Wood Shop meets the 21st Century

Some of you may have heard of the “maker movement.” Well, during my Silicon Valley trip, I was able to stop in to Tech Shop. Imagine a wood shop, metal shop, and prototype factory rolled all into one.

For a series of fees, you can have all the equipment you need to design and prototype a new product idea. Check out all the classes they offer! Schools are creating “FabLabs” to try and unleash the creative and entrepreneurial spirit in their students.

There are actually similar shops near us.

http://www.thehacktory.org

http://nextfabstudio.com

If you are interested in learning more about this kind of work at EA, I encourage you to look at Maggie Power’s website and follow her on twitter. My former colleague, Oskie Creech is doing some cool things in New Orleans with his Maker Krewe as well.

My trip to IDEO

“IDEO (pronounced “eye-dee-oh”) is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow.” (From their website)

We were able to get a quick tour of IDEO’s San Francisco office which is on a pier under the Bay Bridge. Like Google and Zynga, the culture was very casual, laid back, and incredibly creative. There are post-its with ideas everywhere! IDEO was responsible for working with Riverdale Country School to create the Deign-Think toolkit. Dominic Randolph and his faculty up at Riverdale are doing some innovative things to teach creativity to their students.

The organization at IDEO is very flat with no one really having a “boss.” Employees are trusted to be incredibly productive, and we were told that people there take their work very seriously. When hiring, they look for “T shaped” people- those who have depth and expertise in a particular field but are able to work well across disciplines to collaborate. They employ people with no higher ed degrees as well as lots of Ph. D.’s. They take folks from dramatically different backgrounds and create project teams to consult with companies and help them think about their issues creatively. If you have never heard of IDEO, you should take time browsing the amazing work they have done with companies.

This is a workplace like no other I have seen where demonstrations on baking desserts are just as important as strategy sessions. They really want people to get to know each other and think differently. Their interview process is intensive and lengthy, and they are benefiting from extremely high demand. Even for the Silicon Valley, this work structure is incredibly loose. The founder, David Kelley, whom we saw walking around Stanford’s D-School, has a new book out about unlocking the creative potential within ourselves.

Take some time browsing the links above if you haven’t already heard of these people and places. They are all fascinating.

My visit to Zynga

ZyngaIMG_0407I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Zynga headquarters and spend 90 minutes with CEO Don Mattrick. This was another very cool workspace with large murals of all their famous games (Words With Friends, Farmville, etc). Casually dressed employees come and go at all hours, and the entire place reeks of creativity.

The best part of my West Coast jaunt was the hour and a half that I was able to talk with their CEO. Don Mattrick was very generous with his time and his perspective. It isn’t every day I get the opportunity to share leadership perspectives with a billionaire. We talked about what we look for in the people we hire, what questions we ask our top leaders, and how we develop leadership capacity in an organization. One of his most fascinating problems was motivating engineers who have already achieved a net worth of over $100 million.

IMG_0402Don is a very smart and curious person. He has the incredible challenge of maintaining a startup mentality in a very large company all in the midst of a fiercely competitive environment. He was refreshingly honest with the challenges he faces and how he thinks about leadership. His experiences at Electronic Arts and Microsoft provided a fascinating context to the new work he is doing to drive revenue and innovation at Zynga.

We talked about education and how schools should think about adjusting as technology becomes even more ubiquitous. He pushed me to think out five or ten years from now when we are all wearing 10 pieces of technology that are all interconnected. He asked us if the smartphone has changed our lives and then reminded us how recently that technology emerged. “The new stuff will blow you away.”IMG_0403

I walked away with a little parting gift as well. He thought Playing to Win by Lafley and Martin had implications for all leaders and organizations. I look forward to reading it and sharing my reflections.

My trip to Google

I was recently out in San Francisco, and I took advantage of my time in the Silicon Valley to visit some interesting places and people. I had the privilege of visiting the Google Campus, and it was exactly what I expected and surprising all at the same time.

About 25,000 people work at the Mountain View, California campus. While they have strict security to get in the buildings, the campus is pretty open. You can see a beach volleyball court in the middle of all their buildings, and the employees play regularly. There are multi-colored (Google colors) bicycles everywhere, and you can just take one when you need it to get across campus. They also have about a dozen restaurants or cafes, and all the food is subsidized, so employees (and guests) can eat whatever you want, whenever you want it. My host told me Google was the first to start this practice, but now most tech companies offer the same kinds of privileges for their employees. There were high-end coffee and espresso machines everywhere with plentiful snacks. As you might imagine, everyone was dressed casually. Very casual! I felt complete overdressed and very northeastern in my sports jacket!

Google provides shuttles to and from San Francisco for employees so they can get work done during the traffic-filled commute. Of course they have wireless internet on the shuttles. There are also several fitness centers and even a bowling alley on campus. It seems like a very fun and creative place. And of course, we saw lots of people wearing Google Glass!

One of the coolest things I saw was a 360 degree photo display. I clicked on various places on a world map and then could turn a knob to see a 360 degree view of beautiful locations. The view in New Zealand was spectacular! I can only imagine the cool educational implications for this technology.

As you might imagine, they try to measure everything. Everyone there has bought into big data. There is simultaneously a lot of freedom and a lot of accountability.

I was only there for an hour or two, but it is the kind of place that will open your mind to new possibilities and how different workplace cultures can be effective.