Jonathan Newell climbs aboard Platform 12 at Bosch in Renningen to find out how engineers are being influenced by the arts.
Created just two years ago as a mixing pot for the generation of innovative ideas, “Platform 12” is a place where the shackles of technological paradigms are shed and engineering minds are set free to start thinking laterally, imaginatively and without any of the annoyances of schedules, budgets or corporate philosophy.
For a multinational blue-chip corporation with more than a century of tradition and history such as Bosch, the notion of doing something more akin to the likes of Google or Apple may seem a bit like watching your Dad lip synching to Justin Beiber. But that certainly wasn’t the impression I got as I was guided round Platform 12 by the quietly spoken Birgit Thoben, the company’s Senior Innovation Manager and driving force behind the creation of the facility.
Men and women bearing the air of corporate confidence that characterises the corridors of Bosch offices wandered in and out of the Platform casually, engaging with the ambiance and discarding their laptops in favour of chalk, a chisel or just a gaze through the panoramic twelfth floor windows over the countryside covering the former air field at Renningen.
It’s not clear what they’re doing or what they’re thinking about but, according to Thoben, it doesn’t matter. The idea behind Platform 12 is to create an environment in which creativity thrives, new connections are made and innovative thought patterns emerge. She describes this as “the fuzzy front end of innovation”, a place which by definition is unclear.
To assist the users of Platform 12 to see things from a different point of view, Bosch uses people from the creative arts, such as painters or sculptors who are hired on secondment from the “Akademie Schloss Solitude”.
They discuss ideas, suggest new approaches and assist where requested. Bosch employees are encouraged to create, model, build, draw and scribble their ideas as they use the facilities and then leave what they’ve done for others to draw inspiration from, or to modify as they see fit.
The furniture can be moved around to create a different atmosphere and blocks, cushions and pieces of furniture can be arranged in whatever way the occupants want. Platform 12 c hanges every working day and, according to Thoben, something new drops out of it almost as frequently: “We don’t measure its productivity as such, but some interesting statistics have already emerged with about 1500 ideas a year generated yielding over 200 concept studies which turn into 150 projects that eventually make their way to the business units.”
From sand pit to production
The Renningen site is occupied by about 1400 employees, all of whom are given an allowance of 10% of their working time for free creativity; and although the way the employees use that time in not monitored, they are provided with some structure within the layout of the Platform to enable their ideas to come to fruition.
Perched on top of the asymmetrically layered structure of the high-rise building on the Renningen campus, Platform 12 consists of the “Base” which is a sand pit of creativity, the “Think Tank”, which is a comprehensive library containing real books and the “Talk Terminals”, a communications area with whiteboards, internet and video conferencing. Here, Platform 12 users can communicate with each other and other Bosch associates to start turning their ideas into something tangible.