Henry Ford doubling his workers’ pay (kinda/sorta). IBM executives hitting the road to win back unhappy customers. Zappos offering free shipping and a liberal return policy. Essays on these seminal shifts and more (including the obligatory Steve Jobs puff piece) can be found in The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time, the Verne Harnish-led project compiled alongside some nine Fortune Magazine editors. Speed readers can inhale this roughly 200-page book on a Logan-to-LaGuardia shuttle and yank out some truly powerful ideas on how to operate their own companies. We can all take something from Intel’s successful branding strategy when the consumer supposedly didn’t care what chip drove a computer, or Softsoap’s inventor buying up 100 million plastic pumps to prevent giants like Procter & Gamble from competing in the burgeoning liquid soap sector. For this report however, we’ll focus on the power of daydreaming and innovation. Decades before Google became known as the place to work on odd n’ sods, others had been shaping that very environment.
Back when 3M was known as Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing, it instituted what eventually became known as the 15% Rule, although as is revealed here “it doesn’t quite require anyone to do anything.” Rather, technical workers there have forever been encouraged to work on their own creations should they so choose. Talk about a powerful recruitment tool, as those with such skill sets crave challenges and to be part of an innovative environment. Then-CEO George McKnight formally instituted the policy in 1948, although it had been part of the company’s very fabric and culture from the turn of that century when the five co-founders launched with no experience in, well, mining and manufacturing. When you start a company on the complete gamble that you’ll figure out what’s what along the way – and indeed it took 3M a dozen years to market a profitable product, sandpaper – you’ve sent a message to the labor pool that nimbleness and invention shall rule the day. Among the home run ideas that resulted were masking tape and perhaps most famously, the Post-it Note.
And say what you will about the ruthless Bill Gates, but alongside his wife and their foundation he’s giving away vast amounts of wealth in helping solve global calamities. As Microsoft’s CEO, Gates was also fanatically committed to Think Week, whereby at least once per year he’d disappear to noodle on his ideas and others’. (Upset that your kid or significant other is an Xbox Live junkie? Now you know who – and what – to blame.) At Samsung, rising stars known as “regional specialists” are prepped over 90 days for a full twelve-month junket to a foreign land to “goof off and learn.” Chairman Lee Kun-Hee pushed through great resistance from fellow executives to develop this radical idea with the mission for participants to “imbibe the spirit of the country, meet people, make contacts, and write a report” about what they learned. Samsung has seen these specialists form lasting friendships in some 80 countries, and by 2003 far ahead of forecast it had become the best-selling brand in Russia, Ukraine, and France with specific credit given to Lee’s program. Jeez, all this frolicking, dreaming, and wandering about seems to work pretty well. Sister Helen Margaret got it wrong when she beat us with that yardstick for all having our heads in the clouds.