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Tear Down These Walls! Make Every Worker an R&D Employee!

By Shlomo Maital   


  In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke directly to USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, telling  him,  “Tear down this wall!”   Two and one half years later, the Berlin Wall fell – on Nov. 9, 1989.

   Those four words, ‘tear down this wall’, apply to innovation as well.  To all CEO’s:  Tear down the wall between your R&D engineers and your employees.  Involve ALL your employees, down to the mail clerk, in coming up with winning new innovations, in products, services, processes and operations.  Innovate everywhere.  And get everyone to innovate. 

   A 15-year-old book, by Alan Robinson and Sam Stern, Corporate Creativity: How Innovation and Improvement Actually Happen (1997) is worth re-reading.  The book shows how midlevel execs and junior employees are really familiar with the work, are close to the ‘coal face’, and know what needs improvement.  If you listen to them, really listen, you can do wonders. Problem is, few CEO’s listen to them. 

   Here are a few examples.  (some are cited by Naomi Darom, The Marker, March 29, p. 11).   * American Airlines flight attendant Kathryn Kridel observed that most of the large 200-gram $250 caviar cans for First Class passengers were thrown away. She recommended 100 gram cans instead.  Nobody listened, for two years.  Finally American Airlines did listen, saved $567,000 a year and gave Kridel a check for $50,000.  Not listening cost them over $1 m., at least.   * Dr. Spencer Silver invented a pressure-sensitive adhesive, at 3M, tried to market it internally for six years (!), and failed – until co-worked Art Fry invented Post-It notes and built a machine to make them. * A Florida pilot complained that each time he took off from Miami, he had to make a huge detour around an air force base – that was abandoned, having been destroyed by a hurricane.  He was encouraged to complain to the Federal Aviation Administration – and the detour was abolished, saving $900,000 yearly in fuel. 

   Every organization needs a system that encouraged, sparks, motivates, defines, processes and sorts employee-generated suggestions, both large and small.    Above all, every organization needs to make employee-generated creativity a key part of its culture, and a part of every job description.  Tell your workers: Do what you do well!  And while you do it, see how you can change what you do, to make it better, faster, cheaper, and see if you can help fellow workers do the same.  Often, simply recognizing good ideas is sufficient reward; you don’t need to throw large sums at idea-generators. 

   So – tear down those R&D walls.  Everyone is R&D.  Workers to whom senior management listens become more committed, more energized, and more empowered. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
March 2012