Fertile ground for ideas

Hager Group employees experiment with new products and new working methods

Fertile ground
for ideas

Extraordinary ideas emerge when you bring people together in an unconventional place and challenge them. This is exactly what the Garden at Hager Forum in Obernai is all about. The Garden has the potential to completely transform the way we work.

To set the scene; 20 Hager sales representatives from Germany have been trying to make mistakes. That is, they are trying things they have never done before, and failing. And then trying again. They are cursing, laughing and experimenting yet in the end, creating unusual, sometimes surprising and always improved solutions.

This is exactly what the Garden is all about. It’s an open-plan workshop, in which everyone is free to develop their ideas, find alternative solutions and experiment. This approach, created in 2002 at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has now developed into a worldwide movement of people who want to work together in new ways and create completely new ideas.

Johann Michel worked as an innovation engineer in the automotive industry before he joined Hager Group two years ago. In his spare time, he likes occupying himself with similar things to what he does during working hours. He is also co-founder of a public Fab Lab in his hometown of Strasbourg.

At first sight, one may even say that the Garden is a well-equipped university lab. The Garden, located in the basement of Hager Forum in Obernai, opened in autumn 2017. A mixture of laboratory, garage and workshop, its workbenches, machines, tools, smart boards, presentation space, computers, group seating areas, 3D printers and various materials offer 400 square metres for creativity and creation. Green plants trail from the ceiling and inspirational quotes flash up on a screen, such as “…failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself,” as Charlie Chaplin once said.

In fact, the Garden is for business workshops and groundbreaking innovative ideas. It has the potential to open up new ways of working and cooperating for both employees and partners of Hager Group. “With the Garden, we are creating ideal conditions for creativity to flourish,” comments Johann Michel, whose official title is Creative Lab Leader, but everyone just calls him ’the gardener’.

The Garden’s ‘ideal conditions’ Johann Michel alludes to include its unusual environment: people are out of their usual office space and routines and thus find themselves together in totally different working atmosphere. “The Garden offers more than just trained support staff; it has everything you need to generate, produce and present product concepts and solutions, from a 3D printer to a small paint booth and a photo studio. Our colleagues learn how to develop their ideas into prototypes here, as well as how to pitch them.”

Why ‘Garden’? The space, in the basement of Hager Forum in Obernai, originally called the Den has been transformed into a new space called the Garden. At Hager Group Garden ideas flourish and concepts grow.
The addition of Gar- to Den, evokes the idea of a Garage where great achievements can and have happened.
Ideal conditions and total commitment for developing ideas and pitching products.
At first glance, some of the product prototypes look strange or even awkward. On closer inspection, it becomes clear just how much unbridled creativity has been put into them.

The 20 Hager Group employees visiting the Garden this morning have another task on their hands. As sales representatives, they are used to discussing the technical specifications and prices of products with customers, less so the design of Hager products, which is both complex and a very important feature. For this reason, Hager’s Design Studio Director Erwin Van Handenhoven is explaining Hager Group design language in detail. The workshop participants will also be tasked with designing a product themselves. Armed with tools, polyurethane blocks and a detailed brief from the target group, they get to work.

“Everyone learns how to do things differently here. Failure is a desirable outcome because it is the best way to learn how to improve.” says workshop leader Irène Beauvois, Test & Com Design Manager from Hager Group Design Studio. “Many people have no idea just how much creativity they have in them.”

This becomes clear to everyone when the workgroups present their designs. At first glance, some of the product prototypes look strange or even awkward. On closer inspection, it becomes clear just how much unbridled creativity has been put into them.

So what actually is Hager Group’s Garden? A laboratory? An ideation workshop? A creativity space? Ultimately, the Garden is a fertile breeding ground for ideas, and who knows which of them will flourish within the company.

Let creativity thrive!

Erwin Van Handenhoven, Director of the Design Studio and Jean Lasserre, Vice President Strategy discuss the art of exchanging ideas and Hager Group Garden.
Jean Lasserre, an engineer by training and with an MBA, joined Hager Group at the beginning of 2016. In a context of profound transformation, Jean heads the Corporate Strategy department; a multidisciplinary team combining Technological, Financial (Mergers & Acquisitions) and Business expertise.
Erwin Van Handenhoven is Hager Group Design Studio Director. The Belgian designer is responsible for the emotional aspects, usability and DNA of products, interactions and solutions.

How were the seeds for the Garden sown? And what is its role?

Hager Group has a clear and structured process for developing products and solutions. This is, of course, an absolute must as our offer is highly technical, yet having a complementary approach could also further our success; this is where the Garden comes in. It is a new and alternative context for working and thinking to explore and test different ideas and concepts. We hope that this alternative environment will propagate different results.

Who is the Garden for?

The Garden is for everybody at Hager Group. Anyone who wants to work, think and interact differently is welcome. Don’t get me wrong though, it might look somewhat like a playground, but it is not a place for relaxing and casual get-togethers with colleagues. It is, on the contrary, a space for serious talking, developing ideas and fighting for them. I’ve already participated in sessions in the Garden where controversial as well as pressing matters were freely addressed; which would not have happened had they taken place elsewhere in the company. In the first few months of its existence, our Garden has already proved its worth. It is, in many ways, a bridge.

Erwin Van Handenhoven advises colleagues on how to make a prototype.

Please explain, how is the Garden a bridge?

The Garden is a bridge between Hager Group and the outside and also one between the different teams within the company. It links doing and thinking, the virtual and the physical, the organic and the digital. It connects childhood, where you constantly build bridges in your mind and adulthood, where this ability is at least partly lost. The Garden brings back and channels a bit of this creative power.

The Garden also connects dreams and reality. When people have a great idea, they are excited about it and want to try it and pitch it even though there may be no means to do so. However, in the Garden, they have exactly that; a space to test, create and fight for their idea; which is probably one of the most difficult stages of innovating.

Hager Group is performing quite successfully, so why change the way of working?

Success is by definition the ability to cope with your environment. As our environment today is changing drastically, we also have to adapt drastically.

We’re in an age of digital transition and transformation; however we’d be mistaken to think that everything can be done by computers. It is also important to actually make things, with other people and with your own hands. That’s exactly what the Garden is about; being hands on.

When can we know if the Garden is a success?

It became a success the moment the first people entered it and understood how different it is.

It will become a true success when colleagues from further afield than Obernai and those from departments other than the ’creative’ ones use it. An encouraging sign would be if top managers used the space for working too. Remember, the Garden is a place where everyone can invent. And in the end, that’s what companies are about, especially ours.

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