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Gwendolyn Galsworth


Ideas: Growth in Both Directions

Protect ideas and the people who think of them

Published: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 13:03

We are fast approaching the time when companies realize and are ready to accept the astonishing power of empowering people, and the remarkable changes that can result. Yes, people as a resource for ideas is at the core of a transformed work culture and incalculable financial benefits—as long as we are mindful of the traps.

Like the ideas themselves, there are land mines we can step on. For now, I target two of them. And while you may find my remarks applicable to all ideas, everyone, and any organizational level, here I focus on ideas from hourly employees, all visual thinkers in the making.

The challenge of the small

As your understanding of visuality and how and why it works grows—and the visual thinkers who report to you begin to create visual solutions—pay close attention. It is now that your visual conversion is in its most delicate state because a single disparaging remark can undo the work of weeks or months. Support the small ideas. Every contribution, however humble, has a huge value at this point. That value is this: It is a beginning. And all beginnings are to be celebrated. They mark a break from the past and the promise of a tomorrow whose destination is only partly understood.

Managers and supervisors, when you see that beginning, however small, make much of it. Give congratulations, take photos, and write articles. (Except when you know—or learn—that certain people don’t like a fuss made about them; then you go low-key; a quiet, private thank you is in order.) People have such willingness to contribute. Though your crew may not yet have the skill or insight to create a trackable bottom-line benefit, your recognition—quiet or rowdy—will fan the ember of these early efforts. Build your own skill in envisioning the tangible benefits that small ideas can produce, and watch the momentum gather. Pay attention. Notice the good and give praise. The success of your improvement initiative depends on that, as does the growth of the enterprise.

The challenge of the big

Likewise, some of us have active imaginations and, invited or not, love to envision possibilities, big possibilities. This is the other end of the ideas continuum. As with tiny startup ideas, tread carefully with the big ones. For example, in the part of operator-led visuality called Smart Placement, value-add associates are asked to reengineer the physical layout of their areas. Even though the thinking is guided by a set of 14 principles (such as “store things, not air” and “design-to-task”), the process can be mistakenly heard as an open invitation to “change everything because we can imagine it.”

“Take down that wall! Move those two machines closer together!” Big ideas, and neither is wrong. In fact, taking down that wall would disentangle the process. Great idea. But at the moment, it is only an idea. To move it forward, we will need to vet it, technically. For example, is it safe? And even if it passes that checkpoint, there may not be enough funds to resource it. Or the timing may be wrong for this year’s production demands. And on and on.

Protect ideas and the people who think of them: Lay down the ground rules early. For instance: Just because we think of a change doesn’t mean it has to get done—or can get done or will get done.

Not handling big ideas correctly is where many improvement initiatives crash and burn. Do not to confuse “I-driven” with open-handed permission. If you do, value-add associates might get the mistaken impression that just because they thought of an improvement, it is as good as done. That is simply not so. As stated, safety, costs, and plain old timing are important decision-making factors. If you promote other expectations, associates can rightly become discouraged, even angry, when one of their big ideas is not approved.

Growth in both directions

Yes, big ideas are sometimes too large, and small ideas can seem so tiny. But you need to allow and support both. That also means you have to make your own way through some inevitable mistakes to find the balance point that works for you and your company’s existing work culture. Because in finding that, you grow that culture. Learning how to let the continuum of ideas flow at both ends is a local discovery, not a formula. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you’ll find the fit that works for you—and it will be just right.

First published on Visual Thinking website.


About The Author

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

Gwendolyn Galsworth

Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., has been implementing visuality for more than 30 years. She’s focused on codifying the visual workplace concepts, principles, and technologies into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge. Galsworth founded Visual Thinking Inc. in 1991, and in 2005 she launched The Visual-Lean Institute where in-house trainers and external consultants are trained and certified in the Institute’s nine core visual workplace methods. Two of the seven books Galsworth has written received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award.