What happens when one of the world’s biggest manufacturing companies finds itself at an innovation and talent recruitment crossroads?

As the maker movement began to take hold and more people began to embrace the idea of invention, GE felt there was an opportunity to play a role.

We shared our early thinking with GE’s leadership team, stating, “In this rising tide of invention, you have the opportunity to not just be the biggest boat, you can also be the ocean.” Inspired by this provocation, we set out together to see how we could collectively “raise the tide” for a spirit of invention and making to a global movement.

Meet the makers

In order for us to truly empathize with the spirit of the inventor, we packed our bags and began a factory tour – meeting the innovators that power some of GE’s best and brightest ideas.

During this journey we uncovered a surprising fact about many of GE’s factories. Most of the products GE makes are still made by hand. Sure, there are machines that move things around and ferry parts from one process to another, but the tools, the craftsmanship, and the inherent know-how that was happening inside each of these factories was led by passionate men and women who have a love for making.

David Meets Goliath

With this newfound understanding of GE’s inherent maker DNA, we brought together a group of progressive makers from around the globe and facilitated a dialogue about collaboration. Hardware and manufacturing accelerators like TechShop sat down with online education partners from Skillshare and the publishing team from MAKE Magazine. We invited the award-winning electronic building block maker littleBits to trade notes with the teams from Arduino and Inventables. These collaborative conversations with independent makers and GE began to spur excitement for a big idea: to bring all these brands together, and many like them, for a traveling experience and digital platform designed to let people learn, design, and make together.

Rolling up our sleeves together

What started as a single experiential activation at SXSW grew into a 3-year global platform and activated in a total of over 30 global markets. Original curriculums were developed for a variety of skills included industrial design, DIY manufacturing, rapid prototyping, crowdsourced R&D, coding, business-planning, and other areas that introduced audiences to the tools of inventing and making.

Sparking an international maker movement

To support the company’s growth in emerging markets, we designed and activated a 3-month GE Garage accelerator in Lagos, Nigeria in partnership with Lagos Business School to help foster skills development and local entrepreneurship. This hub for training, advanced manufacturing-based innovation, and collaboration became a cornerstone of GE’s emerging markets growth strategy.

Digitally amplifying a global experience through #ProjectGarages

To expand the Garages’ reach beyond the bounds of the physical pop-ups, an equally compelling digital experience was created. The #ProjectGarages content series focused on the workshops of international entrepreneurs, shining light on their latest innovations and opening up a dialogue between them and aspiring entrepreneurs using Facebook Live Q&A.

All Ships Rise

An enduring brand platform, the GE Garages surpassed all expectations for engagement and brand affinity over 3 years of successful international activations while also catalyzing the creation of a new global communications and positioning campaign; GE Works. And by touching internal and external audiences and engaging new partners, GE’s Garages have been cited as a powerful change agent, going beyond marketing to deliver a new understanding of not only what GE makes, but of what it fundamentally does in the world.

“GE is successfully generating global brand awareness and strengthening its relevance in different product markets through its Garages initiative. The Garages global road show, created in collaboration with experiential design studio Sub Rosa…showcases innovations in manufacturing and offers classes, events, and workshops. Garages is a clear indication to the market and investors that GE is not just imagining what’s next, but is actually doing it.”

Interbrand, 2014