Finding Idea Triggers

Today, I am honored to share an original article written by Alan G. Robinson, co-author of a book that I am currently reading “The Idea-Driven Organization”.

Idea Triggers: New Perspectives on Your Work That Will Make You Think Of Many More Ideas

By Alan G. Robinson

As Leonardo da Vinci observed, problem-sensitivity is a key driver of ideas. Ideas come from problems and opportunities, so to have more ideas you have to train yourself to see more problems. One way to do this in an organizational setting is to come up with fresh perspectives on the work that you and your team do.

A number of years ago, we were at the headquarters of Dana Corporation in Toledo, Ohio. At the time, Dana, a global company with some 80,000 employees, was averaging 24 ideas per employee per year, or two per month. While talking with CEO Joe Magliochetti, he commented that one person had come up with some 400 implemented ideas that year, more than one per day. “Who was it?” we asked. It turned out that it was the receptionist at headquarters, just downstairs from where we were. Later in the day, we sat down with her to talk. The main thing we wanted to find out was how she was able to come up with so many ideas. “It’s easy,” she told us, “I sit at the first point of contact for people at a large global corporation, who call in all the time with complaints or problems they are trying to resolve. I ask them about the issue, and then ask them what they think we shou;d do to fix it. I write down what they say, and pass it in as a suggestion. And everyone thinks I am a genius!”

She had come up with a clever perspective to view her work. Here are some other front-line “triggers for ideas” that we have encountered: Anytime it takes more than 15 seconds to find something, ask why. Anytime a customer is confused, ask why, and fix it. Confused customers have a less satisfying experience, or possibly take their business elsewhere. Their confusion also puts a load on employees.

Workers at an insurance company came up with an interesting idea trigger. Every time a customer calls, ask why. What did the company do/required that made it necessary for the customer to call in? Simple triggers like these, once ingrained, cause people to come up with many more ideas.

Another favorite idea trigger of ours is the Frequently Asked Question (FAQ). Many organizations have pages and pages of them.
Think about what an FAQ means. “We are fully aware of the issue/concern/problem and that our systems/policies/rules/guidelines are sloppy and unclear, but instead of fixing the root cause, here is our workaround.” Anything that is well designed in the first place shouldn’t need FAQs. FAQs are a treasure trove of improvement ideas.

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About the Authors

Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder are award-winning authors, consultants, and educators. They are the co-authors of the bestseller Ideas Are Free: How the Idea Revolution is Liberating People and Transforming Organizations. Between them, they have advised hundreds of organizations in more than twenty-five countries around the world on how to improve their creativity, innovativeness and overall performance. Their first book, Ideas Are Free, was voted the Reader’s Choice by Fast Company magazine and selected as one of the 30 best business books of the year by Soundview Executive Books. On March 31, 2014, Robinson and Schroeder will release their second book together, The Idea-Driven Organization (available on Amazon). Follow them on Twitter – @alangrobinson and @deanmschroeder and visit their website – idea-driven.com.

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