Jobs with a Future Moving forward by thinking sideways

Malgorzata Wiklinska heads ZF Denkfabrik. Together with her team, the 32-year-old engineer develops innovative products and business models at start-up speeds.

Engineers, psychologists and scientists work together in a relaxed atmosphere. Creativity is what counts.

In spacious, modern offices near Friedrichshafen airport sit groups of young people working on notebook computers. Creative games lie piled in corners; the atmosphere is relaxed and unconventional. But what appears to be a Silicon Valley startup is, in reality, an in-house think-and-do tank. At ZF Denkfabrik, engineers, scientists, economists and psychologists work together to develop new products and business models at true start-up speeds. “We could do with a neuroscientist, too – vehicles are becoming increasingly emotional,” says Malgorzata Wiklinska.

Although she heads the think tank, she’s only 32 years old. Since January 2015, the qualified engineer and her team have been busy thinking up and developing new areas of business for ZF, as well as bringing innovative products to market. Among their early successes is an app called uflip, which can be used to create spontaneous transit and mobility communities. With the app’s help, users intending to travel from A to B can establish – in real time – which means of transport would be fastest and most cost-effective, whether there are any parking spaces at their destination, and whether any other users are heading in the same direction so they could travel together. “The idea for uflip occurred to me while I was trying to find ways of traveling to and from the village where I live during the week without a vehicle of my own,” explains Wiklinska.

Video: The Head of ZF Denkfabrik talks about her inspiring team and failure as opportunity.

The think tank took just four months to develop the app from initial concept to market readiness. No project is supposed to take more than six months of team time. Another Denkfabrik idea appeared on ZF’s exhibition stand at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas – a face and emotion recognition system for streamlining communications between vehicles and their occupants. Now Wiklinska and her team are working on a wearable device for pedestrians and joggers – a small portable unit that could be incorporated into, for example, wristbands or clothing and is capable of communicating with cars to ensure they detect non-motorized road users in good time.

“We’re looking for new ways forward. We aim to redefine ‘Motion und Mobility’ and develop products that supplement ZF’s core business activities,” says Wiklinska. More or less anything goes, and team members are explicitly encouraged to fail – and then try again. Because traveling down unconventional pathways and thinking outside the box is what the think-and-do tank is all about.

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