How to Create an Idea-Generating Culture: Quantity + Quality = Success

April 4, 2012 / General /

By Shawn E. Quinn

Jim (the leader of a company) stood in front of a large number of franchisees for the company at the yearly conference attendees pay to participate in.  He had never spoken to this group before, and they all knew he had no experience in their industry. Even so, the company and industry had been struggling, and Jim knew he needed to prompt different behavior from this group and to increase their capability.

The speech writer and conference organizers had encouraged him to not try anything different during his presentation. He told them his ideas. But the organizers were afraid Jim’s approach would kill the energy and vibe they were trying to create.

Against a lot of behind-the-scenes pushback, Jim asked the group to take five minutes to text-message their best idea for how to effectively run their franchise or to enhance their customer experience. The conference tech people received the texts and collected the ideas.  

Jim offered a reward to the person with the most ideas and the one with the best idea.  He promised participants would receive a compendium of the ideas they generated.  Three thousand ideas came in.  After sorting and getting rid of duplicates, 1,000 unique ideas remained and were shared with all of the participants.

One of the franchisees later told Jim that he sends one new idea every day to all of his employees.  That is three years of sharing new ideas with his employees to help them try new things and to create different outcomes.

This was one of a number of things Jim tried over a couple of years as he helped to turn this business around from being $80 million in the red to ending last year with $20 million in profit.  Jim said that many things he and others in the business tried had failed.  He enthusiastically talked about how hard it was and how there were days when he wondered whether it was worth getting out of bed.  But he also shared story after story of success and the value of focusing on the wins that were occurring.  Most impressive was how, with minimal resources, many ideas were tried that cost nothing or next to nothing, yet changed the business and created better outcomes.

For Jim’s employees, welcoming ideas in large quantity was the beginning of a transformation. His colleagues learned from each other and ultimately turned the company around.

What can you do to open the door for the free-flowing expression of ideas?