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After all, when you have invented something, it exists. You can revise it or change it, but you can't "reinvent" it after you have already invented it.

I never heard the term when I first entered the workforce. But somewhere in the 1970s or so, corporate executives-began using the word, and using it a lot. Then as now, the nation had its usual economic ups and downs, but suddenly after one downturn, our nation was heavily laden with companies that had reinvented themselves.

What happened is that after one of the downturns, there was the typical response of layoffs, consolidations, divestitures, product redesign, relocation of operations, and changes of assignments. Although corporations have made these sorts of adjustments since the dawn of the industrial age, the guys on mahogany row suddenly thought they were seeing something different, and they began to speak of these changes as "reinvention."

I am not sure why they seized on the word, but my guess is that it was because if they went to stockholders at the annual meeting and said they were trying to cut costs and improve profits, that didn't sound as though they had applied much cerebral brilliance to their problems. Or maybe it was because there were a lot of young people just assuming managerial positions who thought the routine economic cycles they were seeing were something previously unheard of. Whatever the case, managers dredged up the word "reinvent" to imply they were making brilliant and daring moves when, in fact, they were doing the same things managers have done for generations before them. If you stand at a podium and say you are "reinventing" your company, that sounds better than saying you are laying off 20% of your workforce and closing three plants.

If you think you have "reinvented" your company, more than likely you haven't. So to clear up any confusion, I'll tell you when you haven't reinvented anything.

  • You haven't reinvented your company when you implement a major layoff.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you fire the telephone operators and replaced them with a computerized answering system.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you demand that all your vendors reduce their prices 10%.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you begin outsourcing work to Asia.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you tear down office partitions and put everyone in cubicles.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you order all traveling employees to use budget airlines.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you fire all your engineers but bring back most of them as private contractors.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you shut down your tech-support department and tell your secretaries they now have to answer calls to your help line.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you eviscerate your warranties to the point where they are virtually worthless.
  • You haven't reinvented your company when you ship incomplete or defective products just so you can bill the customer this fiscal quarter.

When have you reinvented your company? When you stop posturing for Wall Street and make an honest effort to put out a good product. And most important of all, you've reinvented your company when you begin treating customers and employees the way you would like to be treated.

-- Ronald Khol, Editor
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