Research Says: 'Park In Your Garage Again'

Mar 27 2014, 3:03pm CDT | by

Research Says: 'Park In Your Garage Again'
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

There must be something magical about starting a company in a garage. We’ve heard legendary stories repeated over the years—a few rogue innovators set up shop in someone’s garage and create the beginnings of massive success. Stories might come to mind like Jobs and Wozniak, and Hewlett and Packard. They conjure up images of secretive prototyping, overnight brainstorming and tinkering, and change-the-world vision. It makes you wonder what is it about garages and innovation?  Is it about a being in a space where you can’t damage anything, or where you won’t be bothered? Is it about being in a place that’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and probably a bit dusty? Is it really about the garage at all?


Consider 11 year-old Cassidy Goldstein of Scarsdale, New York. In 1999, she was frustrated by broken, short, crayons. She invented the Crayon Holder—a plastic device that holds even a stub of a crayon so that a child can still color. Consider this for a second. Crayola has been making wax crayons since 1903. No one ever got frustrated by broken crayons? Goldstein didn’t need a lab, or a factory, or even a garage to innovate.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger had a simple idea for their second app. They wanted to make an app that made it easy to share photos online—with cool, one-click, digital filters. At first it may not have sounded like that big of an idea. But, just two years (and 13 employees) into it, the simple idea was sold to Facebook for $1 billion. You’ve probably already figured out we are talking about Instragram. Once again, no garages were involved, except for parking cars.

Or, consider jet fighter squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Albert J. Amatuzio. After flying numerous missions, Amatuzio became curious about the synthetic lubricants being used in jets. How did they function so well in temperature extremes? How did they reduce engine friction better than petroleum lubricants? But, most importantly, if these synthetic oils worked so well for jets, why weren’t we using them in car engines? Amatuzio launched the first synthetic oils for automotive purposes in 1972. AMSOIL is now an important name in motorsports. …okay, maybe a few garages played a role, but Al wasn’t going to drive his test engines into the living room.

The point is; there’s a little piece of genius existing in these and thousands of other stories that often seem to get lost when they come from places other than garages. What is that little slice of genius? It’s simple: intention.

A study conducted by Forbes Insights in conjunction with the O.C. Tanner Institute, revealed findings that might change the way you think about innovation. The innovators themselves may not be geniuses at all. Instead, the study proved that award-winning work is not determined by intellect, or attributes, or even trends. In fact, innovation, according to the study is derived by something much more simple and easier to grasp—the simple intention to make a difference people love. As it turns out, this intention was the guiding force of all innovative, award-winning work analyzed in the study.


  • Focus on the people: Whether you’re trying to innovate a product, a process, or an experience, focus your attention on the people who you are trying to affect. Your innovation might be geared at simplifying workflow for your team, or offering fantastic service to a customer. Think about them, watch them, talk to them, and dream about them. Climb inside their world, and get to know it better than they do. Write down their names, what they care about, what frustrates them, what they are really trying to do and why. You will discover innovative ideas that are grounded in real human need.
  • Ask what difference would they LOVE? We often don’t think about what we could do beyond the boring checklist of “satisfies expectations.” This isn’t about satisfaction. Nor is it about tiny improvements that they may possibly like. When you ask yourself what people would LOVE, you change and elevate your thinking. You ignite your passion. To get your ideas flowing in new ways, consider things people naturally value like autonomy, well being, nurturing, connection, ease, excitement, security, etc. The more you think about new elements of value, the more paths you will see to real innovation.

As simple as these things may sound, they are often the most unpracticed elements in our daily work. Maybe there is a special magic inside a garage. However, each of us can create our own “innovation garage” right in our own cube, or office or workspace by intentionally setting out to make a difference people will LOVE.

Oh, and by the way, if the garage pictured above seems to strangely ignite your creative juices, you’re not alone. This was the original home of a little company named HP—considered by many as “the birthplace of Silicon Valley.”  It was a great place to start a company. But, it also looks like a great place to park a car.

David Sturt and Todd R. Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about the NYT Bestselling book Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love, from McGraw Hill. You can also subscribe to the O.C. Tanner Institute monthly newsletter, Appreciating Great Work, here.

Source: Forbes Business


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