Why Filipinos Must Innovate At Work

I love it when government officials say it as it is. No sugar coating. No smooth talking. Just plain truth.

So, it was a good step when Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary Fortunato T. de la Pena summarized the status of innovation in our country as plainly as possible. “Only 15 percent of our entrepreneurs use innovative technology. We are too good at copying and adapting. We still have to do a lot to develop a culture of innovation.”¹ Now that this is out there, we should now as ourselves: So what can be done?

You think being creative and innovating is a waste of time? Let me tell you a couple of stories as a way to convince you how innovating made the career of two employees I know:

1. One multinational company hired an intern for a data encoding project that was expected to be completed in two years. However, after months doing nothing but encoding, the intern had an aha moment. He realized that much of his process could actually be automated. As he had no prior background on programming, he used his weekends researching and studying how to write simple scripts.

To cut the long story short, by innovating, the intern was able to complete his project in six months instead of the-expected two years.

Management knew they had a gold mine in their hands. They made him a regular employee. Five years after, the employee became the company’s innovation manager.

2. There was once a young new hire of a company that manufactures jeans. After months assigned in one of its factories, she realized that the team was incurring a lot of spoilage. When she asked her direct manager about it, the manager said, “It’s okay. We have not yet gone above the acceptable 5% spoilage level.”

The 5% normal spoilage level was not acceptable to the new hire! “Why not 3% or even 2.5%? Why does it have to be 5%?” she thought. So, she drafted a proposal, which she eventually brought up to her manager. As there were too many excess cloths being thrown away (part of the 5%), she proposed to upcycle the spoiled material into tote bags. It was not easy at first, as management felt that a tote bag had no place in a company whose main line is denim jeans. But when the hire crunched her numbers for her project and did deliver good returns, only then did her manager support her proposal.

Later in her career, the new hire became the president and director of a global name in the restaurant category. And Yes, did I tell you that she’s a Filipina?

Employees should not be shy to question their company’s existing processes. By this, I don’t mean being a pain in the behind to the company with your endless complaints. Otherwise, management will see you as a negative element in their company.

Rather, the key here is to question the process AND to provide sound solutions. If you do not have practical solutions, it might make more sense to keep quiet—for now. Do not get me wrong, though. Keeping quiet does not mean accepting the status quo, specially if you feel in your gut that there is something wrong with the system. Once you have figured out a practical solution, speak up. Your manager—if he is a progressive one—would, in fact, appreciate you for your improvement ideas.

If you want to take this topic one step further by understanding why a small business owner should also innovate, read the next article about innovating as a small company.

1. Source: The Inquirer.net. http://www.inquirer.net/specialreports/
thegoodnews/view.php?db=1&article=20080121-113701.

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