MRO Magazine

Clocking in with small innovations

Ever wonder why some guys around the shop -- the same old guys -- always seem to invent the clever workarounds, the short cuts, the innovative ways to solve problems, and the quickest method to get th...


September 1, 2002
By MRO Magazine

Ever wonder why some guys around the shop — the same old guys — always seem to invent the clever workarounds, the short cuts, the innovative ways to solve problems, and the quickest method to get the production line back up and running?

They’re not necessarily smarter than you or me. Yet it seems there is a common characteristic that many maintenance whizzes share. They simply observe the things they see every day and then they think about how they could be made better than they are. Once they ask the question, their minds focus on it and the creative juices eventually start to flow.

Solutions sometimes just pop out, or they may take days or weeks to jell. Sometimes it’s something someone says or does that’s the trigger. That’s why brainstorming with colleagues — old fashioned as it is — is still a great technique for coming up with solutions to all sorts of problems around the plant.

It’s just not natural for all of us to slow down and pay attention to the things around us. We’re often too busy to wonder about them. But being curious all the time can be fun. I think that’s why I ended up as a journalist and an editor. I actually started out studying to be an engineer — curiosity about how things worked led me there. Before that, I worked in a steel mill’s maintenance and construction group as an apprentice. There, problem solving was the order of the day, every day. That, and trying to kick black soot onto any white-shirted managers who passed below when we worked high up over the open hearth — but I digress.

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Over the span of an enjoyable career working at magazines like this one, I’ve observed and talked to many people who have that innate, curious mindset. Some were engineers, some without even their high school. But they knew how to think about things.

They all seemed to love learning, too. That’s one of the great things about technical work — you’re always learning. And not just practical stuff, but interesting bits of information, much of which may not seem important at the time. But if you pay attention, they just might come into play later. It’s how this group becomes part of the “Aha” league, experiencing the exclamation that pops out just after a practical idea or solution becomes unexpectedly clear.

Another advantage held by several of the people I have met is their multi-disciplined interest. If they’re fluid power experts, they might learn some electronics. If they’re mechanics at heart, they’ll pick up some knowledge about control systems. Often, they still play with cars, which helps them learn many technical things. It all helps them figure out how to piece ideas together.

Many of them treat problem solving as a personal hobby. Yeah, they take their work home with them, but somehow, it’s fun. It’s a pleasure to be innovative.

If you want to be a creative, “Aha!” type of person too, you should be okay with thinking about work when you’re relaxing. Nobody has much of a chance to think about neat solutions when they’re busy putting out fires on the job or running from one project to the next.

A few weeks ago — when I was on vacation, it turns out — I’d begun thinking about the people who send us maintenance tips for our Mr. O Problem Solver column (see p. 62). We’ve been receiving unique and interesting maintenance tips for as long as the magazine has been around — 17 years now. Guess what — familiar names keep showing up in the mail — with new ideas every time.

I’m sure many of these readers came up with their innovative ideas because they took the time to think about how things could be made to work better, kept up their learning, chatted with their colleagues about trouble spots, and contemplated solutions while they were relaxing.

There’s no reason you couldn’t be the next one to come up with an idea that we’ll publish. Then you’ll see a small honorarium and an exclusive Mr. O Problem Solver T-shirt land in your mailbox. The cheque will buy you a nice lunch or a case of beer. The T-shirt will get you unprecedented honour and recognition from your co-workers. We hope you’ll give it a try.

Bill Roebuck, Editor