There’s a room in our house that I’ve called my “home office” since we moved in. I had no good reason for the name – other than an “office” is what people conventionally call a room where work is supposed to be Done.
But in my mind, an “office” is where good ideas go to die. An office conjures up images of cubicles, mind-numbing conversations with water coolers, personal attacks, half-empty cups of dreadful coffee, and headache-inducing fluorescent lights.
Creativity, in other words, hates offices.
So instead of calling my bedroom an office, I started calling it a think tank. A think tank is where innovative ideas are born. A think tank involves experimentation. A laboratory of ideas is made for dreaming. I love my think tank (and I hated my office).
You might be wondering: what’s in a name? Who cares about the name of a room?
Names matter, more than you think. This is called priming. The simple exposure to a word or an image can have a strong influence on the way you think.
And the importance of naming extends far beyond your desk.
Don’t call it a “status meeting.” Call it something that inspires attendees to show up in a way that will move the needle — a vision lab, collaboration cave, or idea incubator.
Don’t call him the senior operations manager. Call it “responsible for preparing moonshots for the real world” (which was my friend Obi Felten’s real title when she worked at X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory).
Don’t call it a “to do list”. When I hear “to do list”, I want to run, as far and as fast as possible. Call it a playlist or design list – a title that will delight and entice you.
Don’t call your staff “employees”. The word “employee” reinforces the notion of a top-down bureaucratic system where the employer tells the employees – the cogs in the machine – what to do. Instead, follow the example of Brasilata, a can-making company that is at the forefront of innovation in Brazil. There are no employees in Brasilata. There are only inventors – the title given to all staff. When they join the company, inventors sign an “innovation contract”. Brasilata then reinforces those names by actively encouraging its employees – sorry, inventors – to take ownership of their work and submit original ideas.
The idea is simple: if you give it a conventional name, you’ll get conventional results.
But if you want unconventional results, pick an unconventional name that prepares you for what you’re trying to accomplish.