Innovation is a fleeting firefly chased by every company and corporation, but often its an ideal arising out of a sudden leap forward by an individual and not part of the everyday grind. In many ways, this is why I gravitate towards looking at organizations such as Hacker Dojo and other in-your-garage oriented inventive and hacker oriented spaces. Now, it’s obvious that Microsoft produces products that attract the eyes and minds of hack-friendly culture; but they don’t have the best reputation for having that inside their own corporate walls.
As a result, when a CNNMoney article outlining an attempt to generate a concept called “The Garage” popped up in my feed I picked up my tablet and tabbed through the reporting. From the report, it’s all about a 2009 project that bubbled to the surface in response to Google’s highly innovative corporate culture (and potentially in light of how many Microsoft products go on to become innovative components of external culture—see the later invented Kinect.)
Last summer, Microsoft completed a redesign of one of its original buildings on campus — Building 4, where Bill Gates’ office used to be — into a laid-back workshop where staff can tinker with things. It’s open to anyone, anytime, and it’s got everything from a hardware workshop to an actual working garage door.
If it doesn’t sound to you like something Microsoft would normally do , the Garage’s motto will really shock you: “Do epic s–t.”
The Redmond campus seeks to inject enthusiasm into the projects and workers that they have by providing them a space to “Do epic shit” and invoke the sense of wonder and competition that drives development-thinking innovators to excel. It’s obvious that they want to bottle (or at least house) the concept that radiates behind spaces exactly like what Hacker Dojo and other MAKER spaces do.
The motto is hip but it’s hard to see how this idea will actually break free of the calcified culture that Microsoft’s reputation is built on. The article describes that entire projects and teams are shuttled away to the Garage for five days at a time to play out alternate projects and ideas allowing them to put fresh thinking to diverse problems, but the approach seems a little weird and almost high school centric.
“The Garage also puts on ‘science fairs,’ where Microsoft employees work on ideas that are completely unrelated to their day jobs and present them to a panel of judges,” the article says, “complete with tri-fold poster board. The winner’s prize: They get to set off a volcano eruption.”
Yes. Innovating and interesting things crop up when employees are given time to work on their own projects and develop their own ideas with resources they wouldn’t otherwise have on hand as individuals; but this really gives the sense of a highly scaffolded culture trying to ape the behavior of an exotic and unstructured group.
It feels too much like the Casual Friday’s of the DevOps world run bang into MAKER space.
Microsoft might be better off continuing to subsidize incubators for projects that revolve around their already awesome products like the Kinect—and its 2011 App Accelerator program—instead of jostling their own employees around. Hand out grants and scholarships to people who show that Microsoft products can be innovated as they are, unlock them for use in the external culture, and let the rest of the developer world in. That’s where this sort of thing is going to shine.
[Image credit: John R. Coughlin, CNNMoney]