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Your Suggestions are Appreciated

In early May, during one of his weekly radio addresses to the nation, President Obama proposed setting up a process in which federal government workers could submit what he called "bottom-up ideas" to make your government more efficient and effective.

In other words, as the Wall Street Journal described it, the president would like to set up perhaps the largest suggestion box in history.

Originally, suggestion boxes were actual, physical boxes, into which employees were encouraged to drop their ideas - even anonymously - on how operations might be improved. Thousands of companies and government agencies expanded the idea, using e-mail. Sometimes, workers were rewarded with cash bonuses or other prizes for ideas that increased profits or morale.

Some retail companies adopted the concept and have put out suggestion boxes for their customers. An online site called even takes in suggestions for companies, forwards them and tracks responses. But the idea doesn't seem as popular in government and corporate life anymore.

That's because some companies and agencies found that people ignore them, especially if there's no evidence that anyone acts on employees' ideas. Disgruntled or malicious staff members sometimes stuffed the boxes with scrap or offensive personal criticisms. Others tossed in frivolous ideas, just hoping for a reward. And many managers concluded that suggestion boxes are too impersonal. They found that face-to-face meetings called brainstorming sessions, in which ideas are solicited and discussed, are more effective.

Some companies and agencies never tried suggestion boxes because they didn't want the hassle of dealing with a flood of suggestions or, in some cases, because they weren't particularly interested in what the average employee thinks.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.