Debate Magazine

White Shag Carpet

By Stevemiranda

I had the privilege of visiting one of Seattle’s most creative marketing companies today.

It was crazy. The window to the street is filled with a bunch of rubber chickens. The conference room where we met uses an enamel white grand piano for a tabletop. The piano sits on a white shag carpet. On top of the piano is a gigantic white rubber snake. In the office area, the “cubicles” sit inside a mini-golf course. I was introduced to one of the bosses, whose office consists of elevated lifeguard chairs, a red beach umbrella, and a photo of David Hasselhoff in his Baywatch outfit. It was crazy.

It’s an environment designed to spark creativity, imagination, and new and original combinations of old ideas. The leaders of this company understand the power of the environment in shaping the culture.

I remember trying something like this when I was a classroom teacher. A colleague had a connection that allowed him to get an unlimited supply of surplus office chairs. I got rid of all the hard, wooden school chairs in my classroom, and traded out all the matching tables of mis-matched ones. I would rearrange the tables and chairs every few weeks—some students really hated that—so the environment was always fresh.

I think it worked, to some extent. (It’s hard to measure the effect of these kinds of tactics.) Still, in a building that bears a stunning resemblance to a prison, dressing up one of the cells can only do so much. It didn’t change the fact that school filled students’ days with activities that were not terribly stimulating for them.

It’s another example of why reforming our schools by working around the margins is not good enough. We have to imagine something completely new.

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