Need Great Ideas to Improve Performance?

The water sector is full of opportunities for utilities to borrow and adapt ideas and best practices from others, without fear of consequences

In the 1990s, consultant Tom Peters enjoyed a reputation as a business guru, a breaker of outdated norms and traditions, a promoter of new and exciting ideas and approaches.

One thing he railed against was the tendency of companies to reject concepts or innovations they didn’t come up with on their own. He called it the “not invented here” syndrome: Company A would refuse to adopt something, even if likely to be beneficial simply because it was developed by Company B.

He encouraged companies to replace that mindset with a new mantra: “Not invented here but swiped with pride.” Of course this didn’t extend to stealing trade secrets or infringing patents. It did involve being willing to copy certain great ideas from other companies, including competitors, with appropriate customizations and enhancements.

Peters advised, “Put NIH behind you — and learn to copy/adapt/adopt from the best. Become a learning organization. Shuck your arrogance — ‘If it isn’t our idea, it can’t be that good’ — and become a determined copycat/adapter/enhancer.”


“Not invented here” and “creative swiping” are different in character in the utility sector, although they still apply. The great thing about the utility sector is that excellent ideas can translate easily from one utility to another because the organizations are not competitive.

That is, Utility A and Utility B share a commitment to a set of public benefits, and neither does harm by borrowing ideas from the other — or even using something the other created with no changes at all (though perhaps with the courtesy of asking permission).

This is important, because it means small utilities with extremely limited resources can benefit greatly by borrowing from larger utilities with bigger staffs and budgets. One area where this especially applies is in public outreach and education.

Clean-water and drinking water utilities serve customers who do not fully understand or appreciate the services they receive. Some utilities do a great job of filling that information void with plant tours, literature, public service announcements, videos and similar tools.

Other utilities have the option to replicate and adapt these tools for their own purposes, instead of having to reinvent the wheel. In fact, there are cases where a utility could pick up and use, completely as is, something another utility or public organization created.


A good example of this is a video created by the New England Water Environment Association as part of its Water for Life outreach campaign. Titled A Day in the Life of a Water Professional, this video shows people in various roles at Upper Blackstone Clean Water explaining what they do, why they care, and why it matters.

In just under four minutes, the video makes a strong and emotionally compelling case for the value of the services delivered not just by Upper Blackstone but by any clean-water agency. It’s available on YouTube, so any utility can encourage customers to watch it, such as by linking to it on their website or mentioning it in a bill insert or newsletter.

You can find this video at or by searching YouTube under “NEWEA Water for Life.”


The public water is full of materials that any utility can use or easily adapt. For example, the Water Environment Federation and the American Water Works Association offer a wide range of ready-made resources that any utility can simply pick up and use.

It doesn’t take a large staff or an expansive budget to create a serviceable public outreach program. Any utility can get started by taking and using materials that already exist, free of charge, there for the asking. In other words, by engaging in a little creative swiping.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.