Want to improve your organization, learn to steal things!

With conference season in full swing, this is a great time to go out and steal to make your organization better. I am not talking about towels and the little bars of soap, I am talking about ideas.

When I served in the Air Force, we were trained on continuous process improvement. I served during the time when General Bill Creech ran the Tactical Air Command and introduced Total Quality Management (TQM) to the Air Force. One idea within TQM was the concept of benchmarking. While benchmarking is its own discipline and process, it can be used realistically by every individual and organization who is interested in improving. While in the Air Force, we would regularly go to sister bases after they were inspected and conduct what was called a crosstalk. During the crosstalk, we would learn as much as we could from them as we prepared for our inspection. We wanted to know what they did right and what they did wrong, so we could improve our processes.

During the crosstalks, I would encourage our team to look out for great ideas and write them down on a worksheet. We would then review them at our base and determine what we could improve upon and implement. According to Bogan and English (1994), “Benchmarking is the on-going search for best practices that produce superior performance when adapted and implemented in one’s organization” (p. 4). Improving operations means looking everywhere for a great idea. Just because we are in Cooperative Extension, doesn’t mean we have to only look at other Cooperative Extension operations. When the Air Force had problems getting parts to the war zone in a timely manner, they looked to commercial airlines and package delivery companies for answers.

In the book, Benchmarking for best practices: Winning through innovative adaptation, Bogan and English include a great exercise called “Steal This Idea.” In short, you have a worksheet to collect your ideas as you see them, and another worksheet to classify and score them based on your operations. Each team member has an opportunity to sell this new idea to team members.

So, the next time you are at a conference, go armed with a notebook specifically to steal great ideas for improving your organization. The ideas could be a process for event registration to a new idea for displaying or distributing information. Collect these ideas, improve them, and improve your organization.


Bogan, C., & English, M. (1994). Benchmarking for best practices: Winning through innovative adaptation. New York: McGraw-Hill.