Brain power

How movement between plants can spark innovation

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Gaining a fresh perspective on things is often at the heart of innovation as it allows us to apply our existing knowledge in new circumstances.  It’s fundamentally why immigrants are often so creative as they bring that fresh perspective to their adopted home.

New research1 from the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) highlights that we can get a similar boost just by moving employees between company sites.

Generating ideas

The authors highlight how creativity and innovation are so important during the current Covid crisis, but that something relatively straightforward could be a low-cost way to boost employee creativity.

“Workers increasingly create value not only by performing their core duties but by contributing to broader organizational objectives such as competitiveness and innovation as well,” the researchers say.

“While front-line innovation is common, the ways in which managers can most effectively support it are not well understood. In our research, we have shown for the first time how strategic front-line mobility – the short, focused, and purposeful exchange of staff members between different company sites – can substantially boost these employees’ contributions to innovation and organizational learning in manufacturing companies.”

Fresh perspectives

The researchers gathered data from front-line employees at a large, multinational car parts manufacturer.  They were particularly interested in any ideas generated by those employees, and the economic impact of those ideas four years down the road.  They also monitored the individual mobility of each employee across the company’s various sites.

In total, the dataset consisted of over 21,000 ideas that had been submitted by around 2,500 employees.  It shows that there appears to be a clear boost when employees moved between sites, as not only did doing so help them generate new ideas, but it also helped with the spread of those ideas across the business.

The researchers highlight how front-line employees are often crucial to the overall innovation of any large organization as they are often best placed to know what’s working and what isn’t, both internally and for customers.  They often possess a huge amount of tacit knowledge that can be extremely valuable if organizations can tap into it.

Obviously, when they’re transferred to a new site, they take their extensive knowledge with them, which in turn helps to circulate that knowledge across the organization.

While there have been obvious restrictions in mobility as a result of the pandemic, the researchers believe that as restrictions ease, this could be a relatively straightforward way of boosting the innovative output of any large organization.

Article source: How Movement Between Plants Can Spark Innovation.

Header image source: Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash.


  1. Cornelius, P. B., Gokpinar, B., & Sting, F. J. (2021). Sparking manufacturing innovation: How temporary interplant assignments increase employee idea values. Management Science, 67(4), 2231-2250.
Rate this post

Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

Related Articles

Back to top button