By Ryan MacDonald
On a recent Friday afternoon, men in white lab coats greet a crowd of guests at the WeWork Holyoke Building in Downtown. From the looks of things, causal observers might think they wandered into a school science fair.
Tri-folded poster boards are propped up on tables and taped with papers and pictures. Presenters make last minute tweaks to projects. But no one here has dissected a frog and there will be no ribbon ceremony for most improved.
Instead, this is the culmination of Comcast Labs Week, a weeklong event where employees of Comcast Technology Solutions (CTS) are encouraged to exercise their creativity in developing, pitching, and collaborating on an original idea from scratch.
“This is an opportunity for folks, anyone, from any level of [Comcast Technology Solutions], to be able to pitch an idea, and form a team around that idea and execute for an entire week,” said Trevor Lalish-Menagh, a Labs Week Committee member, who helped bring the long-running Comcast event to CTS in Seattle.
CTS serves to “marry the quality of broadcast delivery with the dynamic flexibility of digital distribution on every screen.” With Comcast Labs Week, they find a unique opportunity to really flex those innovative muscles in doing so.
Today almost all of the technology and product organization teams participate in the week – and the event spans across offices nationwide.
Here at the WeWork building, almost thirty teams spent the past week creating projects that range from VR demonstrations to channel surfing with VOD to an employee photo wall database. But there will be no winners crowned at the end, which is part of the reason why the event is so popular with employees.
“We like to emphasize that it’s risk-free,” said Lalish-Menagh. “We want to encourage people to innovate without the pressure of trying to win something. This is an exercise to just flex your creativity.”
Before presenters arrive at “demo day”, the real work starts the previous Tuesday during Pitch Day. Here, any employee is allowed to stand up in front of their peers and present an idea.
From there, teams begin to form around the best ideas and concepts, which means participants get to engage in leadership roles that may be outside of their day-to-day responsibilities.
“That’s a really enlightening experience for a lot of folks that don’t get the opportunity to do that every day,” said Lalish-Menagh.
By midweek, teams hunker down and commit to the overall creative direction of their project, though some teams may pivot away from what they originally pitched.
“They say, ‘Oh we finished this in 10 minutes, we could do more. Or we were shooting for the moon, let’s back it up and see what we can demo.”
By Thursday, there’s no turning back and a lot of teams stay through the night to finish up the last minute details.
Originally from Philadelphia, Lalis-Menagh moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago and was surprised that Labs Week wasn’t being offered to the CTS employees.
Since he had participated in creating a number of demonstrations back east, including the creation an android-based set top box, Lalish-Menagh knew how much fun the weeklong event could be.
“There’s lots of really great success stories from it,” he said.
Kids Zone, a feature for X1 that puts kids into a child-friendly version of the interface, p, which was pitched by an engineer, was a result of a Labs Week project. “No manager. No committee. Just an engineer who said, ‘You know what would be cool? If I could talk to my remote.”
So when his co-worker Chris Orogvany came to his office six months ago asking why they weren’t participating in Lab Weeks, Lalish-Menagh knew the two had to get to work.
Together they convinced Michael Horwitz, Vice President of Engineering, to get on board. Once they had secured his approval, they took their proposal to the executive level with an Orientation Deck and then educated countless employees on the program and its creative benefits.
“As you can imagine with anything new, even if it’s well established in the company, anything new to an office is hard to change,” he said.
Lalish-Menagh and his committee members are now planning Labs Weeks for July and October, and they also have their eyes on something even bigger. They’re going international.
“I’ve been in talks with our London office to see if we can get this going sometime later this year.”
Watch out, London.