I am enjoying these discussions and have two comments.
The first is re the discussion about maintaining a balance between centralized control and decentralized application of local knowledge and experience. John points out and I agree wholeheartedly with him that relatively few companies do this well. One way we saw companies with best-practice idea systems doing this well was in coming up with clever topics for people to focus their ideas on. After finding that it was generating 19,000 pages of non-customer-related paper per employee per year, LaSalle Bank, for example, asked employees for ideas to reduce paperwork. It translated a higher-order corporate-level need into something employees could relate to and address at the individual level. The resulting flood of ideas made a huge impact. This is a kind of alignment, a focus of the book Built To Last , precisely because that was how their “visionary” companies struck the balance between centralized direction and decentralized action.
The second comment is that I agree with both Jeff’s and Kelleen’s comments re why managers don’t listen to ideas. I was reminded of an tip I came across in the World War II Training Within Industries programs aimed at helping harried supervisors ramp up production rapidly to wartime levels. (Some industries increased by over 1,000 percent in a year. Imagine how busy those managers were!). It was “never be too busy, to find out how to be less busy”.