The importance of innovation why curiosity matters

A deeper look into why it’s important to create opportunities for creative thinking, collaboration and curiosity in the workplace.

Dr. Franz Kleiner explores some of the ideas from the “Brain Shower.”

While many impressive and successful companies were started in the confines of a garage, including Disney, Google and Hewlett-Packard, it’s collaboration that ultimately takes ideas to the next level. Whether it’s working with local universities to help develop potentially life-saving algorithms, or teamwork between three ZF plants to develop environmentally friendly technology, the best ideas typically pull from multiple opinions and viewpoints.

To continue encouraging this mindset, ZF hosted its first Inspiration World in North America, bringing together hundreds of employees from the company’s major development centers in metro Detroit. Attendees were encouraged to participate with an open mind, to view things from a new perspective and to let their curiosity get the best of them.

Through a series of interactive events including design thinking workshops, virtual reality activities, a number of interactive ZF technology displays and even a paper airplane challenge, Inspiration World created a space for people to think creatively and problem solve – individually and together.

Why Inspiration World?

So why is it important for ZF to have events like Inspiration World? “To discover our talents and give our employees room to be innovative and have fun doing it,” explains Dr. Franz Kleiner, ZF board member and head of the company’s Active and Passive Safety Division. Sharing ideas and encouraging people to think outside of the box encourages innovation, a meaningful ingredient in any company’s success. “Innovation is the basis for further developing our products and further developing our lives,” Dr. Kleiner continues. “Without innovation, our society would not be where we are today, and we need it going forward.”

Ideas worth sharing

A major component of innovation is collaboration, inspiring people to share their thoughts and concepts and build upon each other’s. “Events like Inspiration World encourage us to share our ideas,” observes Paige McDaniel, powertrain engineer at ZF. “When you talk to other people about your ideas, you might combine them and make something great.”

As event participants gathered to explore, they were encouraged to share ways the company can improve. Since some of the best ideas come in the shower, the “Brain Shower” created an opportunity for colleagues and upper management to see, share and build upon ideas from employees throughout the company with literal blank walls on which to write feedback. As ZF’s employees are its greatest strength, that feedback is now being incorporated into process improvements, research and development, general management approaches and beyond. Creating an opportunity for discussion, feedback and creativity can often lead to the most innovative solutions.

An innovative approach

Employees enjoy learning about – and posing as – famous innovators while capturing the moment using Inspiration World Snapchat filters.

“For me, innovation is a thrill and we need to have a culture of innovation and collaboration,” insists Lalit Sethi, engineering manager at ZF. His team is responsible for looking into future technologies. What is out there in 10 years? What about in 30? What is being asked for? What are our competitors developing?

“Whoever wants to be on the top needs to lead, and leadership means innovating not only to be ahead of your competitors, but also to create a safer and more environmentally conscious society through our products.”

While events like Inspiration World are an important and fun reminder about the power of collaboration and creative thinking, ZF is pushing this refreshed way of working in how people approach their jobs every day. Everyone can be more innovative and target-focused regardless of their title or place in the company and that contributes to an even bigger impact not only within the company, but within society as well.

When asked what innovation means to him, Lalit pauses, smiles and announces: “We can help humanity live a better life tomorrow, that’s what innovation means to me.”

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