A Creative Approach to Productivity

Andrew CarnegieAndrew Carnegie never intended to use right-brain thinking to increase production volume between the night shift and the day shift, but he stumbled upon it the day he wrote the number of items produced by the night shift on the cement entryway floor with chalk. That morning the day crew surmised what the number represented and by the end of the shift, erased the old number and replaced it with a larger one.

The night shift didn’t want to be beaten, so they got creative in reducing the process steps and placed a larger number on the floor at the end of the shift. The day shift wasn’t about to be undone, so they came up with creative ways to increase volume and capacity. This continued for several weeks until the factory was consistently producing more items than before the chalk incident.

The funny thing was “when” Carnegie wrote the number on the floor that started it all. He had come from a meeting were he asked leaders to increase productivity by 10% and they fought him with a myriad of comments about how it was impossible to create double-digit growth. But thanks to right-brain thinking on the part of the workers, Carnegie saw triple-digit growth within several weeks.

While some might suggest that friendly competition was to be praised for the growth, it was actually the creative juices of brainstorming that looked at the processes differently. The idea of reworking what had always worked is a right-brain event. Dropping unnecessary steps is also a right-brain activity.

The left-brain was represented in the meeting that said no to a double-digit increase based on the way it had always been done. The left-brain also suggested that there is a ceiling for everything and therefore no reason to conclude that a ceiling can be broken.

When I managed the receiving department at a warehouse retail store, I timed my team’s ability to breakdown pallets and move the merchandise to the sales floor. When the store manager required us to do it his way, the team broke down 4-6 pallets during the four-hour window. This was due mostly to his required set up that was easily interrupted by unscheduled truck deliveries and the top-priority customer service team accessing stored items for customers.

When I asked the team to come up with a creative solution that avoided the customer service pathway, they were able to breakdown 12-14 pallets. Then I asked how we could better facilitate the process to avoid truck deliveries and customer service people. One person came up with a circular approach requiring less physical steps that allowed the team to breakdown 18-20 pallets.

Then it happened. I stumbled upon a guy over one weekend that lined everything up the length of receiving using half of the pathway, so anyone could get in and out without any interruptions. I also noticed that every time he broke down a pallet, he immediately packed it out in the store, dramatically reducing the workload of the night crew.

This creative approach solved the problem of having congested aisles during sales hours. It also reduced the number of non-packed out items returning to the back room at the end of a shift, again reducing the workload of the night shift.

Unfortunately, no one in upper management noticed the increase in productivity, so everything eventually went back to business as usual. The reason was simple, it takes right-brain creativity to find a new way of increasing productivity, but it takes left-brain logic to manage and sustain it as the new process going forward.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers
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