What All Flourishing Creative Environments Need


One of the strongest outcomes of our work with schools, in developing their use of Design Thinking led enquiry across the curriculum, is the empowerment of the learner. Providing purposeful opportunities for students to bring their passions to school.

After all, when do we truly give complete choice over what takes place in schools? When do learners have total autonomy about what they want to learn and how to do it?

Being able to follow your own heart and your own questions should be something we feel, and an everyday opportunity in schools. But there is an important aspect which must be central to providing a gesture of twenty percent time or Genius Hour in schools, and that is helping our children develop a strong understanding of what they are capable of.

In their employee handbook the Valve Corporation, an American video game development and digital distribution company, outline a vision for their new hires, not of twenty percent time but of one hundred percent time. New employees have complete autonomy over the projects they choose to get involved in and those they might instigate.

…when you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish.

But a flourishing creative environment only comes about when the following three elements are evident in equal measure:


Valve speak about the importance of hiring, they claim it is at the centre of their universe. They rely on recruiting high calibre people who can take this type of opportunity to grow the business.

In schools we need to support children to take full advantage of learning that offers the same type of opportunity. Autonomy to bring their passions to school, to know how to share and follow their own enquiry and questions, to understand how their learning can have an impact on the world around them.

We are not “hiring” children, we do not recruit them with a set of appropriate skills already in place for this type of responsibility. I would argue that understanding what you are capable of is an ever changing state. It is a developmental and we need to consider how we help our students learn about learning and be reflective of their own impact, practice and personal growth.

This takes time, but is vital in our endeavour to offer greater responsibility for learning to young students. Valve have a nice metaphor to describe the concept of one hundred percent time or what is more commonly named “open allocation”.

Why does your desk have wheels? Think of those wheels as a symbolic reminder that you should always be considering where you could move yourself to be more valuable. But also think of those wheels as literal wheels, because that’s what they are, and you’ll be able to actually move your desk with them.

Creating an environment where the opportunity to flourish is evident is one part of this. The other that is more appropriate for your work in schools and other learning organisations, is developing the capacity needed to take advantage of those opportunities.


  1. As someone who has put pupil voice and choice at the front of teaching decisions I have been lucky to see just how powerful it can be.

  2. We hear society talk about young people needing to be creative and show initiative to be able to survive and contribute to society but feel we, as educators, are struggling with how to draw out these characteristics in young people in the midst of curriculum deadlines and structural limitations.

  3. Well schools and the art and science of designing great learning is indeed one of the most creative of professional responsibilities. The environment, both physical and ethical, needs to all contribute to a flourishing state. It has been great to engage with you all at St Mels around the themes from Valve – I know it made an impression on your thinking. #stackranking

  4. Yes and the same goes for teachers and schools Tom, for they are/have creative, high calibre people who flourish when given choice, responsibility and respect in equal measure. Educational leaders can learn a lot from Valve…

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