Look to All of Your Team For that Next ‘Big Idea’

Departments - View Point

November 7, 2019

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos inventor Richard Montañez.

The PCT staff just returned from San Diego, host city of NPMA PestWorld 2019. During the course of the event, we attended and provided editorial coverage of business and technical sessions, and we met with many of our readers on the exhibit hall floor. It was a productive three-plus days and our staff returned from PestWorld with lots of great ideas on how to make our magazine and website even better in 2020 and beyond.

I always enjoy attending the general sessions, which are hour-long presentations from outside-the-industry speakers. Many of these presenters are high profile and their stories are well known. Others, like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos creator Richard Montañez, who presented the Corteva Agriscience-sponsored opening general session, are less well known, but their stories are no less remarkable.

One day while working as a janitor at a California Frito-Lay plant, an assembly line machine broke down, resulting in a batch of Cheetos coming out plain. Montañez brought home a few bags, and with the assistance of his wife (a talented cook), began experimenting with different spices and powders. The couple’s inspiration was elote, a Mexican grilled corn made with lime and chili.

Through some persistence and knowing the right people, Montañez was able to pitch his idea to Roger Enrico, CEO of PepsiCo (parent company of Frito-Lay). Enrico agreed to a meeting (in front of executives and other management) the next time he was in California. This was an important leadership lesson that Montañez learned. Enrico led as a “deliverer” — someone who believes that your job as a leader is to develop people to their fullest potential.

I think this was great take-home reminder for PCOs in attendance. Enrico recognized that a good idea can come from anyone on the company’s team. I know there are a lot of successful PCOs who understand this, and they actively seek solutions from all of their team.

For example, I know of a pest control technician who made a cleaning device that gets into the nooks and crannies of rodent bait stations. He pitched this idea to management, and they were so impressed that they made this device a part of every technician’s toolbox. We hear similar stories every year as part of the PCT/BASF Technician of the Year Awards editorial coverage. Technicians understand their job, and they do it so well that they become relied upon for any number of reasons, including recommendations for routing, product selection, training activities, best management practices and many others.

The key for PCOs is uncovering their team members’ skill sets and talents and actively involving them in decision-making. As Mark Miller, director of enterprise marketing, General Assembly, noted in the Inc.com article “Where to Find Your Next Big Idea,” your workforce “can’t be a differentiator unless you tap into the ideas and the expertise therein. This is what I call collaborative innovation. Collaborative innovation means tapping into more than just a person’s knowledge, but also their unique skill set, personality, and mode of thinking and acting. More than that, it means actually utilizing these characteristics by harnessing the different ways that person exhibits them.”

As a footnote, upon my return from PestWorld I bought my first-ever bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. While I did find them tasty and interesting, they were a bit too uncomfortably hot for my bland Midwestern palate; I prefer the traditional, tried-and-true Cheetos.

The author is Internet/managing editor of PCT whose favorite snacks include Chili Cheese Fritos and potato chips with French onion dip.