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Make small savings, add value

Why now is a good time to change the ‘we have always done it this way’ mentality in order to eliminate waste and stimulate value in a business
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First Published: Sun, Dec 23 2012. 05 45 PM IST
Small things, big difference: Don’t look at cost cuts over any item at work with a negative attitude.
Small things, big difference: Don’t look at cost cuts over any item at work with a negative attitude.
The seven most expensive words in any organization are ‘We have always done it that way’,” says author and thought leader Catherine DeVrye. Recession times mean businesses need to think smart and innovate to save unnecessary costs. In her book, Paperclips Don’t Grow On Trees, DeVrye gives some smart innovation options to business owners and managers looking to survive in a tough economic climate and change obstacles into opportunities. In this chapter, which the book derives its name from, she tells us the story of the man who alerted her to the importance of eliminating waste and adding value to the running of an organization. Edited excerpts.
Paper clips don’t grow on trees
Our notions of cost and value change over the years, as do our value systems and circumstances. About 20 years ago I was a member of Sydney Rotary Club and met many delightful people through that association. One such gentleman was Paul Cotton, the then New Zealand Consul General.
He was dignified, urbane and successful—at the top of his profession; which is probably why over two decades later, I vividly recall a story that seemed somewhat out of character with his distinguished diplomatic posting.
One day at lunch, he proudly proclaimed that he had never spent a cent on the purchase of paper clips. ‘I figure that as many paper clips must come into the office as go out of the office so I insist that staff remove them, prior to throwing the paper in the bin.’
Remember, this was long before the days of recycling being popular. At the time, I must confess that I thought this was a rather odd, penny pinching practice. After all, I was an IBM executive, during a stage of rapid growth, and felt that the cost of paper clips was pretty inconsequential to a larger organization.
How wrong I was!
Many years later, I still think of that story and now view both the principle and the person in a totally different light. Paul was certainly not an eccentric and thrifty bureaucrat but a visionary—both economically and ecologically.
Even such a small saving actually signalled a much bigger shift in the mindset of every employee. Just like Mum often chastised me that money didn’t grow on trees, likewise… paper clips don’t grow on trees!
This made me curious about the origins of the paper clip.
A Google search proved fascinating but confusing, as there was little agreement on Wikipedia and other sites as to who invented the paper clip! It seems there were several patents filed in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Norway, the UK and the USA. I’ll leave the ownership debate to others but the paper clip has certainly has been around for a long time.
Its prime purpose was to replace paper and string when bundling piles of paper. Today, these ubiquitous office supplies are so versatile that there are even claims on the Internet that only one in 10 paper clips are used for their intended purpose. They are commonly called on to clean out crevices, re-set electronic device, hold up hems and twiddle into various shapes as a form of stress relief!
Paperclips Don’t Grow On Trees: By Catherine DeVrye, Westland Books, 212 pages, Rs 250,
It became far more than a fastener in Norway during World War II. Prohibited from wearing anything with the king’s initials, Norwegians wore paper clips on their lapels to show national unity and opposition to the German occupation.
Let’s show international unity to put paper clip thinking into practice and cut unnecessary costs. Let’s adopt paper clip productivity and pursue paper clip profitability. Like the humble paper clip, this concept can, literally, help hold our organizations together. Of course, this means I’ll never be invited to address the Paper Clip Manufacturers conference—but c’est la vie!
Another old fashioned recycling tip
Paper doesn’t grow on trees either (figuratively speaking), so if the paper that comes into your office is clean, reusable and not confidential, why not quickly place it in a tray conveniently located near where you open the mail? When you have a pile, you can easily cut pages of standard A4 sheets in half or quarters and staple together for a notepad. Saves money, saves trees and costs very little time—probably no more time than going to the store to buy a new notepad.
Handle paper only once
The previous example may slightly break the old adage of handling paper only once. Again I
emphasise that it is vital to consider the value of your time—the most valuable asset any of us have in life.
There are entire books written on time management (a bit more on that later), but they all agree that we should handle paper only once—act on it, delegate it, file it or bin it. The same principle
applies to emails.
Re-phrase to re-think
When confronted with any cost cuts, we tend to think in a negative sense so maybe it’s timely to take a more positive approach and re-think how we encourage employees and others along a more cost conscious path.
I don’t know about you but I’m one of those people who gets annoyed—if not downright
defensive—when other people tell me what I ‘should’ do. Most of us are much more receptive to suggestions along the lines that we ‘might consider an alternative approach’ or ‘look at things a little differently’.
It doesn’t need to be a case of abundance or scarcity.
Let’s shift the tone from one of saying, ‘Don’t buy anything’ (paper clips or whatever) to, ‘Isn’t it amazing that we haven’t needed to buy paper clips for X months.’
Rather than say: ‘All employees must turn out the lights,’ ask: ‘ Let’s see if we can save enough on energy costs next month to have a staff night out at the movies?’
Talk to your employees to let them understand the true financial position as they may be more willing to make cuts if they understand the facts and this will help reduce workplace rumours.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Dec 23 2012. 05 45 PM IST
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