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Looking to Innovate, Companies Embrace the Makerspace

24 May 2018

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Companies that support employee creativity and invest in work areas such as makerspaces may actually be improving their productivity and employing happier employees. Such companies have dedicated and equipped office space with 3D printers, laser cutters and various milling devices to promote employees gathering to create, invent and learn.

An Epilog Laser system is part of the makerspace at Boulder Library. Source: Epilog LaserAn Epilog Laser system is part of the makerspace at Boulder Library. Source: Epilog Laser

Recent studies support the idea that businesses with a focus on creative thought and activity may be more innovative and provide better customer service. Many employees are victims of corporate burnout: doing the same types of things, every day, under ever-increasing pressure to do more with less. Even successful companies can "rest on their laurels," and fail to invest in innovation and design — eventually becoming shells of their former vibrant selves. Promoting creativity through makerspaces is one way that both employees and their companies can rejuvenate themselves.

Adobe’s 2016 State of Create, which surveyed more than 5,000 adults across five countries, found that businesses that invest in creativity are more likely to:

  • Foster innovation (83 percent)
  • Be competitive (79 percent)
  • Provide better customer experience (78 percent)
  • Have satisfied customers (80 percent)
  • Be financially successful (73 percent)

Some companies, such as Google, also support employee projects that are hobbies rather than work-related tasks. Regardless of the project undertaken, employees that are encouraged to participate in activities that get their creative juices flowing are not only happier and healthier overall, but studies are discovering that they are also more productive because they have a sense of being “refreshed.”

It's therefore critical that the tools in a makerspace be intuitive. While some creatives may be familiar with laser cutters, employees from other departments may at first feel completely out of their comfort zone. Laser cutters, in particular, are often the most popular tool in a makerspace, because they are fast, relatively easy to use and can bring a project to life quickly. Laser cutters also work with many different types of materials — wood, acrylic, fabric, cork, rubber, leather and more. Innovative product ideas can come from the least likely of sources. Makerspaces provide accessibility to laser cutters, 3D printers and welding tools, for instance, to those who aren’t necessarily engineers. Interesting ideas germinate when everybody is encouraged to innovate.

Company-sponsored makerspaces encourage employees to try out new ideas that ultimately can help their own companies, but it’s not necessary to build your own setup. Companies can rent time from makerspaces that are run privately. Not only do makerspaces democratize creativity among workers, but they also encourage cross-pollination of information among various job disciplines. Those employees may have insights on how to make designs more cost-efficient or easier to manufacture. For example, Samsung purchased 150 memberships at the local makerspace in Austin, Texas. Within a couple of months, Samsung reported $1.7 million in annualized savings as a result of the partnership — a sum that increased to $7.5 million for the year.

To create an infrastructure for innovation, companies must nurture critical thinking and problem solving, as well as collaboration, curiosity and imagination. Collaborating and problem solving on projects that aren’t assigned tasks can help staff collaborate and problem solve when individuals are back at their desks. Although most projects will be work related, some will not; yet, those projects can provide “aha!” moments as well as the work-related ones. Most importantly, leaders of innovative companies have a vision and are willing to invest in tools that will move their organizations successfully into the future.

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