Creating a Culture of Innovation

Capital isn’t so important in business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life. — Harvey Firestone

Engineers at Google are offered “20-percent time.” That means for one day a week they are encouraged to pursue ideas they are passionate about. Google Suggest and AdSense for Contest are just two of the programs that came about from allowing the engineers to work on their own ideas.

Allen Post, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is an architect in the K-12 Education Market sector at Perkins+Will and Project Manager for Sprout Space™

Perkins+Will has always been a firm that promotes innovation among its employees and recently took that encouragement to a new level with the Ideas Conference of 2012. As the firm turned 75, leaders asked themselves the question, “So how do we get to 100?”

The management of Perkins+Will firmly believes that the future of the firm believes in creating and maintaining a firm-wide Culture of Innovation in which innovative ideas are cultivated and shared across disciplines, markets, geographies, demographics, roles and responsibilities. They want to define the initiatives and structure to sustain success and develop new avenues of thought leadership.

So they created the Ideas Conference. Every member of the firm, in all 20 offices, were encouraged to submit ideas to enhance our practice beyond its current model and help steer the firm in the future. It’s the first conference of its kind for a large architectural firm. As Thomas Edison said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

They were looking for ideas in three categories:

•  Practice – Ideas that enhance what we do and how we practice

• Technology – Ideas that integrate (existing or new) toolsets into our explorations and technologies into our products

• Experience – Deeply meaningful ideas that lead to exemplary work, improving people’s lives.

You could enter as an individual or as a team. The format of the entries was left deliberately loose for total flexibility. Submissions were due in early February and the announcement of selected ideas was February 17. The people with the winning ideas will go to Los Angeles for the conference March 19-21 where they will be presenting their ideas to thought leaders from across the firm. One idea will be chosen to form the basis for a firm-wide dialogue after the conference.

As the Call for New Ideas noted, “Beyond the impact of these specific ideas, this conference is intended to inspire individuals and offices to share, cultivate and debate ideas that strengthen our organization, and to make innovative practices endemic to the way in which we work.

Here are just a few of the winning ideas that were generated:

• Mentorship Institute: Establish an exchange program to nurture the profession of architecture in the developing world.

• Results Centered Project Management: Rethink the relationship between quality and time as it pertains to our projects

•Comprehensive Adaptive Reuse for Every Project: Implementation of repurposing firmwide

And yes, one of the winning ideas is borrowed from our friends at Google.

• 20 percent time: A program to give employees the opportunity to explore new ideas and areas of influence.

It is because of the culture of encouragement of innovation that our team was given the opportunity to work on a new project that we developed  called Sprout Space, one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. I’ll write more about that in next week’s column.


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