The IMAOA

I'm thinking of founding "ima-o-a," or IMAOA.

As you know, I'm ordinarily an enemy of incrementalism, and an ally of the Bold Leap. In almost every presentation I quote my old pal, Roger Enrico, former PepsiCo chief: "Beware of the tyranny of making small changes to small things. Rather, make big changes to big things."

Well, I'm not ready to recant and rebuff Roger, but I have been thinking lately about relative national productivity, the sources thereof. It occurs, and I blogged this briefly before, that we spend far too much time focusing on the Fortune 500 (or some other nation's equivalent), and far too little time on the "other 90 percent" of the working population. Bottom line: If you want to improve national productivity, a measure of output per working person, you might be smarter to focus on janitors and waiters and plumbers and electricians than biochemists and software coders—i.e., there are a lot, lot more of the former than the latter. For example, if you could nudge (right word: nudge) productivity up for the folks who, by the thousand, scrape gum off the platforms in Japanese subway stations, you could do more for productivity than by adding another robot in the Toyota factory.

Hence my proposed "institute." I'm calling it the Institute for Modest Advances in Ordinary Activities, or IMAOA. I think I'm onto something here. Any economists among our visitors who'd care to comment?

(In a way I'm stealing this from my old friend, the late Ren McPherson, legendary/Fortune Business Hall of Fame CEO of Dana Corporation, featured 100 years ago in In Search of Excellence. Ren used to say that, "The high-flyers will take care of themselves, and I'll eventually weed out the losers. My real job is to engage the 'middle 60 percent.' If I can induce a modest productivity boost from them, I can move mountains." I think he was right—and his track record surely supports that conclusion.)