Good ideas may come from unexpected sources

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

PAYING attention to details is the mark of excellence, no matter how daunting and devilish it may appear to us. For one, attention to details can give you many ideas, even in places that remotely fancy your interest. Take the case of a typical supermarket or any similar retail shops, including the fast-spreading convenience stores in the country.

The American supermarket system inspired Toyota’s cost-cutting genius Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990) to develop kanban (a sign board for ordering parts and supplies) as one approach to reduce costly inventories, considered by lean experts as the evil of all evil invisible wastes. Ohno got the idea from a supermarket where customers pick and buy the exact number of items they need for the day, if not for a certain number of days.

In turn, the supermarket replenishes the stock at the right time and in the required amount. The system is both cost-efficient for customers, retailers, and manufacturers. Today, the supermarket system has matured into the much-vaunted management system called, “Just-in-Time,” but that’s another story.

You can imagine there are many things to be copied or to be borrowed from existing models, like what Ohno did. What was unusual for Ohno was to borrow an idea from a service industry and make it applicable to manufacturing. How many of us can do that, given our fixation with our own industry that keeps us paralyzed by our biases and paradigms?

Sure, there are exceptions. And that’s how I admired our homegrown fast-food trailblazer, Jollibee Foods, for continuing to learn from Toyota and other world-class manufacturers. The same thing can be said of industry leaders like Asian Hospital, SkyCable, PJ Lhu illier and Bank of P.I. for emulating the best practices of manufacturers. The latest of which was when they showcased their model policies on Poka-yoke or mistake-proofing to a group of like-minded professionals. (Disclaimer: Jollibee, Asian Hospital, Sky Cable, PJ Lhuillier, and BPI are regular patrons of our public management workshops).

Really, the devil is in the details. When an organization becomes interested in an idea from an unexpected source, like a restaurant copying the best practices of a manufacturer or vice versa, there are likely to be three possible questions that may crop up: “What’s next? Is it doable? How do we apply such excellent idea in our company?”

Unless you tried that, you can’t possibly answer those questions. Unless you come up with an experiment, you can’t discover new things. Try and try until you succeed (or until you die). Don’t despair if Plan A doesn’t work ̶ the alphabet has 26 letters. If you reached Plan Z, go back to create Plan A1, then Plan A2. Remember Albert Einstein who learned much from his more than 1,000 failed experiments of the light bulb?

Attitude is what determines one’s altitude. Now, if you want to delay reaching Plan Z, consider copying – but do it legally. “When you can’t innovate, copy,” says Ndubuisi Ekekwe in the Harvard Business Review. When you copy and adjust someone’s ideas to suit your organizational culture and taste, you can accomplish many things.

Learn from a knowledgeable person. If he ignores you or tells you a big “NO,” then interpret such NO as your Next Opportunity to work with another person. If you’re a writer like me, who sits all day long alone in a quiet room trying to craft an intelligent article laden by ho-hum management buzzwords while listening to the clickety-clack of the keyboard, in time, you’ll get bored.

Sooner than you can imagine, you will be longing to visit a supermarket to talk to merchandisers who can give you many ideas on how they cope with a strict no-sitting management policy while on duty. Now, that’s pretty scary. Many low-paying jobs like security personnel are required to be always on the move or alert for customers asking for directions, if not for would-be thieves.

But that’s fine. As long as you maintain a healthy attitude, rest assured a nonstop source of quality input. As you progress and seek out more ideas from everywhere, and as you remove your biases, you’ll attract new and different ideas that can give you new perspectives.

Want to give it a try? What lesson can you learn from the military that you can apply to your organization?

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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