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Open Your Eyes and Ears When Tough Times Arrive

Mar 4, 2008
A number of years ago I was asked to help a struggling business overcome setbacks created by increased global competition, adverse cost trends, unfavorable currency rates, and weak leadership. Looking closely at the operations, I saw that within the weak operation was a kernel of strength: Huge profits could be gained by cutting back the product line by 95 percent, and great amounts of cash flow would be generated as well.

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) was ready to take action, but he didn't know what the CEO would say. I was asked to share the thinking with the CEO. He granted me three minutes to tell my story. During those three minutes, he refused to look at me and made a face. Dismissing me, he told me that the COO would never go along.

Whenever I saw either one for the next several years, each would tell me they wished they could persuade the other person. As far as I can tell, neither one realized that they agreed on the point.

Unfortunately, that's the kind of paralysis that follows problems. Few ideas are proposed, and those ideas may not be acted on.

How can you create confidence among those you work with that good ideas will receive attention and action?

The best way to do this is to set a good example by asking for ideas, acting on them appropriately and in a timely way, and encouraging others to act on them without waiting for approval when review is slow in coming. Soon you'll have everyone in the organization finding ways to be helpful rather than helpless. Management often takes on too large a burden in crisis situations.

Most such circumstances require a variety of actions, each in a different sphere of the organization's activities. Those who are closest to the problem will most usually have the clearest sense of the alternatives, but are often intimidated about speaking up for fear they'll offend colleagues or those in power.

Researchers report that the joy and fun of finding a good solution that is implemented are the primary rewards needed to stimulate people to find creative solutions to new problems. Be sure that you give people the time and resources to check out their thoughts. You'll be glad that you did.

Be careful though about paying and recognizing people for these ideas. Professor Teresa Amabile has reported that such recognition and pay can reduce creativity except when associated with specific efficiency-improvement programs.

3M is often cited as an example of a company that successfully encourages creative solutions. The firm makes it easy for employees to get time and resources to pursue new ideas. Those who succeed are often given the chance to play a key role in the development of the new activity, sometimes with large public recognition, always with substantial internal recognition and economic incentives as the solution develops.

But don't forget to look and listen and then act on what you hear that makes sense.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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