July 28, 2021

A decision for massive layoffs of a Brazilian textile company was not accepted. Instead, the team decided they were not going silently into the night to borrow a line from Independence Day, shout out to Will Smith.

Welcome to Out The Mud a series where we unpack amazing stories where creativity was used to end pain with fairly limited resources.

If you have worked for a large corporation you have experienced a top-down solution from executives or administrators (can't forget about my public sector folks) and felt it was not quite right. Most of the time these decisions are accepted as fact due to power structures not only within companies but also in our society. You do not question authority, right? Well, if we look at history many times not listening to authority is what gets us closer to freedom, health, and opportunity. The idea that a small group of people should develop a solution to a problem that impacts a large group of people is an idea that is played out.

Tapetes São Carlos is a textile company in Brazil that got this very news. There were to be layoffs, shutdowns, and multiple cost cutting cycles effective immediately. The São Carlos team made their own decision to cut-costs without any layoffs. This was a decision that CEO Clemen Boeckers made without asking permission. A theme you will find in creative problem solving is that often time you ask for forgiveness instead of for permission.

They organized creative teams consisting of people from every position and job type you could think of. The rallying cry was ending the pain of layoffs, up-ending families, and worries about the next meal or financial emergency. They used a mantra posted in the walls of a place I spent a very significant moment in, the Stanford d. School. "The only way to do something, is to do something." 

They used Design Thinking as a framework to more clearly define the problem and come up with solutions that would end the pain. They came up with several solutions. One highlight was a team that came up with an idea for direct sales of wasted materials in the form of area rugs, mats, and runners etc... Others on the team were not feeling the idea. So the team of three took a catalog and in two hours made over twenty sales in the local area (hold my greatness). This idea and many others that came out of week of design thinking prevented all layoffs.

What's the core lesson of how Tepetes São Carlos got it out of the mud. Well, first although we preach listening sometimes if it does not sound right or feel right it is not right. It was not like the decision was inherently bad after all the board probably crunched numbers, ran projections, and held on as long as they could. The problem is there was not enough transparency about the real state of things. We have to trust employees with this type of information and work with them to figure out how to prevent the spread of pain.

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