Epic Creativity

On my way to the airport in Madison Wisconsin, ready to head home after a recent family trip, my sister asked if I wanted to swing by a corporate campus in nearby Verona. This definitely wasn’t on the top of my list of things to do in Mad-town, but she said I just had to see it. It turns out, the headquarters were unlike anything I’d ever seen prompting me to question if I was in Verona, Wisconsin or Palo Alto, California. It blew my mind!

Founded in 1979, Epic is a privately owned world leader in the health-care software market, which employs over 6,800 employees. Their headquarters is made up of five campuses, all which have unique themes. These five campuses include:

  • Prairie, with an astronomy theme
  • Central Park, housing buildings with themes ranging from the Wild West to Asia
  • The Farm, with an iconic Wisconsin theme including large barn buildings, silos, a machine shed, and a stable
  • Wizards Academy, made of castle-like buildings that are meant to resemble university cities like Oxford or Hogwarts School from the Harry Potter novels
  • The Authors, which is currently under construction, will pay homage to literature classics like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Wizard of Oz”

When we arrived at Epic, we spoke to a woman in the front lobby who shared a lot of information with us and described the inspiration for their landscaping and buildings. It was fascinating to hear her talk about the inspiration and process that went into designing each building. For example, she pointed out that the Farm Campus is across from a large farm, and told us that because of that, they built several farmhouses for office spaces. Instead of having meticulously groomed grounds, they opted for natural looking grass fields with wildflowers and pathways that connect the buildings. This unique design allows the building to fit in with the iconic Midwest landscape.

They’ve even taken a creative approach to parking – by taking it all underground.  Underground parking means that residents and employees don’t have to see huge ugly parking lots full of cars, and can enjoy fields of grass and flowers instead.

On the feeling of Epic’s campuses, Bruce Richards, Director of Facilities & Engineering sums it up. “It’s inspiration. It’s creativity. We want to make it interesting for the employees. We try to create an atmosphere that is enjoyable to work in and keeps your creativity going.”

Maybe that’s why Epic was #1 on Forbes Top 10 Cool Office Spaces list.

I’ve stepped inside many corporate offices over the years and have never seen anything even remotely close to what I saw on Epic’s campus. Here, I saw dragons and snakes that were part of the landscaping, buildings that resembled medieval castles and amazing hallways that looked like galactic space stations and the New York Subway. Wow.

My visit got me thinking about creativity in the workspace and how most corporations choose to focus more on reducing cost than inspiring imaginative thinking. It also made me wonder, is there research that shows that visual creativity in the workplace helps to spark innovation? Studies show that our brains use idle and non-working time to engage our creative thinking and spark imagination and innovation.

Some people shut down visual information before their Aha! moment, during a time that is known as the ‘brain blink’. Creative people, in general, tend to take in more visual stimulation compared to others on a daily basis to fuel their thinking. In short- it can be said that a creative workspace drives innovative ideas.

In Madison, they refer to this creative inspiration as “Epiconomy“. Epic appears to have created an inspiring, creative environment for its employees as well as for the residents of the community of Verona and in doing so, has changed the vernacular. And, Epic is a huge reason for the expanding economy of Dane County, Madison. I’m excited to visit my sister again and see the next campus unfold.

Epic indeed.

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