[This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times April 7, 2014.]
It doesn’t take much to get Ben Gilbert enthused.
Mention backpacking, and he’ll tell you about being an Eagle Scout and his hiking trips through Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
Ask him about hobbies and he’ll get into his past involvement in theater and swing choir, and how the hip-hop dance skills he learned came in handy at weddings.
But what gets Gilbert most excited is when the talk turns to innovation, problem solving, startups and new business ideas.
His eyes get brighter. His words come even faster. He springs to his feet — clad, more often than not, in Vibram toe shoes — as though his excitement simply can’t be contained.
Which makes Gilbert a natural for his current role leading The Garage, Microsoft’s 5-year-old incubator for employees’ passion projects.
The Garage, and Gilbert’s approach to running it, is one way a more “collaborative” Microsoft is playing out as the company transitions from software giant into a devices-and-services company. Trying to foster a more collaborative company culture, as well as one that’s more agile and innovative, lies at the heart of a company reorganization former CEO Steve Ballmer began last July and that new CEO Satya Nadella is continuing.
The Garage is both a physical space — actually, two physical spaces — on Microsoft’s campus and a community that spans several countries and many interests.
From its beginnings as a lab for Microsoft Office folks to experiment with innovative ideas, The Garage has become a companywide employee effort, where engineers, designers, hardware tinkerers and others from many different teams gather to work on their own or with others on pet projects, some of which could potentially benefit the company.
[Continue reading the story here.]