MRO Magazine

To Improve Work, Re-Imagine It

By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.   

Want to solve a thorny service problem? Re-envision your strategy? Plan a new way to conduct reliability-improvement events? You can accomplish these -- and hundreds of other work goals -- by re-imagi...

Want to solve a thorny service problem? Re-envision your strategy? Plan a new way to conduct reliability-improvement events? You can accomplish these — and hundreds of other work goals — by re-imagining the way you do things. Pick one or two re-imagining techniques, and watch your success soar.

Ask it. Pick a half-hour period, and call (or e-mail) peers in other businesses or industries. Ask them how they address the problem or need you’re interested in. You’ll get some imaginative responses.

Bring in the visionaries. Your visionaries can include people who have little knowledge of your business … folks who clean houses for a living … retail clerks … poets … millwrights … electrical engineers. They’ll bring a whole new perspective to your issues.

Change the goals. Take a few moments and redefine what you’re trying to do. Can you restate your goals? If so, new solutions may quickly present themselves.


Combine stuff. Re-imagine by creating unusual combinations of people, processes or products. To address a customer service need, for instance, you might pair a custodian who has no customer service background with a bizarre imaginary product, and invite him to create a menu of customer service options.

Create an alternate universe. Yep. Create imaginary planets, societies, people and space travel possibilities. What would your opportunities look like in an alternate universe? Play around and you’ll develop real-world results.

Create an emergency. What if your need or opportunity was a critical emergency? What if you only had a day to fix the problem? Create some artificial pressure.

Cross-consult. Seek advice from family members, friends, industry colleagues, even imaginary historical figures. These folks may know little about the problem you’re facing. They won’t bring knowledge to the table, but they will bring a fresh perspective.

Map it. Draw an imaginary map of the way your department or business can grow. It might be a geographical map. Or an abstract map. Or simply a free-flowing diagram showing the possible flow of customers or work to your location.

Query the customers. You don’t need to conduct a survey. Just put yourself in a position where you can talk with real live customers or clients — even machine operators. Don’t ask focus questions. Just have a conversation about what’s on your mind and see what you learn.

Reduce. What single item or resource is the essence of what you’re trying to do? Answer this question and build a hypothetical solution around it.

Repopulate. Suppose you could repopulate your customer base. Who would your customers be? How would you meet them? Why would they buy from you? These imaginary customers may give you business-building clues.

Rewrite the manual. What part of the procedure manual affects the problem you’re discussing? Pull it out and reconfigure it from scratch. What new ideas develop?

Stage an innovation contest. Look for the most innovative idea or solution from your people. Encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Give a prize to the winners.

Start from scratch. Imagine that a typical customer or employee is newly born. How would you want her to interact with you for the very first time? The answer may generate amazing possibilities.

Take away. How would you solve your problem if you didn’t have all the people, equipment, technology and resources you have now? Take things away, one at a time, and watch your solutions crystallize.

Take out the Tinkertoys. As a creativity-building exercise, use those old-fashioned Tinkertoys and kid’s building blocks to visually and tactically solve your problem. By working with your hands, fresh approaches may settle in your mind.

Trace it to the beginning. As you’re contemplating your issue, ask yourself: where did it originate? How did it originate? As you consider the circumstances around those beginnings, you may uncover some clues about future directions.

Transport to someplace new. What would happen if your business unit was suddenly relocated halfway across the world? Or in the Arctic? Or in the South American jungle? How would you re-engineer to meet new challenges and demands? Answer this question and you might glean some insights into changes you can make where you are right now.

Visit a primitive society. What would happen if your enterprise existed thousands of years ago, in a very primitive world? How would you succeed? The answer to this question may be strangely similar to what a high-powered business consultant might tell you today.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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