Inside-the-box thinking
By Julie Schlosser

(FORTUNE Magazine) – If Zach Kaplan and Keith Schacht had their way, everyone in corporate America would think inside the box.

The pair run a two-year-old Chicago startup called Inventables, which four times a year sends a box of 20 odds and ends to subscribers at companies like P&G, GM, and Black & Decker. The idea is that creative types like engineers and designers, just by tinkering around with objects (from microaccelerometers to luminescent nanocrystals), will be inspired. The two spend most of their time brainstorming and meeting with vendors. "Sometimes we think up materials that would be cool if they existed," says Schacht. "So we Google them, and often they do."

It may sound simplistic, but big companies figure that subscriptions--which start at $5,600 and cost up to $100,000 for an entire company--are a bargain if they generate big ideas. At Motorola the kits are used to "spark or expand the thinking of the people in our [R&D] program," says Art Paton, a senior learning consultant. Leslie Noone, a design manager at GM, says the company "is always looking for innovative materials that trigger our minds to go in new directions." -- Julie Schlosser