Perspectives 09.24.2019

A Culture of Curiosity: Highlights from Firmwide Innovation Week

By Jon Penndorf
Innovation Week

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes when and where you least expect it. For almost ten years we’ve been fostering creativity and research through the Innovation Incubator program. The call-for-entries program, run twice a year, allows anyone in the firm to apply for a micro-grant of time and expenses in order to focus on a research question. The projects are diverse and not always architecturally focused. The produced deliverables vary as well – white papers, videos, tool kits, and prototype devices are just some of the work products.

Last year, the Innovation Incubator Committee sought to celebrate the innovation occurring within the firm by piloting an internal set of events further encouraging creativity and research. The mini festival repeated for five days this summer as we flexed our collective brains during the second annual Innovation Week. Through a series of firm-wide activities and presentations, staff all over the world were able to step outside their normal project work for a little while and learn, hypothesize, and engage over themes critical to our firm and our world.

Here’s a snapshot of what went on during this week:

Monday kicked off with a focus on the theme of wellbeing. Each studio posted “idea walls” in shared spaces that were populated with prompt questions about health and wellness in the built environment. Staff casually added their responses to the boards throughout the week, which were then compiled and shared firmwide. Ideas expressed have already been incorporated in several of our innovative projects!

Innovation Board
An Idea Wall from our London studio.

Tuesday showcased a diversity of recently completed Innovation Incubator projects. Each research team gave a brief overview of their challenge and the results of their work via a firm-wide webcast, recorded for posterity. Staff got to learn about increasing equity in design, prototyping accessible bus rapid transit stations, what goes into inclusive e-sports arenas, and compelling architectural film making.

Innovation Week

Wednesday’s event focused on innovation in design, and how the design process is enhanced by the convergent thinking. For the first time, the Innovation Week hosts moderated a live panel discussion among design directors from around the firm. The conversation was streamed live to studios worldwide, allowing for dialogue among the panelists and follow up discussions within each studio.

Innovation Week

Thursday focused on sustainability; a value the firm holds close. A curated list of short films focused on the circular economy was provided to each studio to screen over the lunch hour. Innovation champions in each studio facilitated local conversations based on the videos, looking at new ways of minimizing waste in our offices and on our projects.

Friday’s events around the firm centered on social responsibility. Echoing the Thursday theme of sustainability in the circular economy, each office was challenged to think of a waste or design problem currently impacting their locale, and crowd-source a solution among staff. Charette time! Our studios looked at everything from what to do with leftover catering supplies to wellness interventions within the office – just in time to start planning for change in 2020 or before.

Charette
A design charette in our Los Angeles studio.

Through these firm-wide activities and a myriad of others hosted by local studios, Innovation Week seeks to push the boundaries of creativity and design thinking to answer bold questions and build excitement around problem-solving. The events also seek to build interest leading up to the call for applications for the next round of Innovation Incubator grants, set for early fall each year. In total, these events ensure the strong culture of innovation at Perkins and Will continues to thrive.