Nottingham Spirk thrives on the ability to think differently

Innovation is about creativity and imagination — along with a little bit of structure. As the vice president of Nottingham Spirk, Bill Nottingham has helped countless companies design and develop products that have changed the world.

One of the keys to that success is the ability to harness the skills and talents of his team.

“Structure is important because at the end of the day, you have to have a plan and you have to deliver,” Nottingham says. “But you also need an opportunity to explore, experiment and play. That’s why we’ve created an atmosphere that eliminates a lot of those distractions. We have unlimited discretionary paid time off. People feel respected and relaxed, but they are also very passionate.”

The passion to create
Nottingham Spirk is the subject of this month’s Uniquely feature in conjunction with the ASPIRE 2017 conference, which gathers many of the region’s top entrepreneurial, dealmaking and investor communities.

Innovation is a big part of entrepreneurship, something that the duo of John Nottingham, who is Bill’s father, and John Spirk knew very well when they founded the firm back in 1972.

“They were classmates at the Cleveland Institute of Art,” Nottingham says. “They both turned down Fortune 500 job offers to start a company and it was all done by handshake. They won traveling scholarships and used the money to go to Europe. That’s where they created the concept around our company and the NS logo, which was designed on a napkin when they were in Milan.”

The co-founders are still involved with the company to this day. The enduring success is a credit to the company’s approach to hiring people who want to stretch the boundaries of what can be done.

“One of the things we do in the hiring process is we ask, ‘Do you have a hobby?’” Nottingham says. “It’s a creative question. If someone has a hobby, they are passionate and they have things that they are interested in doing.”

Open to suggestion
Nottingham Spirk calls its process to innovate vertical integration.

“It’s kind of like a mini startup company on each project,” he says.

At the same time, the greatest ideas often come about when you least expect.

“It could be running into someone by the coffee machine or walking by someone’s desk,” Nottingham says. “Someone walks by and says, ‘What are you working on? Did you think of this?’ It’s about being open, available and social.”

Mark Scott is senior associate editor for Smart Business Cleveland