The Frontline Innovation Factory

If you’ve spent anytime on Amazon, you are probably familiar with their recommendation feature – you know, the bar of products across your screen with the title “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”…

It has been very successful to say the least – many shoppers, having found what they are looking for, are delighted to look at other items that compliment their find. (Especially me, when it comes to books!)

When the engineer who developed the idea, Greg Linden, developed a prototype and took it to his boss, he was expressly prohibited from proceeding further with the project.

Wow – Talk about a missed opportunity!

In the vast majority of other, larger, older organizations, the idea would have been killed right then and there. But, as we all know, Amazon was (and is) different.

Customer centricity has been deeply ingrained in Amazon’s culture from the outset. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has been known to leave an empty seat open at a conference table to remind all attendees that they should consider the seat occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.”

Amazon’s overriding respect for the customer gave Linden the freedom to proceed with his trial – even over the objections of his senior vice president. The results were so clear and irrefutable that the feature was fast-tracked, and shopping cart recommendations, as we know them, were born.

That’s the power of the Front Line.

In my experience innovation can only come from the bottom. Those closest to the problem are in the best position to solve it. I believe any organization that depends on innovation must embrace chaos. Loyalty and obedience are not your tools; you must use measurement and objective debate to separate the good from the bad.

– Greg Linden, former developer and engineer,


ChurchWorld Frontline Facts

The front line is the richest untapped source of ideas and innovation

  • Those closest to the Guests most often understand their needs best
  • Frontline leaders have the know-how to solve operational problems

Winning organizations embrace the paradox of creativity and control

  • Leaders control by setting context and boundaries
  • Leaders creatively unleash their front line by teaching them to make judgments


Part of an occasional series translating the best of Customer Experience in the Corporate World into Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld

Adapted from Judgment on the Front Line, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy



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