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Ideas Are Free - A Book Summary

This article is based on the following book:
Ideas Are Free
By Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder
Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2004
ISBN 1-57675-282-8
232 pages

Without great ideas, no organization can stay afloat,
much less flourish. Managers and top executives are
constantly struggling to come up with big ones –
creative marketing strategies, ingenious cost-cutting
schemes and other corporate solutions that will save
time and money and improve productivity. But what few
of them realize is that right under their noses is a
virtually limitless source of valuable ideas – ideas
that can revolutionize their company and help bring
substantial and sustainable competitive advantage.
These great ideas come, surprisingly, from the lowest
point of the corporate food chain – from the frontline
employees who do the “dirty” work and who therefore
see a lot of problems and opportunities that their
managers do not.

Employee ideas are a lot more valuable than most managers
think. More importantly, they can be had virtually for
free, if you know how. This book teaches the most
effective methods for tapping this “hidden” resource,
based on extensive research in more than 300 organizations
around the world. It offers precise techniques for setting
up an idea management system that can empower your people,
transform your organization and make you a much more
effective leader.

The Idea Revolution
In traditional companies there are two distinct types of

1. The thinkers – the supervisors, managers and other
executives; and
2. The doers – the frontline employees.
The rationale behind this division is that regular workers
are not capable of the kind of critical thinking needed
for problem solving and strategy formulation, and therefore
they should not participate in brainstorming.

The Idea Revolution invites you to break free from this
old, limiting thinking pattern and to change the rules,
because the truth is that although your frontline workers
may indeed not have the knack for strategic planning, they
do possess other, equally valuable type of knowledge –
detailed, practical information about the company’s daily
operations, and common sense. Because they are actually
where the action is, so to speak, they see a lot of things
that you do not – what the customers really need, what
machines are not working, what is being wasted. And often
they know what to do to make things better.

The only thing you need to do is to ask and to welcome,
not discourage, their ideas.

Why Employee Ideas are Important
In most organizations only the first type of knowledge
is encouraged. The other kind is not only discouraged,
but actually suppressed. But actually both are needed to
run an efficient company. Managers and employees need to
cooperate, to contribute what they know in order to
come up with workable solutions and significant

Managers and supervisors can tend to generalize issues
and gloss over certain details, while employees who work
directly with what is causing the problem know exactly
what is wrong and what should be done about it. Their
knowledge of the problem is direct and intimate, and
they can provide accurate solutions. They know things
by experience, not by theory.

The Power of Small Ideas
Big ideas are always more attractive – they are splashier,
grander, always more promising. Managers are therefore
more likely to weed out “small” ideas and go for the
really big ones, the “home runs” – those that could help
generate millions of dollars in revenue or topple
the competition, instantly. But when it comes to ideas,
small does not always mean ineffective or weak. In fact,
in organizations it is often smarter to focus on small
ideas rather than on big ones.

Idea Management
As simple as it sounds, getting and using employee ideas
to improve your organization’s performance entails a lot
of planning, preparation and hard work. Two crucial issues
that you would have to deal with are:

• How can the employees be encouraged or motivated to
come up with so many ideas?
• Who has time to deal with all of them?
After all, once the ideas start pouring in, they would
each have to be evaluated, and then implemented. These
are non-value adding tasks that can take up all of your
valuable time. The only way you can effectively manage
employee ideas is by setting up a good idea system, one
that will make the process, which can become messy,
organized and productive.

Profound Change
By encouraging the free flow of ideas, you will have
the opportunity to bring about a profound transformation
within your organization, one that could not only boost
its overall performance, but would also liberate the
people who work within it.

Idea systems have the power to change the very culture
of an organization, by bringing about more trust,
respect, openness, commitment and harmony among its

When employees see that their ideas are valued, their
attitudes change, from one of detachment and frustration
to involvement and fulfillment. This not only uplifts the
quality of their lives, but also brings about real growth
in the organization.

By: Regine P. Azurin
Regine Azurin is the President of,
a company that provides business book summaries of the
latest bestsellers for busy executives and entrepreneurs.
"A Lot Of Great Books....Too Little Time To Read"
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