Work and lifestyle on the cutting edge. In our conversations with contemporaries, we examine the claims, clichés and ideals surrounding our workplaces. This time we speak with Dietrich F. Brennenstuhl, architect, founder and managing director of the Nimbus Group. He talked with Angelika Molk about real innovation, good workplaces, and the wild people at Nimbus.
After completing his training as a precision engineer, Dietrich F. Brennenstuhl received a degree in architecture at the University of Stuttgart. In 1988 he founded Nimbus Design GmbH, which became the Nimbus Group in 2008. The company is considered an innovation leader in LED technology. Nimbus’s LED lights are developed, produced and sold in Stuttgart. They combine purist design with technical finesse, and have set new standards both in terms of style and technology. Not only the products are innovative; being different is also part of the corporate culture at the Nimbus Group. The employees promote regional social projects, make deliveries with solar-powered cars, and take breakfast every morning together in the company canteen. As a trained toolmaker and architect with a love of design, Brennenstuhl embodies the company’s aspirations in terms of style, technology and vision.
Mr Brennenstuhl, the Nimbus Group is different, and you are the ringleader in that regard. In the company profile, you describe your employees as “wild, rough people who enjoy their work.” How can we imagine a typical workday among such a wild bunch?
I don’t like “yes-men” or conformists. We cultivate an open culture of discussion here, where you can say what you think. This is often very constructive, because emotions don’t get backed up. The level of loyalty and collegiality is very high here. Wild and rough doesn’t necessarily mean having tattoos from tip to toe. But it can mean that.
Where do you spend most of your working day?
If I’m not at a client site visit, I’m moving around throughout the company. I have two very transparent small offices, one in the assembly area and another in the development department. We spend more time walking and standing than we do sitting.
The current topic of our magazine is innovation. We’re exploring where innovation comes from and how it can be encouraged. Nimbus is considered a leader in light development, an LED pioneer and driver of innovation. So we would like to ask you: What is innovation? And what do you need to work in an innovative way?
In the canteen, which you can see in the photo above, we’ve hung a quote from Pablo Picasso as a 4 x 3 metre picture: “I do not search - I find. (...)". My experience is that searching is a cramped way to discover innovation. We don’t use the word brainstorming here. I only need to have a meaningful discussion with one or two other people; then something new, something more, emerges.
Innovation shouldn’t be an end in itself; ideally, it should encourage low resource consumption and sustainability. Innovation can only emerge independently, yet it is often confused with evolution. Evolution happens on its own, simply with the passage of time. Real innovation, however, surprises you, often in very subtle ways.
Do you think there are special “rules” that have to be followed to facilitate real innovation?
I think I know what prevents innovation. If I could set up a body of rules that lead to innovation, I would be a wealthy man.
How important is actual human contact for innovative work? Do you think that it makes a difference whether people work together in a physical space versus a virtual space?
That depends entirely on the people. Everyone is different, and every day is different. People should have the option to have privacy, for example if you wake up one morning on the wrong side of the bed, or the option of working in an open space if you feel like exchange and being around others. Both can be very expedient.
What do you think makes a good workplace?
The adaptation to my day that I just mentioned. My desk sometimes looks like a war zone and I enjoy it – until I can’t take it anymore and clean it up. Of course I wouldn’t allow my colleagues to do that...
Are there certain rituals that you consider important in your everyday work routine?
Taking a walk in the morning, at mid-day, and in the evenings with my dogs, which are always around. Or just going down to production and having someone explain to me precisely how they are assembling a light. That also clears my head. Or I sit down with a coffee in our mock-up space, our exhibition space, which is always a source of inspiration and energy.
What is the most important tool for your work?
Coffee and my iPhone.
What is your favourite activity in the context of work?
Exchange with my “rough, wild” colleagues. Being surprised by new ideas, whether they’re my own or from other people.
What would you wish for in your work or your workplace?
I like my work the way it is. If I wanted it to be different, I would make it different. The same goes for my workplace.
Thank you for the interview!