It’s been widely publicized that President Obama, in looking for ideas on how to handle our current economic crisis, read books about Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. The two situations are not identical, so the solution won’t be either. But it’s wise to tap into the knowledge that already exists about a similar issue.

This got me thinking, especially as I do my research for next month’s Timeline of Innovations–The Past 10 Years. (This will be one of two special features we’ll be publishing this year to celebrate the magazine’s 10th Anniversary.)

Collectively, the flexible packaging industry has learned a lot from its past experiences. How can that wisdom help us today?

At the very least, it should help companies learn from the mistakes of others. For example, in the world of consumer electronics, Best Buy learned to invest in the expertise of its employees (think “Geek Squad”) from Circuit City’s blunder. Three years ago, the now-defunct retailer decided to save payroll by replacing its knowledgeable employees with, oh, let’s be nice and call them neophytes.

Toy with tinkering

Something else the past can help with is, believe it or not, new product development.

Some technologies may have been ahead of their time. Now might be the best time to dust them off, freshen them up and trot them out. You could be sitting on a winner.

Collaboration among all participants in the supply chain for research and development has never been more necessary. Most companies don’t have the financial or personnel resources, or the time, to work on pie-in-the-sky ideas. Even though ideas from left field might be the most profitable when you hit one big, they’re also the most risky.

Yet…

Discoveries still flourish in labs, pilot plants and on manufacturing lines where engineers tinker and skilled operators share their insights and suggestions-if you let them. So, let them. History will prove you right.