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Creative Convincing for Corporate Change

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Creative Convincing for Corporate Change

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by Pamela Gordon

Ian’s ultimate goal was for his corporation to waste zero resources: “At the end of each day, I want only people and finished product to leave the plant.”

“Impossible,” you say? What “impossible” goals do you have for organizational change? And if you don’t have any, then why not? You have full permission to envision and foster healthier organizations-for people, profit, and/or planet. See how Ian is well on his way to meeting his goal-leveraging his passion, know-how, and creative convincing of others.

Ian McKeown loves his area of the world-the Leven Valley near Glasgow, Scotland. With its bonny Loch Lomond, rolling green hills, and a meandering river, you would too. The Leven River draws a half-circle around Polaroid’s manufacturing plant, where Ian is the environmental manager. When Ian talks to Polaroid’s managers about adopting procedures that will save money for the company and reduce waste, he uses his training and experience, love of the Leven Valley, and persistence.

At first Ian received many “no’s” to his ideas about manufacturing, packaging, and shipping goods differently to reduce expensive waste. One of his most effective techniques is to repeatedly ask seemingly innocent questions about current procedures, until he overcomes people’s resistance to trying new processes that will benefit the environment. Ian espouses the Japanese practice Ask Why Five Times. He finds that although people may first respond defensively when asked why or why not, gradually they lose their defensiveness and become open to the idea.

My favorite of Ian’s creative convincing techniques is the one he used to persuade the film division’s management and operators to use recycling bins. The operators, after testing the quality of the film, used to drop the scrap-film, plastic, and metal parts-into the trash. Management at first rejected Ian’s idea for separating and recycling the scraps, claiming that the operators would not want to do so. Knowing that there was a dispute at the time between management and the operators, Ian said to the operators, “Management told me that you wouldn’t want to use the bins.” That clinched it-the operators agreed to use the recycling bins (in part, perhaps, to spite management).

Ian told me, “You use what you can and most of the time it’s easy, as people do want to do a good job.” Thanks to people like Ian McKeown, whose waste-reduction ideas have saved his corporation millions of dollars each quarter, a good job for the planet is usually a good job for profit.

If I asked you Five Times, would you latch onto your “impossible” corporate goals, and drive to “yes” with all your passion, know-how, and creative convincing?


  • Notice corporate waste-whether environmental or otherwise-and give yourself permission to feel disgusted by it.
  • Use that emotional energy to create ideas for improving the health of the organization, its customers and shareholders, the community, and the environment.
  • Gain endorsement for your ideas using business language: lead your points with profit in mind-starting with the strategies that yield the highest rewards to profit and planet.

Pamela J. Gordon, Certified Management Consultant, is author of Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment (Berrett-Koehler, 2001), and president of Technology Forecasters, Inc.-Helping technology executives reduce manufacturing costs and meet environmental goals profitably: www.techforecasters.com.