Paperclips Don't Grow On Trees-Add Value; Not Cost To The Bottom Line


In today's economy, no leader-whether in the private or public sector-is immune from fluctuations in financial circumstances. Post GFC, many remain nervous about cost but can eco-friendly also be eco-nomic?

In the best-seller ‘Good Service is Good Business', I wrote that the seven most expensive words in any organisation are: ‘We have always done it that way.'

The good news is that tough times offer a greater incentive to re-think our standard modus operandi. There's no better time to eliminate waste-and stimulate value in your organisation; to re-assess what adds true value-or simply cost.

Here's a few excerpts from ‘Paperclips Don't Grow on Trees-Add Value not cost to your bottom line' that can help you think of ways to cut costs without reducing the customer experience.


Our notions of cost and value change over the years, as do our value systems. About 20 years ago I was a member of Sydney Rotary and met many delightful people through that association. One such gentleman was the then New Zealand Consul General.

He was dignified, urbane and successful - at the top of his profession; which is probably why over two decades later, I still vividly recall a story that seemed somewhat out of character with his distinguished diplomatic posting. One day at lunch, he proudly proclaimed that he had never spent a cent on the purchase of paper clips.

‘I figure that as many paper clips come into the office as go out of the office so I insist that staff remove them, prior to throwing the paper in the bin.'

Remember, this was long before the days of recycling becoming popular. At the time, I must confess that I thought this was a rather odd, penny pinching practice. After all, I was an international IBM executive, during a stage of rapid growth, and felt that the cost of paper clips was inconsequential to a larger organisation.

How wrong I was! Many years later, I still think of that story and now view both the principle and the person in a totally different light. He was certainly not an eccentric and thrifty bureaucrat but a visionary leader- both economically and ecologically.

Even such a small saving actually signalled a much bigger shift in the mindset of every employee. Just like Mum often chastised me that money didn't grow on trees, likewise... paper clips don't grow on trees! Of course, eco-friendly is also eco-nomic.

Let's not waste any resources-natural, monetary or human. Let's put ‘paper clip thinking' into practice and cut unnecessary costs. Let's adopt paperclip productivity and pursue paperclip profitability. Like the humble paperclip, this concept can literally, help ‘hold' our organisations together.

Of course, I'll never be invited to address the Paper Clip Manufacturers convention-but would welcome the opportunity to add value to your next conference.


Think laterally and make sure that whatever you do is aligned with the values of your organisation and the expectations of your customer market place.

In most, hotels around the globe, there are usually signs in the bathroom, encouraging guests along the lines: ‘We are committed to protecting the environment and by reusing your towel; it will save on water usage'. At the risk of being cynical, I doubt that the environment is the key reason that most hotels ask guests to reuse towels and suspect it may have more to do with economic than ecofriendly reasons. However, let's face it-most of us don't have fresh towels at home every day, so it's not a big ask.

Some hotels now extend the reuse of towels to the reuse of sheets-and have a similar tent card on your bed to give you the option of not having your sheets changed daily.

Frankly, it would be more of an incentive if hotels offered you a slight reduction on your bill if you chose not to have your room serviced every day.

I predict that it will only be a matter of time before this becomes the norm. After all, the suggestion to reuse towels, now fairly universal around the world, started in a small way in a remote area of Tasmania many years ago. During the protests relating to the damming of the Franklin River, it's alleged that an accommodation operator near this remote wilderness area became one of the first (if not the first) to suggest guests reuse their towels. At the time, this was somewhat unheard of but because eco tourism was in its early stages and most visitors to that area were environmentally sensitive of the need to preserve water, it wasn't a big ask to reuse a towel-and was aligned with the values of the hotel plus the core value systems of most guests. They still had the choice to receive a clean towel every day but possibly felt a little guilty doing so in that location at the height of the debate on water resources. It's hard to be precise but over a long period of time, it's now common practice to give guests the choice to hang up their towel or throw it in the tub a fresh one.

Do clean towels daily add cost or value to most customers? It depends but don't throw in the towel in regard to looking at creative cost savings. And if we're always clean after a shower, in theory, maybe we should never need to wash towels at all-but let's not go there).

Author & Keynote Speaker


Catherine is the best-selling author of 8 non-fiction books & former Australian Executive Woman of the Year Award. She has been a full time professional speaker for 17 years...

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