Since the topic of open offices in lab design has come up around here several times, I thought I'd point out this op-ed from the New York Times. It's from the author of a new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and you can guess her point from that title:
SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.
But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.
Well, I wish that I could describe myself as "spectacularly creative", but the rest of that last sentence sounds pretty much like me, anyway. I have no problem talking with people when I meet them. I speak up at meetings, and I really enjoy giving talks to audiences. At the same time. I find that my best thinking is done very much alone. Once I've got something worked out in my head, I'm fine with roaming up and down the halls telling people about it and hearing the reaction. But that working-out has to be done in silence. The phone rings, and my thoughts all take off like like a flock of pigeons. Getting to settle back into their assigned places is not the work of a moment.
For all I know, the new book addresses this problem, but we really need a wider spectrum of words other than "introvert" and "extrovert". There are people who absolutely need human company, human noises and chatter around them. Others would rather have a bit of that, but feel it can be overdone, or just need it in defined amounts, like a meal. And some people don't mind much one way or another, while others are irritated or even panicked by it. You can sort people out, in similar fashion, by their responses to solitude and silence. Given that any research organization is going to have a variety of types in it, you'd think that there would need to be some places where the quiet types could hang out, just as there should be some where the gregarious ones can find what they need.