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Why people don’t take you seriously

May 11, 2009

You’re in charge of the employee suggestion box in your office. One day you open the box and out tumbles two pieces of paper. There are no names on them but the handwritings are different, suggesting they came from different people. But they both convey the same message. The restroom stinks.

You recall that its mostly junior staff that ever bothers to put in anything in the box. These people are still wet behind the ears, you tell yourself, so you set it aside. A week passes. One day your phone rings. Its the CEO. “I put a suggestion about the toilet in the suggestion box,” he says. “Its been a week. What have you done about it?”

Lesson: Despite what they teach you at school, ideas do not count. Really. Its the person behind the idea that does.

Now you understand why they want you to write down your name on the suggestion slip. If you think only politicians would pull that kind of a stunt, think of the last time you sent in a complaint to your service provider.

But somehow, the world is fair. Throughout history, many of the world’s greatest ideas have came from people considered to be nobodies. It is the crazies and the loonies, the basket cases who believed that people could fly. That people could speak to one another over long distances through the air.

Innovations hardly ever come from those steel-and-glass towers filled with men in suits, the place where rank, not originality, decides if your idea has merit. You go to these places to conform, not to buck the trend with new ideas even if that’s what they say they want you to do.

I am beginning to appreciate that innovation and conformity don’t always go hand in hand. The bigger the punishment for non-conformity, the fewer the life-changing innovations. Which does put tradition and culture in an awkward spot if you ask me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2009 4:29 pm

    yea, this post brings us back to the “you know nuts about this business, so why do i want to listen to you?” syndrome.

    well, even after 5 yrs in the industry, i still post ideas n suggestions to bosses who are receptive or open minded. i will try once or twice and i will continue to do so even when i’m older.

    but if the same bosses don seem to bother, then i won’t try on the same person. because most likely, these people are the one you are referring to. I’m a nobody to them, so why should they listen to me?

    maybe that is also why, in certain cases, smaller companies tend to do better because they are (some of them) more open minded and flexible.

    Yes, smaller companies do tend to be more responsive to internal feedback. I think in what space your company operates in makes the difference. If your co. is responsible for fulfillment which would include fabricators and vendors, then your job is to do as you’re told. Conformity is more important than innovation. But if your unit is responsible for product design, then your job is to buck the trend – within certain limits. This part of the world – from China to Sg – it seems we’re almost totally doing fabrication and fulfillment work. So work culture is based on “do as you’re told.” That’s what I see anyway.

  2. May 11, 2009 11:14 pm

    All I knew is that this is a frustrating fucking world. Most of the time who you are matters more that what the situation is. Simple example, If I like you I do not see your mistakes, if I dislike you i can even detect a minute mistake.

    Your comment ended up in the spam box. Not sure why, sorry about that. But yeah, know-who is better than know-how. Its the same everywhere.

  3. May 12, 2009 9:46 am

    Maybe it’s time for a change? 🙂 I do think we have pretty creative and innovative people in this region. And most of the time, these talented individuals don’t get the chance. LOL

    True. IMO, rather than wait for an opportunity to be creative, its probably easier if we created the conditions for our creativity to bloom. That usually means quitting your corporate/vendor/factory job and join an outfit involved in an upstream activity like R&D. Or if you can take a risk, do something on your own.

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