SBM Articles


An Innovative Solution For Red Tape

by Travis Sheridan

There is an opportunity sitting under our collective noses that will put our region on the map. People will come from far and wide to gaze at its splendor. David Letterman will come out of retirement to interview the man or woman responsible for its genesis. Businesses will attribute increased profitability to its existence, and customers will declare it as “the best thing that ever happened to customer service.” It will be built by the community and for the community. It will honor the past and at the same time provide hope for the future. It will serve as a constant reminder of what once prohibited innovation and progress. It will be the ultimate “if the world gives you lemons” example. I want to present to you the concept of creating the world’s largest ball of red tape.

Think about the process of innovation and how it gets derailed within organizations, municipalities and businesses of every size. I blame the significant amount of metaphorical red tape. Does enough exist to put the region on the map if it were shed from its role as a hindrance and became construction material for a regional art project? It worked for Cawker City, Kan., which is home to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.

The sign reads, “World’s Largest Ball of Twine…Thrift + Patience = Success.” This ball was not always the largest in its category. The title was previously attributed to Darwin, Minn. When the stringer responsible for the Darwinian ball passed away, the twine-ball maintenance also passed. The community wanted to preserve one man’s vision and effort by keeping it as-is. They preserved it right out of the record books. It is a bit ironic that the largest ball of twine in Darwin, Minn., lost its ranking because of the survival of the fittest. In Cawker City, Kan., the community carried on the mission of Frank Stoeber – the founding stringer – and turned the effort into a community project. Even visitors were afforded the opportunity to complete a couple of orbits with new twine in hand. The effort of Stoeber did not succumb to death by red tape.

Look around the office, the dais, the classroom or the boardroom. I am sure there is plenty of red tape getting in the way of progress and innovation. Red tape dates back all the way to the 16th century. Petitions from Henry VIII’s annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon were wrapped in red tape. Even a king couldn’t get around the entrapping nature of red tape. While I do not advocate the removal of sound policies and procedures, I do advocate the removal of unnecessary red tape. If each business, municipality, nonprofit organization, educational institution, and startup identified one layer of red tape to remove and donated it to the collective construction of the World’s Largest Ball of Red Tape, we would see tremendous benefits.

Wilmington, Del., claims the largest ball of rubber bands. Jackson, Wyo., is home to the largest ball of barbed wire. It’s more than just fun to watch paint dry in Alexandria, Ind., as it is home to the largest ball of paint. Philatelists from around the world make their way to Boys Town, Neb. , to witness the world’s largest ball of stamps. All of these other cities are great, but we need to focus on being authentic. Removing red tape and placing it in public view lets the world know that we are committed to efficiency and innovation. Visitors to our region could be welcomed by a sign on the freeway that reads “Home of the World’s Largest Ball of Red tape…Innovation - Bureaucracy = Progress.”

Travis Sheridan is the assistant vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship for the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. A writer and speaker, he focuses on using innovation as a driver for economic and community development. Follow him on Twitter @TravisSheridan.

Submitted 10 years 150 days ago
Categories: categoryThe Innovation Roadmap
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