addition to serving as a forum where Memorial staff can brainstorm to improve various hospital processes, the café also hosts one-day seminars for outside organizations or individuals that include presentations by firms Tom Peters Company, IDEO, Ninth House, and Doblin. “Far from stuffy lectures,” Stowe writes, “the experiences come with plenty of Play-Doh, Post-It notes and snacks on the table, and visits to the visual aids in the display cases.”

Image by Kelley Taghon

The Innovation Café @ Memorial brings to mind a couple of similar environments that I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries: the Stanford Institute of Design’s innovation labs and the Ross School of Business’s Innovatrium at the University of Michigan. The pattern emerging here suggests that imaginative thinkers are no longer content inside their offices and cubicles; they want physical spaces conducive to energetic mental activity. Which prompts a question for you, readers: what kind of space will help you and other members of your community think boldly? Can you make it a reality? If an old deli can become a hub of innovation, it seems that anything is possible!

Click here to read a 2004 interview with Memorial CEO Phil Newbold.

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