Dilbert’s Boss Clumsily Asks for Big Billion Dollar Ideas

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Sunday’s Dilbert strip presented a scene where the Pointy Haired Boss asks Dilbert and his colleague for big huge ideas.

The response is predictable.

The problem isn’t a lack of ideas, but a lack of trust and a lack of alignment.

I see similar challenges in our Kaizen work. If a hospital or a factory asks employees for big huge ideas. The scale is usually more along the lines of a “million dollar idea.”

Who has big huge ideas?

There are usually lots of ideas in an organization, but not many million dollar ideas.

People freeze up when they’re asked to think big. That’s why it’s often more effective to ask people to start with SMALL ideas. We can generate lots and lots of ideas and make many small improvements… then we might stumble into a large idea (or a small idea that has a surprisingly big impact).

It’s less intimidating to think of an idea that saves a few seconds here and there, an idea that makes things safer for the patients.

We’ll occasionally discover a million dollar idea… but we tend to get more of them if we don’t ask for million dollar ideas. It’s sort of counterintuitive.

Then, there’s the issue of fairness. Dilbert and his employees realize it would be better for them to take a billion dollar idea and go start their own company. If you do contribute a million dollar idea, should the organization reward you for that or is that just part of your job to contribute to the greater good of the organization? Suggestion box systems have nearly always broken down when a percentage of cost savings was promised on a quid pro quo basis… the bonus sounds fair, but leads to a lot of fighting and dysfunction. There are many pros and cons to rewards, incentives, and bonuses.

Paying nothing probably isn’t fair – most organizations have processes for spot bonuses and other special recognition. But that’s different than promising X% of any cost savings.

We talk about this in the Healthcare Kaizen series and it’s also discussed well in the books Ideas are Free and The Idea-Driven Organization by Robinson and Schroeder.

See more Dilbert cartoons and Lean or Six Sigma.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to be notified about posts via email. Learn more about Mark Graban’s speaking, writing, and consulting.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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5 Comments on "Dilbert’s Boss Clumsily Asks for Big Billion Dollar Ideas"

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  1. Brandon Ruggles says:

    It’s amazing how important trust and implementation are in keeping successful idea implementation systems going. Without trust or implementation the system dies, with both of them it flourishes. It is so fun to watch a good idea system grow and get better, and to watch the engagement that comes from it in addition to the “million dollar ideas” that come from it every now and again.

    • Mark Graban

      I love it when organizations say, about Kaizen:

      Goal #1 is learning and employee development

      Goal #2 is results, benefits, ROI

      The counterintuitive thing is that focusing on #1 leads to more #2.

      • Dale Savage says:

        I couldn’t agree more. If we develop our associates as we develop our processes we gain so much more. Recently I had an associate participating in a kaizen team who was shy and backwards. Through her experience with the event, she gained knowledge, self-confidence, and communication skills. As a result, she has now moved up in the company to a position that she maybe would not have attempted to get had she not been developed through the kaizen event experience. Now, she is in a position where she can use those newfound skills even more effectively. For me, that is the heart of continuous improvement.

  2. Brandon Ruggles says:

    So true, yet suprisingly few companies seem to understand that simple truth.

    How is the Shingo Conference?

  3. Chad Walters Chad Walters

    When it comes to generating “million dollar” ideas, the “million dollar” piece only comes to fruition if the idea matters to those who will put up the million dollars. It just further reinforces the need to focus on what the customer wants or needs, and generation of ideas that give them what they want or need in a better or faster or better quality manner.

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