Lessons in “grassroots innovation” from Microsoft to be shared at EntreFest!

Lessons in “grassroots innovation” from Microsoft to be shared at EntreFest!

How do you stay innovative when your company that started with two guys in a garage has grown to more than 100,000 employees? That’s the question Ben Gilbert, the former head of Microsoft’s “24-hour idea factory” known as The Garage, helped to answer. Gilbert will be kicking off the EntreFest! track of programming for corporate innovators, “intrapreneurs” and others who want to embody an entrepreneurial spirit within an established company. “The most important thing is it’s a grassroots, bottom-up, you-think-it, you-build-it experience,” he said. A company’s leaders can provide direction by outlining problems for a team to solve, but the best solutions will come from the team themselves, Gilbert said. More than 3,500 Microsoft employees have participated in Garage programming. Entire teams will spend three to five days in The Garage a few times per year to work on new projects. “Science Fairs” allow employees to show off their creations to the company’s leadership. And weekly hackathons, called “Stay late and…” nights, encourage employees to get together to build, code and draw. Garage coordinators work with managers across the company to help them figure out how the Garage and its programs can help their different teams. Having a separate time and space dedicated to new ideas is important, Gilbert said. It sends the message that it’s ok to take a few days away from email and daily responsibilities. “It’s all about time-boxing,” he said. “If you say, ‘everyone’s free to innovate all the time,’ it falls by the wayside. It’s really permission to innovate.” The system is built on ideas from psychology about what motivates people. “The whole program is built on the idea that people work for autonomy,…