Leadership: Encouraging Bright Ideas


May 8, 2009: Since the 1990s the U.S. armed forces have saved several billion dollars, and improved their efficiency and effectiveness, by listening. In the 1990s, each of the services adopted a program where troops or civilian employees who come up with a money saving idea, get paid a reward. The savings for these ideas amounts to several hundred million dollars each year. The maximum award is about $25,000, with the most common amounts ranging from $200 to $10,000. In addition, those who get the award also get public recognition. Most (over 20,000 a year) of the ideas are not useful, but the 20 percent that are not only save money, but make life easier for the troops.

The U.S. Air Force IDEA (Innovative Development through Employee Awareness) program is the largest and most successful. The air force program actually began during World War II, when the air force was still a part of the army. The army had a similar, but more modest, program that began during World War I. The navy and marines have since instituted their own programs.

These programs not only recognize and reward innovation, but encourage it. This is important, because it creates a climate of constant innovation. It's hard to quantify that, but the fact that the U.S. armed forces are considered the most effective in the world is one result.



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