Why We Are the Key to Financial Recovery

03/21/2011 09:30 pm 21:30:40 | Updated May 25, 2011

You may think you are having problems, but did it occur to you that you could be having solutions instead? I'll bet you will be as angry as I was when it dawned on me the solutions to our current problems are freely available to us, but we are blind to them.

The naked truth is we already have all the resources necessary to improve our economy by trillions of dollars and create as many jobs as can be filled. Every major energy source throughout history has been quietly lying beneath the surface like a Mother Load of gold, oil, uranium, and gas, waiting to be discovered.

Eight trillion dollars is the conservative value of the immense intellectual capital, wisdom, and experience residing in our citizens, yet we have failed to notice it, much less monetize it. Why? Hubris.

We know it all and we know everything better than anyone, so why listen to anyone else? We still think of workers as unworthy cogs in a machine without any potential value to contribute outside their ordered tasks, as if we believed cars were only to be used to drive to work and could never be used for any other purpose.

People have an innate drive to contribute and to be helpful, yet somewhere along the path we decided the economics of mass production were more valuable. We didn't realize it took the spirit and soul out of people once they made a few suggestions, hoping to be helpful, and their efforts were ignored.

While our collective experience cost a fortune to create, we turn others off, like putting an old hard drive in the closet that is still full of valuable information.

In most organizations the majority of the problems that existed decades ago persist, since no one listened to those who spoke of them, no one could bring them to the attention of those who had the ability to solve them.

As a nation, we must learn to listen to one another better. Collaboration and the drive for survival during World War II was the last time everyone took suggestions seriously and had to abandon selfish and self-protective motives.

If you are like 99.99% of Americans, since childhood your ideas have been discounted countless times, probably so many times that you have shut down your observational and creative ability.

But even now, you probably notice things several times a day that you might know how to improve if you put your mind to it. Everyone does, but these observations and bits of knowledge are rarely collected and consequentially drop through the cracks or are lost forever in dusty file drawers.

Since so few of these bits of knowledge are formally collected and indexed, most are lost instead of leading to product improvements, new products, new industries, new jobs, new companies, new tax revenue, new schools, better health care, longer lives, less pollution, more resources, lower costs, and a myriad of other benefits.

Toyota gathers over 700,000 suggestions a year and the company implements over 99%, making more than 600,000 improvements a year. Contrary to institutional beliefs, most of the suggestions common people on the front lines make are valuable.

Look what 20 million ideas over 40 years at Toyota did to our automotive industry. Toyota took the process we used to win the war (which we quit using) and used it to gain the upper hand in the car wars.

How can we turn the corner and renew America? The numbers point the way and are truly astounding. There are more than 80 million baby boomers in the U.S. Just counting the last ten years, that totals 800 million man-years of experience, only a tiny portion of which has been tapped.

If each person had only observed one single problem opportunity each year and solved it that would make available 800 million improvements.

If you value the experience a person gets every year at only $100, the baby boomers' experience is worth $8 trillion, and that is for the most part wasted, because hardly anyone has noticed and appreciated it enough to capture and capitalize on it.

If 67,000 Toyota employees could come up with and implement nearly 600,000 improvements a year, what do you think 80 million baby boomers could come up with to help solve America's problems, create jobs, and get us back on track? But could we? Would we? Will we? What could another 75 million solutions mean to the U.S. economy?

It won't need to take another world war to get our attention this time. Our current financial crisis should do the trick.

Larry MacDonald is president of Edison Innovations, Inc. a company that generates intellectual property based on the collection and analysis of previously unarticulated market needs. Larry lives in Santa Rosa, CA and has been involved with innovation all his life.