Smashing the Silos

How Big Radical’s Culture of Sharing is building a strong team of innovators.

It’s easy to assume that the Apples and Googles of the world are the most innovative companies out there, but even traditional organisations like 3M have also had their moments. 3M developed a lot of different products, including many we use every single day without even realising it — from the cables in the train you take to work to the Thinsulate™ coating on your windows and gloves.

I recently stumbled upon the story behind Post-it® notes. Obviously, the notes themselves aren’t the most thrilling product imaginable, but the way they were invented really stuck (*cough*) in my mind.

In 1968, Spencer Silver was trying to develop a super-strong glue, but was struggling to get the recipe right. Accidentally, he created the exact opposite — a weak adhesive that was not as sticky as he would’ve hoped. Spencer didn’t know what to do with the glue and at first 3M’s staff used it on their temporarily bulletin board for messages.

But Silver didn’t throw his ‘failure’ away out of embarrassment or kept his misstep a secret out of fear for his job. Nor did he kept his accidental invention away for another day. Instead he shared it with his company.

Silver knew he was onto something with his temporary adhesive, but didn’t know how to apply or market it. He kept presenting his invention internally both individually and during seminars, where at some point he met Arthur Fry. Arthur Fry sang in a church choir. He had been becoming increasingly frustrated that his bookmarks didn’t stay in place in his hymn book — every Sunday at least a few would fall out. During rehearsals one evening, he remembered Silver’s temporarily adhesive and realized this could work as the perfect bookmark.

Post-It® notes were officially released to the public in 1980 and the year afterwards it was named one of 3M’s outstanding products. It was the birth of what would become one of the best-recognised brands, with over 4,000 varieties of notes sold in over 100 countries today.

Silver and Spencer [ source ]

The invention of Post-It® notes is just one example of what sharing ideas can bring. In 2014, 3M were awarded their 100,000th patent, but the most stunning part of this achievement is that more than 80% of 3M’s patents have more than one inventor.

Why am I sharing this with you?

I think this story made me reflect on the importance of sharing. Ever since we started Big Radical, we have applied sharing principles into our company culture. We believe in an open culture where everyone can and should share their thoughts to get as many perspectives as possible. Here are just a few examples of how we do it:

1. No silo-sitting here

One of the things we changed is our desk policy and the way we approach projects — our seating areas are not skill-based but project-based, which means they change all the time. Moving around the office space whenever possible means no more silos. People get to spend more time working together and getting to know what everyone’s up to, as opposed to only seeing each other in meetings. For me the open desk policy means I actually get to know my colleagues and learn more from them, daily.

2. Thursday Shares

We also created #ThursdayShares. A weekly 30-minute presentation slot where anyone (internal or guests) can share their interest, passion or project. Not only is this a good way for everyone to learn about new trends, tech developments or other topics. It can also be the kick-off point for a whole new strand of innovation for the company.

Some highlights for me have been Joe MacLeod discussing Closure Experience and his new book Ends. Anders Hakfelt presenting his company Ultra Haptic and our own brilliant UX designer, Brian Oko, exploring the Emoji’s we don’t have, just to name a few.

3. Design Jams

We develop products for different markets and reach out to experts in these fields to understand who we are designing for. When we for example approached the issue of Youth Depression, we held a Design Jam which pulled in these experts. The knowledge and outcome we came to amazed us.

Sharing the problem with experts, product designers outside their daily work and young people brought in new and creative ideas. As a result of these numerous and unexpected ideas we’re now developing the next iteration of a product idea (click this link for a short video on this jam).

4. Outside experience

Another way of approaching business is to share that as well. Since we launched at the start of the year, we have been building our own network of collaborators. We know what our strengths are as a company, and where we can find great people who can help us where their expertise is what’s needed for the project. We know where to find the talent to fill in the gaps. You should get in touch if you want to join the network by the way.

These are just a few of examples of how we embrace the culture of sharing at Big Radical. I believe it’s crucial we can create the space to be able to experiment and throw ideas around without worrying about criticism.

I believe in cultivating an environment of trust, where everyone should be able to make mistakes but also share their thoughts, no matter how ‘out there’ they may initially appear. It’s crucial to create better products.

If you come with a sharing mindset and a collective desire to create brilliant, meaningful work — there’s every chance you’ll come up with products that stick around (*cough* sorry again). And I’m happy to stick around (Ok, enough now) and make it happen.