Knowledge Spillover: Fill Your Spring with New Ideas

Amazing ideas can spring from spilling your knowledge and soaking in what springs from others.

Mine is not a traditional office job. I do have an assigned desk and phone, but because I work with pursuit teams around the country, I am almost always working from an office other than my own. Don’t feel sorry for my travel schedule … I love it! Every week involves a distinct set of challenges and the chance to meet with different people who have an interesting variety of perspectives and working styles. It involves knowledge spillover.

Knowledge spillover. Urban theorist Jane Jacobs used this term to describe spaces where ideas cross disciplines, spaces that allow serendipitous interaction that breeds an exchange of ideas.

When we live in strictly organized offices or cubicles, our chance meetings with others tend to be short, confined to getting a cup of coffee or riding the elevator. When the floorplan is more open, perhaps even somewhat disorganized, opportunities to converse and brainstorm with those outside our circle expand our thought process and trigger innovation.

I am fortunate that my firm provides the tools to work remotely and stay connected to information and people throughout the company. It does require an adjustment … and admittedly, some of our managers are more accepting of not having eyes on their staff than others. Working remotely can bring a host of management challenges, some related to productivity, others related to the face-to-face interaction that is vital to an effective team. It becomes critical to have open and frequent communication to ensure we have advocates for us in the office as well as emotional connectivity to our teams.

With the growth of the entrepreneurial gig economy, we see co-working spaces opening everywhere, providing places and services for people who typically work alone, but who crave the interaction of a work community. Even within our own buildings or the hotels and restaurants we travelers frequent, we see space planners creating flexible gathering spaces to encourage interaction.

If we are to continue to grow, learn, be inspired, contribute, and bring contemporary ideas back to the table, we must challenge ourselves to find opportunities to interact.

  • A conference provides an obvious breeding ground. Set a goal to meet two new people each day and have a meaningful conversation where you learn something.
  • Attend an SMPS chapter meeting … assuming you don’t sit with people you know. That new member might just have the most interesting life story you’ve ever heard!
  • Attend an event hosted by another organization, even one outside A/E/C. This broadens your perspective and takes you out of your comfort zone and the world you normally dwell in.

Perhaps you can schedule a mixer with another firm in your building … get to know what they do. Find a way to collaborate on a common issue. Amazing ideas can spring from spilling your knowledge and soaking in what springs from others!

SMPS President Nancy Usrey, FSMPS, CPSM, is associate vice president of HNTB in Plano, TX. She can be reached at

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