Third Places

Update: It has recently been made known that this bathroom story is one of Jonah Lehrer’s numerous exaggerations and fabrications. It’s not to say that the theory of third places isn’t true and that a bathroom relocation might even work, but in the case of Steve Jobs and Pixar, it didn’t exactly happen as Lehrer portrayed it. (ht:

This post is a part of an ongoing series through Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine.

Third places: any interactive environment that is neither
the home (the first place) nor the office (the second place).
(Jonah Lehrer, Imagine, 151)

Steve Jobs

While we often equate his name with the shape of a neatly bitten apple or products with a lowercase “i” in front of them, Steve Jobs is also to blame for successes named “Woody” and “Buzz.” Without Steve Jobs there would be no Apple. And without Steve Jobs there would be no Pixar.

But it wasn’t just Steve’s ominous presence that saved Pixar and kicked their creativity into overdrive. It was the way he structured and led the organization.


Pixar originally planned to live in three buildings with separate offices for the computer scientists, animators, and management. But Steve had other ideas. He remained the studio as one single space with an atrium at the center. Only Steve knew that it wasn’t enough to simply create the atrium; he had to give people a reason to go there.

They started with the mailboxes. Then the meeting rooms. And then the cafeteria and coffee bar and gift shop. But it wasn’t enough.

So Steve decided to locate the only set of bathrooms in the atrium. This way, says Jobs, everybody has to run into each other.

Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille agree: “The atrium initially might seem like a waste of space….But Steve realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company” (150).

Third Places

This bathroom relocation was more than just a random idea that happened to work. It was the [fabricated] implementation of a “third place.” Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg has this to say about third places: “The virtue of these third places is that they bring together a diversity of talent, allowing people to freely interact while ingesting some caffeine or alcohol” (151).

Tom Allen, a professor of organization studies at MIT joins the conversation: “the highest-performing employees — those with the most useful new ideas — were the ones who consistently engaged in the most interactions” (153)

What about you?

Where is your “third place”? 

Where do you collaborate?

While we can’t relocate all your bathrooms, we would recommend you join us for the annual FourFiveSix Preteen Ministry Conference. This conference is an excellent “third place” for you to make eye contact, join a diversity of talent, and interact with other preteen ministry pastors and leaders. Join us at Mt. Pleasant Christian Church in Greenwood, IN on April 17-19.

The Latin crest of Pixar University says it all: Alienus Non Diutius, which means “alone no longer.” And we want the same to be true for you.

Join us in April and you too will be Alienus Non Diutius.

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