“Each of us must find true meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives.”

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

At Microsoft, we don’t just ask ourselves ‘are we making a positive impact on society?’

Each of us as individuals ask the question, what it is we can contribute too. We thrive on a culture of continuous learning – whether it’s equipping our employees with tools to learn new skills for the future digital workplace or hosting workshops to facilitate knowledge sharing with other companies and teach others what we’ve learned from our transformation journey.  

Our annual Ideas Generator does both. It’s a full day workshop that we run at Microsoft, and is a great way to skills share with charities whilst feeling a genuine sense of purpose in what you’re contributing – using technology to deliver social change.

Group of Microsoft employees at the ideas generator

This drive to be a team of ‘learn-it-alls’ (as opposed to ‘know-it-alls’) gives us all a real sense of purpose and value at work – and with the Ideas Generator, every one of us works towards something that means something to us on a deeply personal level, on a day that’s dedicated to the importance of making an impact.

Part of that impact comes from teasing out our own values as people, identifying what they are, why they drive us and how we can nurture them.

Brainstorming brilliance

The Ideas Generator day is a chance to confront some of the most difficult challenges charities face. There’s a strong emphasis on teamwork and delivering social good as, each year, we invite representatives from five charities to join us at Microsoft HQ in Reading.

In teams of 10, plus charity reps, Microsoft employees set out to understand a particular issue the charity has – for instance, increasing donations around a particular demographic or raising awareness of the good work they do.

Then, it’s time to ideate. Calling on the collective expertise of the team, employees explore how to harness Microsoft-powered technology to overcome challenges. This is the real focus of the day. Ideas are fired back and forth, and refinements made until – as the day draws to a close – each of the five teams has a solution to a specific problem.

At the end of the day, it’s time to face the judges. Each team takes to the stage and, armed with only a PowerPoint, present their solution to a panel of judges.

Each judge encourages the teams to talk through their ideas, asking for insights into everything from costs to data security.

They’re looking for ideas that are accessible, sustainable and achievable that are innovative, creative, and socially impactful at their heart.

Impact of ideas

Microsoft prides itself on its ‘learn-it-all’ culture – and, at its heart, learning is what our Ideas Generator is all about. It helps us all nurture a growth mindset, and a culture dedicated to not just learning but understanding.

This is an opportunity for employees to go beyond their usual experiences and see the world from a different angle; it’s also a day when charities can discover new ways in which tech can help them. As one charity rep told us: ‘It’s great to come to Microsoft and have our eyes opened to technological options. It’s really good to learn from people at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution.’

The ultimate winner of the day has the chance to take their idea to the next stage of potential development – literally making good on the promise of the day. However, our combined ideas can even spark fresh thoughts for charity leaders who can explore new ways to apply tech in their organisation. The real winners, though, are those who depend on the services of the charities. If technology can empower them in any way, then it’s all worthwhile.

This year, the winning idea was one that the judges said ‘rode the current trends in technology’ and ‘created an industry standard that normalised the issue.’

Better still, other ideas won’t lay dormant, but will evolve from being conceptual to being created – so watch this space…

Generate your own ideas

The Ideas Generator is a concept you can bring into your own organisation – and it’s easily scalable. These are some tips on how to run your own Ideas Generator day.

  • Introduce a culture of learning into your organisation.

The modern workplace demands engaging employees and encouraging them to learn new skills that both help them and support your business. This is the foundation upon which the Ideas Generator is built

  • Choose one or more good causes.

It’s important that those you wish to help are close to your heart – it won’t work unless you and your employees are passionate about it. If you’re a small company, choose one or two organisations; if you’re larger, try up to five. This keeps the day and your team’s minds focused. Also encourage nominations from passionate employees. Personally, I put forward The Sepsis Trust charity after hearing the CEO on Radio 4 and it sparking some ideas with me on how technology and Microsoft may help. It struck me how many people are impacted by the infection and if Microsoft could spend some time with them then maybe we could explore ideas.

  • Identify how your products, services, and solutions can help.

It doesn’t matter which industry you work in, everyone has something to offer those in need. It’s all about skills sharing.

  • Create mixed teams.

Diversity is essential for success, as each employee brings different views to the ideas table. This lets everyone learn more, discover new perspectives, and even explore different areas of your own business.

  • Take the day.

Good ideas might happen in a heartbeat, but it can take time to really refine them. This day is also as much about understanding those you’re trying to help, and the challenges they face, as it is conjuring up ideas.

  • Consider how, post-event, your external organisations can benefit.

Will you prototype the winning idea? Or put charities in contact with those who can support them? What will be the outcomes, and what does success look like?

  • Be self-less.

This isn’t a day to promote yourselves or sell products – it’s about your team learning as much as the charities can. Sharing knowledge and skills and feeling a sense of purpose in your work.

Find out more

Discover how to create an engaged workforce

Uncover your value and purpose: watch the session from Future Decoded

Victoria OakesAbout the author

Great stories demand heroes, emotions, and insight. As Storytelling & Digital Destinations Lead at Microsoft UK, Victoria Oakes places these principles at the heart of Microsoft UK’s content output. In this role, she’s driven to unify messaging and content across Microsoft using insights at the heart. Through her passion for engaging copy, visual storytelling, and data-driven insights, she truly cares about content being useful, interesting and easy to digest.