I recently paged through Bryan Mattimore’s excellent creativity book, “99% Inspiration.” One of the chapters that caught my eye was one on brainstorming to develop cost-cutting ideas — very appropriate for today’s moribund economy, and a continuing challenge for most work teams and organizations.
What makes a cost-cutting brainstorming session different than one that is used, for example, to develop new product ideas? First, where traditional brainstorming sessions are freewheeling (any idea is fair game, no matter how far out or unique), emphasize generating a large quantity of ideas and suspending judgment until the end of the session, a cost-cutting ideation session is much more deliberate, Mattimore says.
First, the negative implications of any cost-cutting ideas must be taken into consideration immediately. The brainstorming team must spend more time delving into the practicality of each cost-cutting idea (can it realistically be implemented?), which means that the team must spend time exploring both the positive and negative ramifications of each idea.
Mattimore suggests assigning a dollar value to each cost-cutting idea.
Next, Mattimore suggests assigning a dollar value to each cost-cutting idea. This not only gives the brainstorming group a sense of purpose and achievement, but also enables the team to compare one idea’s value against other cost-cutting ideas.
In addition, Mattimore recommends having each brainstorming session participant create a mindmap that details his or her day-to-day job responsibilities. He cites one such brainstorming session he ran where this technique was very effective as a catalyst for surfacing cost-cutting ideas: “It was only after everyone completed his or her job map that we went to work finding and developing cost-cutting ideas. With the details of their jobs fresh in their minds, and now on paper in front of them, it was a relatively simple next step to start generalizing from specific problems and inefficiencies into potentially larger, more widely applicable cost-saving ideas,” Mattimore explains in his book. He also points out that a “job map” can help you to see relationships between seemingly unrelated problems, costs and opportunities.
Finally, Mattimore cautions that while new product brainstorming sessions may generate hundreds of ideas, cost-cutting sessions typically have a much lower output, due to the factors outlined above. “In a cost-cutting session, if a group is able to create a half-dozen well-developed and thought-out, implementable ideas, it has done a good days work,” he says.
Another approach to developing cost-saving ideas takes a much more grass-roots approach. Bunji Tozawa and Norman Bodek, in their book, The Idea Generator: Quick and Easy Kaizen, advocate training all employees on how to look for simple, easy-to-implement improvements that they can make in their work area. What’s more, they can make these improvements immediately, without seeking management approval. This method of continuous improvement tends to be very effective at unlocking the latent creative potential of every employee on a continuing basis. “Quick and easy kaizen recognizes that every single employee has creative potential, not just a select few,” the authors explain.
Too many companies solve this problem by whacking their head count – which, ironically, tends to “dumb down” the organization.
In contrast, most companies select a small team of “change agents” or a cross-functional brainstorming team that does most of the thinking for the company. The focus of this strategy tends to be coming up with new ideas on an as-needed basis, and doesn’t represent an ongoing commitment to creative problem-solving. In addition, traditional brainstorming doesn’t empower individual employees to share and implement their ideas. With quick and easy kaizen, every employee is expected to contribute an ongoing stream of ideas and improvements. Because they can immediately see the results of their creative efforts, workers are empowered to continue implementing kaizen in their work areas.
When most businesspeople think of creativity, they tend to envision cool new product and service ideas. Few people consider the potential of creative brainstorming as a cost-cutting tool. In fact, too many companies solve this problem by whacking their head count – which, ironically, tends to “dumb down” the organization, because departed employees take their brains with them. As you can see from these examples, you can use these and other creative cost-saving ideation techniques to enhance your company’s efficiency, competitive edge and bottom line. Why not try them out today?