How to get all employees involved in the culture of Innovation.

I wrote a response to an Internet article and I would like to share it.

I have been doing research on incremental innovation at both small and large companies for over 30 years. My research consisted of assembling teams of 4 to 6 people and giving them a goal of finding $100,000 of waste (muda) that could be fixed for less than $2,000. We called it the “War on Waste” and delivered it to over 150 companies and 50,000 employees. We implemented over 10,000 ideas in this process. Our average ROI in one study was 38 to 1. Not the target 50 to 1, but we’ll take it

My point is this (and it is discussed in my book “The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm” – Amazon): we never encountered teams where the people couldn’t find an idea to address a waste in the business. And it worked in all businesses because all businesses have processes and it is the process wastes that we address. In many cases, it was a broken innovation process that was the waste, or a broken sales process (sales manager is the problem), etc and we did all this by invoking “No Blame.” In other words, if an employee thought something was a problem, it was a problem and the people followed our 6-step process to fix it.

We have now taken the process to the Internet to help companies deal with the issue of starting the Innovation Process. People are not the problem. They will have ideas. That is a guarantee. The big issue is finding a champion for their idea. Once that is taken care of, we work a team thru the process on line: 1) find the problem; 2) identify its root cause; 3) cost out how much it is costing the company annually ($100,000 can be top or bottom line); 4) map out a solution and its cost; 5) define an implementation schedule, and; 6) implement the solution and measure its results. We do the interaction with the teams using a facilitator in half-hour sessions over a secure video-teleconferencing platform.

This is the first stage of the “culture of innovation.” These ideas typically get implemented within 6 weeks from step 1. Once the first ideas start to roll, others catch on. It may be slow to start but once it catches on, it works. (see The real key here is what we report in the book: “The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm.” One of the tenets of the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm is: every manager has a job to support the discovery and implementation of ideas that address issues that get in the way of implementation of Strategy. Remember: strategy is how you make money, and waste is everything in the process that keeps you from making money. Managers are sometimes reluctant to buy this but once the CEO makes it clear that this is their job, it is no longer an option for managers, it is their job. Part of their job but “their job.”

This is not obvious. If it isn’t a manager’s job, new ideas can easily get ignored. But if getting ideas in play and completed is the manager’s job, then s/he will be anxiously looking for new ideas. We learned this the hard way, if it isn’t a manager’s job, then the manager can become what we call a black knight (recall Monty Python’s movie “Search for the Holy Grail” – denying problems – like a lost arm). These Black Knights really love to kill ideas. If they do it as a manager under our proposed Tribal Knowledge Paradigm, they will be looking for a new job. Look up our website ( and try it out. It works.


Len Bertain  510-520-8011

About Tribal Knowledge Series

In a career spanning over 30 years, Len Bertain has coached over 150 CEO’s to help them understand and correct inefficiencies and lost profits in their business. He created the well-known “War on Waste” program, a preeminent Lean Business tool, to guide leadership teams through the process. He is an author of four books on the War on Waste and a frequent speaker to CEO groups. Since its inception, the War on Waste program has generated over $1 Billion in first-year profits from over 10,000 ideas, all generated by client company employees. The companies involved in the War on Waste have been as small as 10 people with Fortune 100 companies at the other extreme. His books include: How to Win the War on Waste in 90 Days, The War on Waste Paradox, War on Waste Innovation, and The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm. Len's Bookstore In 1994, he founded the Institute for Productivity and, in 1999, CEO University, both based in San Francisco, CA. He holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Nevada and a B.S. in Physics and Math from St. Mary’s College of California. He lives in California with his wife and has 3 grown sons and 9 grandchildren.
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