Sequences of events are often taken for granted.
It’s winter. It’s 2 degrees Fahrenheit and there are 20 mile per hour winds outside. The fridge is empty. You need to make a food run.
So, you go to the car, insert the key in the door, unlock the door, sit in the car, put the key in the ignition and turn it. You then sit in a freezing cold car and watch your breath frost the windows as the defrost won’t work until the car gets warmed up…
The above sequence of events can be most unpleasant to experience, and it was a pretty typical winter experience for many people until…
Someone invented the Remote Control Key Fob. Simply press a button and the car is unlocked from inside the house! Now that it’s open, you can run outside into the cold and open the door quickly. No need to fumble for the keys with frozen fingers. Just open the door and sit down and start the car.
You still need to wait for it to warm up.
While the Remote Control Fob is a great invention for unlocking car doors, it’s an even better invention for starting the car before going outside!
In this case, the value of the innovation comes not so much from snazzy remote control technologies, but from changing the sequence in which various events occur: turning the car on before opening the door (A similar value comes from opening a garage door remotely without having to get out of the car.)
Juggling the sequence of events, or looking at technologies that enable us to change the sequence of events, are often very powerful (and sometimes surprisingly simple!) ways of innovating creative solutions.
One place where creative solutions are always needed are with regards to public health.
The proper washing of hands is one of the easiest ways to minimize the transmission of diseases of many types. Yet, a survey of 100000 people showed that 60+ percent of men and 40 percent of women don’t even bother to wash their hands when leaving the rest room (and these were people that admitted it!) To make you feel even more uncomfortable, most people who do wash their hands don’t do it as thoroughly as they should.
In bathrooms, washing hands and drying hands are actually part of the same process. Do a lousy job of washing or drying, and the chances of germ transmission go up. Not to mention, most bathrooms have doors and other surfaces that people touch on their way into and out of the bathroom, so even if they’ve washed and perhaps dried, they may still touch these surfaces and pick things up or leave things behind.
The solution then is to go into a bathroom, wash, dry and leave without touching anything on your way out.
Being the type of person I am, while recently in a bathroom I realized it was configured almost perfectly to enable the primo handwashing solution. A new technology wasn’t really needed. However, a little creative event shuffling yielded a simple and very effective solution.
#cleanhands or #dirtyhands : #innovation by changing the #sequence of events. One of my favorite ways of innovating is to look at a sequence of events and rearrange them in time. This bathroom is a perfect example. By changing the sequence (ejecting the paper but NOT tearing it before using the urinal or toilet) I can use the urinal, wash my hands, tear the paper, dry them, open the door using the soiled paper towel and throw it away. Granted, this isn't perfect. The ideal would be to leave the water running and turn it off using the paper towel, use the door handle, and then throw it away when walking out the door. #handwashing #sanitation #germs #bathroom #washroom #design #processdesign #processflow #systemdesign
In the upper picture I’ve shown the order a person typically follows when entering a restroom (the lightswitch is not always a part of the equation 😉 .)
The lower picture shows how simply changing the sequence enables someone to come in, wash, dry and leave without touching anything dirty on the way out. No need for any new technology.
But, there is a dark side…
Just as technology can enable us to change the sequence for the better, the introduction of a technology into the bathroom can negatively impact the sequence and perhaps create ramifications outside the door. What happens when we replace the paper towel with an electrical hand dryer?
All types of questions then arise:
Will someone’s hands really be clean when he/she leaves? Is saving trees a greater good than public health impacts from dirty hands? Should doors open electronically? Can a plate be placed at the base of the door to enable someone to open it with a foot? Should a hired person be there to open and close the doors? Should there be a soap that forms an active protective film that is only activated after drying in a hand dryer?
As you can see, (and as all time travelers will tell you) tampering with time has its consequences. In the above example, the introduction of one technology has spawned the need for other technologies or additional (or less) steps. Each of these are an opportunity for a product or service.
So, next time you’re having a difficult time solving a problem, or if you’re looking for a new space to play, look at the sequence of events that are part of the situation and ask yourself these two questions:
- Can we change the sequence of events to thus create a better outcome? If we can’t, or sometimes even if we can….
- Can we leverage or develop a technology that enables us to reshuffle the sequence of events so that a better result is achieved?
These two questions can lead to tremendous innovations, but first we need to stop taking the sequence of events for granted.