It's Only Common Sense: Encourage Freedom of Thought at Your Company


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Ask yourself this: Are your staff members allowed to think?

Look, rules are rules and every organization needs them. But do they really need rules that restrict their thinking or their freedom to think, which is even worse?

Many company executives would say they allow their people to think and be creative. They feel that they are innovative companies where people who come up with new ideas, news ways of doing things, are welcomed. But are they really? What about your company? Do you let employees come up with new ways of doing things? Or better yet, do you encourage your people to think out of the box, to use their ingenuity to come up with better ways to get things done?

One thing that scares me about some of the new management techniques is that they can encourage team members to leave their brains at the door. I know that my friends on the other side of this argument will strongly disagree, but I am going to stick to my guns on this one.  When you start measuring every single step of an operation to the point where you are measuring minutiae, trying to save every half second of time on the manufacturing floor, you are squelching the very creativity that you claim to be encouraging.

Actually, I look at it more like you are trying to “robotize” human beings. You are trying to get human beings to do the same thing over and over and make it look like they are thinking.  Sure, you hold pre-meetings where you go over every step of the operation with the department members; they get to have their say, but afterwards, once the team reaches a consensus of the best way to conduct the operation, everyone is expected to walk in lock-step every day from then on.

Frankly, that is the most oppressive way of dealing with human beings that I have ever heard of. No matter how much the “Leaners” try to convince me that this is a good thing, the more my gut tells me it is not. The more I think about this, the more I realize that these “time-saving systems” are nothing more than spirit squelchers and innovation killers.

Creative people just don’t think like everyone else. In fact they make a career of not thinking like everyone else. Remember the great Apple ad campaign that Steve Jobs initiated during his second coming to Apple? Remember what it was called? “Think Different.” Now, how does thinking different fit into the manufacturing systems people are constantly trying to infuse into our companies? The ads featured people like Richard Feynman, John Lennon, Albert Einstein and Jim Henson. How do you think people like that would have fit into a Lean system?

Or think about Steve Jobs himself, or Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos. How do you think they would have fared on one of our lock-step, everyone-do-the-same-thing at the same time type of systems? More importantly, how do you think the world would have fared? I find thinking about that very scary indeed.

Not that it would ever happen because people like these would never allow themselves to be involved in systems like these.

Look, if you want people to act like robots, just fire them and buy some robots. But before you do that, please explain to me how you are going to build a two-day turn, 28-layer blind and buried via board with robots. How you are going to use robots to build boards that no one has been able to build before?

Instead, I beseech you. Please come up with ways to engage your people. Find ways to turn them on, if you will, and let them know that you welcome their ideas. You will always welcome new and innovative ways of doing things.

Encourage your people to ask and answer questions like:

  • How can this be done better?
  • How can this be done easier?
  • How can this be done faster?
  • How can this problem be solved?

Oh, and one more thing. This is a hard one: Encourage your people to try even if trying means failure because if you’re not making mistakes and failing once in a while, you are not trying hard enough. It’s only common sense.

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