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The Space To Invent

Posted on Apr 2, 2020 by Nicola Foley

Dr Sam Hyde, managing director at TTP, considers how to create an inventive work environment

How do you create a fertile environment for invention? This is something I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about at TTP. Invention is not to be confused with innovation. Both are vital to deliver solutions to address challenges, but invention – the art of creating something new and not just identifying improvements on something – is less talked about and harder to do.

At TTP, our business creates new technologies and products that disrupt industries and change lives. We have a history of inventions, ranging from inkjet printing and communications technology to microfluidics. We thrive on inventing the future through tech. We didn’t get here by chance. We are constantly looking at how we create a space for invention. We look at what we do, how we communicate and act that restricts invention, even down to the physical space of where we work.

I like the management mantra of hiring the right people and letting them run free. The right people means not just technically brilliant and at the forefront of their discipline, but curious and collaborative, with the right mindset and values. Many companies get the hiring right, but do we then over manage the perfect recruits?

 

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We look at what we do, how we communicate and act that restricts invention, even down to the physical space of where we work

 

Freedom is a critical ingredient in any inventive business. Invention often comes in the form of the unexpected. Company rules, established processes and hierarchies often serve to reinforce the conventional wisdom and miss opportunities. Managers rarely have the best ideas or the time to think differently.

Invention means enabling people, instilling the right norms of behaviour and capability within a team and then letting them chart their own course. And in a celebrity-obsessed world of the hero CEO, we need to take care not to overemphasise the role of an individual. Invention is rarely an individual pastime and increasingly in our complex world requires multidisciplinary teams, collaborating with shared values and goals. Financial incentives targeting individual performance can erode collaboration. At TTP, we prefer schemes that reward collective success, including employee-ownership of TTP itself.

Creating the fertile environment is also about the physical space. Invention is about chance interactions; the combination of two diverse sciences; interaction with different disciplines. Open-plan offices are well established, and more effort is being spent on creating variety and interaction in the workplace. It is well understood that variety in where we work helps not just focus and productivity, but – in our experience – also stimulates invention.

We are about to start building our new headquarters (pictured). A key driver in this project has been devising a space to better help us invent. The space will take the form of a single storey, open-plan building that allows teams to intermingle, with offices and labs interspersed.

The last ingredient, for me, is our community. We live and work in a thriving ecosystem in Cambridge, with world-class people, established companies and university departments. Encouraging collaboration between teams across our community will further help cross-fertilise ideas and spot opportunities for new inventions.

To find out more about TTP’s work, visit ttp.com

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