In 1951 Toyota launched their Creative Idea Suggestion System and it is still going strong. Toyota receives one million ideas per year from its employees and at one point, Toyota received more than three million ideas from employees in one year. 

This level of involvement is not achieved by using a suggestion box. It is achieved by engaging the minds of employees and tapping into their unlimited pool of ideas and creativity. Letting this resource go untapped is like sitting on top of a gold mine and feeling poor.

So, how does Toyota do it?

The name of the game is to think small. Small ideas are actually better than big ideas because they:

  • are much more likely to stay proprietary and create a sustainable competitive advantage, since they are situation-specific.
  • enable you to focus on the details of your business. Excellence is the result of getting the details right.
  • help create a culture that values ideas (every idea is a good idea) and the people they come from, resulting in a boost in ownership behavior.
  • facilitate rapid and continuous organizational learning and performance improvements.
  • are the best sources of big ideas. (The Post-it® note came from a small idea to find a better glue.)

Small ideas might include:

  • “When we print any materials, do so double-sided to reduce paper cost.”
  • “While I’m waiting for our driver to check in his shipment at our store’s receiving dock, I sweep out the inside of his truck so he can make a quicker turn-around at our distribution center.”
  • “If I highlight off-plan line items on my report, the executive committee can more quickly and efficiently focus on those areas of concern.”

Inspiring coaches go for quantity, not quality, of ideas to build a culture of innovation and ownership. They make ideas, lots of them, part of everyone’s job.


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