Silicon Valley’s policy toward creativity and innovation within the software technology industry is well known within the manufacturing community. In this article we look at what policies the leaders of these companies have adopted – and to what extent these practices are transferrable to our manufacturing firms.
Starting from humble beginnings, the likes of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple, Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google, plus many before them have created an Industry of competitive innovation that has reached into our homes and daily lives.
Here are three factors to consider in your manufacturing business:
1. Finding talented employees and keeping them
Even the biggest technophobe knows the stories of Google’s employee benefits. Lavish campuses are set up with massive employee lounges, swimming pools, decked out work spaces and strong salaries. These perks take employees off the beaten path and into a space where passion and creativity are rewarded.
The combination works; employees routinely go past the ordinary and extend their reach towards the extraordinary. For a manufacturing company, the same rules can be applied, albeit with more effort towards production and effectively implementing procedures that improve efficiency.
At Google, the ‘Innovation Time out policy’ or 80/20 policy takes things a step further. The company fosters their employee’s passion by letting them spend 80% of their time working on core projects and one day a week focusing on a project of their own. While costly at the start, some of these independent projects ended up turning into Gmail, Google News and AdSense.
The lesson that is learned from Google’s success revolves around two key points; creating a demand in the workplace and giving employees the freedom to pursue their own creativity.
Manufacturing companies can implement these points in a similar way to replicate the innovation model. Letting employees give their input in product development can shed new light on a problem or give a new dimension to a complicated project while giving those involved part ownership of the end result.
2. Encouraging risk
“Do it. Try it. Fix it.” is a mantra used daily by employees at high tech companies across the valley. Solutions to complex problems come through trial and error, with pragmatic judgment leading the way through countless details. Teamed with an attitude that failure breeds success, people are encouraged to think out of the box and have the support to try the far-fetched, as well as the tried and true methods.
For a manufacturing company looking for an edge, this attitude can lead to innovative results and foster a fresh working environment that brushes off setbacks in lieu of the score at the end of the game.
Management can copy this widespread structure from the valley. Instead of being just an authority to report to, managers can also encourage and guide employees towards taking chances to solve problems and using their creativity to move forward. Giving employees the power to fail without repercussions transforms the workplace into a different space; trust is implied, setbacks are learned from and success is a group effort.
3. Competitiveness while collaborating
Survey findings suggest employees place high consideration on where they will work based on the team they will work alongside. While encouraged to be independent, there is a rare air of collaboration that brings new possibilities into the picture.
This leads to more networking both inside and outside the company; more than twice the number of IT professionals in Silicon Valley work on open source projects. Having these networks ties the culture of the IT world together, giving valuable insight and solutions to problems ranging from management issues to how to increase productivity.
For manufacturers this is a key question and a practice to implement with consideration. What projects do your employees undertake during their free time? Do you encourage working with company ideas outside of the workplace? What projects are shared by those across company boundaries which contribute to their success? Creating projects or encouraging employees to work in their field outside the workplace widens their effectiveness and increases their awareness of what they can accomplish.
Focusing on developing a team who work and play well together encourages a passion for work, whether it’s designing shoes or building airplanes. Giving people the rope needed to go out on a limb and come back in afterwards with difficult results brings innovation, from the next new phone to the next portable water filter. While manufacturers worldwide have a different set of rules to play by, tapping into the talent and resources already in place starts a change in the workplace that builds the company while restructuring it organically.
For the small manufacturer without the budget and resources for extravagant campuses, benefit packages and swimming pools, it’s a good reminder that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started working out of their garages. By taking small steps using ground-breaking practices, they built their companies into the successes they are today.
Ideas that foster creativity, encourage risk taking, and actively inspire employees to think outside the box can cross over into the board rooms and factory floors of anything fabricated.