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From the howls, jibes and complaints on the Web and on the air, you might think Yahoo has flipped from trying to be a leader in innovation to the equivalent of a journalism luddite.

Even Bill Gates chimed in on the virtues of Skype as a form of face-to-face communication. Might it be just a wee bit self serving that Microsoft owns Skype?

Marissa MayerWell, Mayer isn't necessarily an outlier. At the forward thinking South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, MIT's Bill Aulet and Sanjay Sarma elaborated on The Allen Curve, a theory developed by MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Tom Allen in the 1970's. The theory asserts that the physical distance between individuals directly affects their levels of collaboration.

This belief has begun to reconsider space planning around the world --whether it is open office space, specially designed labs connecting typically bifurcated groups, or the consolidation and co-location of related but fragmented activities and programs. The approach is believed to drive innovation and entrepreneurship through the creation of workspaces that promote and enhance collaboration.

A core belief here is that innovation is often spontaneous, collaborative and assisted by the ladder approach — an idea is tossed out, a colleague adds or builds to the idea (adding a rung to the ladder), another colleague adds another rung, and so on.

Hard to do when you're working alone at home. While Skype can do a virtual face to face, it's usually not spontaneous. Skype calls are usually scheduled, or you make the extra effort to "dial" and "connect," hoping the other person is "there" and available.

When you see somebody by the coffee maker or vending machine or ping pong table, it can be spontaneous. No frustration that somebody didn't "pick up" when you Skyped them (which usually dampens your enthusiasm to do it again).

I know I get a lot more done on snow days when I work from home. My personal productivity rises. I cross off a lot of stuff from my to-do lists. But I'm probably not as creative as when talking with my colleagues in the hallways or at lunch. Productivity doesn't necessarily equal innovation. We need both, we need to nurture both.

How's this discussion play out where you work?

Brian Steffens  
 
Director of Communications



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