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Companies Promoting Staff Creativity to Ride Out Crisis

Posted January. 24, 2009 05:52,   


Seo Ji-yeon, sales department director at MSD Korea, a subsidiary of the U.S. pharmaceutical firm Merck, says her staff’s meeting style has recently undergone dramatic change.

In the past, meeting documents and papers were filled with computerized tables and figures, but have been replaced by pictures using colored pencils or dyes.

Seo’s department set its goal for this year in a meeting featuring a picture showing the “Big Bang” that created the universe in implying a “new creation.”

“I felt unfamiliar with this type of meeting at first, but after a while, I felt more comfortable seeing pictures that led to more creative thoughts,” Seo said.

To overcome the economic turmoil, more companies are seeking new methods to promote creative ideas in their employees.

Instead of resorting to traditional methods of fighting an economic downturn such as layoffs and cutting costs, most companies are seeking to foster brilliant ideas and creativity in their employees.

One MSD Korea staff said, “After all, human resources are the key to resolving the economic and financial hardship. What the company intends with this method is to improve productivity by utilizing creativity of talent rather than seeking an easier way of restructuring.”

○ Awards competition for innovative ideas

Qualcomm Korea, a subsidiary of the U.S. wireless company, holds the Qualcomm Innovation Network program each year, enabling employees to voice their ideas and enhance the innovative culture of the company.

The competition is based on the concept that a new idea posted on its Web bulletin board by an employee can be shared with and added by other colleagues at the Qualcomm group across the world. Through this method, all Qualcomm employees can cooperate and ultimately develop new products.

A senior executive who participated in the program last year said, “More and more workers are paying attention to events. This is a combination of the company’s need for more talented employees and the contributions and efforts of workers.”

A case in point of linking employee creativity to a company’s sales is Internet search leader Google`s project called "20 percent time."

The project allows each Google employee “20-percent time” to allow them to work on what they are passionate about. This has proved to be the most productive program, given that Google News, Gmail and Google Earth were created this way.

Germany-based Henkel Korea, which produces household utensils and products, has an open innovation project in which its all global affiliates participate.

“We’ve suggested different themes each month and have collected annually about 100,000 innovative thoughts and ideas on average across the world,” the company said.

○ Utilizing innovative talents

Olympus Korea, a digital imaging company, selects the Most Valuable Person among its employees each month and honors him or her for outstanding performance based on creativity.

“The award goes to those with innovative and creative thinking regardless of status. Thus, our employees and executives benefit from the spirit promoting self-development and creativeness,” the company said.

Olympus Korea President Bang Il-sok said, “In 2006, we conducted a unique program in which each employee received a flower plant and made observation reports while growing the plant.”

CJ Lion, a joint venture between CJ Corp. and Japanese household products manufacturer Lion, also offers a reading and debate club to promote free thinking by its workers.

Employees take part in a debate after reading the selected book for the month, and the company pays for the books and provides a debate venue.

The Swedish packaging company Tetra Pak held Monday an event in which all staff made postcards.

In the event designed to commemorate World Environment Day, workers used recycled paper by dissolving paper pack containers and created postcards with distinctive and unique designs.

The company said the event sought to creative thinking by its employees.

jmpark@donga.com swon@donga.com