By: Bruce Hamilton, GBMP

A chance reading recently provided a thought from Henry Thoreau that I think is worth sharing. Thoreau said:

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

The quote caused me to reflect on an incident some years ago at a film manufacturer:

I had been asked to visit with a team of engineers and scientists to troubleshoot a process problem on the production line. While I had no special technical understanding of this process, the project manager felt that another pair of eyes might help to discover the cause of impurities deposited on their finished product: polarized film.

After a short meeting, our team of erudite problem-solvers took to the floor, which, in this case was a 100 foot-long automated coating line. Film wound in serpentine fashion through prep, coating, drying and slitting zones over dozens of stainless steel rollers, accumulators and knives. When the two technicians manning the line were told to take a break during our investigation, I objected and asked if they could work with the team. One of our team, a gentleman with a Ph.D. in chemistry, grunted disapproval and then declared that he had isolated the problem in the process and had a solution. “MEK [methylelthyl ketone] on this roller,” he said, pointing to a large stainless cylinder. He turned to one of the techs and barked at her, “Wash this down with MEK.”

Both technicians glanced over to me, one of them shaking his head slightly. “What do you think?” I asked them. One tech responded tentatively, “I used DI [de-ionized] water for a similar problem in the past.” I glanced back to the problem-solving team, but no one was paying attention. In a slightly elevated tone, I repeated the techs idea. “She says that DI water has worked for cleaning in the past.”

After a short pause, our Ph.D. chemist replied with an air of condescension, “Just use the MEK.”

By now, readers, you may think you know where this story is headed. And you’re right! After several hours of experimenting with MEK, the team decided it was not working. “How about trying the DI water?” I asked. The project manager shrugged and replied, “Ok, lets give a try.”

The cleaning with DI water worked; the residue of impurities on the film vanished. To my amazement at the end of the day, the team thanked me – not the technicians – for the idea. I corrected them, but Im not sure they understood. To paraphrase Henry Thoreau:

“The greatest insult that was ever paid me was when no one asked me what I thought, or attended to my ideas.”

Are you attending to the ideas of your employees, or are they invisible?


Bruce Hamilton, GBMP 

This post is reprinted from Bruce Hamiltons blog,  See Bruce also at his free monthly management webinar, Teatime With The Toast Dude. Register at In November, Bruce will speak at AMEs annual conference in Jacksonville, Florida.


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