Archive for December 2010

Best Innovations of 2010

December 29, 2010

One recognizable impact of recessions is muted worker creativity – we take fewer risks, content that we still have a job – and companies, too, can lose their spark as they pare expenses. Retrenchment is often the opposite of spontaneity, and an absence of spontaneous thinking limits new ideas.

True innovations in such an environment are worthy of applause.

With a disclaimer that the actual innovative thinking for these product enhancements likely occurred in 2009, I offer The Best of 2010 because, as a consumer, I noticed them in the past 12 months.

What I find most interesting is that both innovations are evidence that improved usability (of a product) can also lead to a measurable reduction of operational cost – a paradox that should inspire anyone who is asked to do more with less.

  • ATM User Interface – How many of us (in previous years) have used our bank’s ATM machine, completed our transaction, and walked away without retrieving our ATM card?  The problematic behavior cost the banking industry hundreds of thousands of dollars annually because of replacement costs and the diminished productivity of bank employees distracted by customers who lost their cards, or turned in someone else’s card that they found in a nearby machine.  It used to happen 1000’s of times in most bank branches, but no more. Kudos to the usability designer who recognized that this was actually a business process problem – one that was completely solved by simply changing the sequence of tasks during our transactions.  We are now asked to remove our card before the transaction is finalized.  This small change in the order of instructions has almost entirely eradicated the CLB issue (Card Left Behind) and has been adopted as a “best practice” by all major ATM vendors, saving the consumers and the banking industry both time and expense.

Now, that’s good thinking.

  • Hotel Hand Soap – Originally noted by visitors to Yellowstone National Park, I discovered mine at the Turkey Run Lodge in Indiana: a bar of soap without a middle (soap with a hole in it) that is much easier to handle and, for the hotel industry, the solution to their WDWDWTWS problem (What Do We Do With This Wasted Soap).  It has been heralded in other columns as a “green” or eco-friendly innovation, however, I’m inclined to consider the cost reductions for the manufacturer: each bar of soap uses 30% less material, allowing them to produce the same number of items while dramatically reducing their cost of goods.  Kudos to the engineer at Green Natura soap products for their solution to the paradox of reducing cost while simultaneously improving the product.

Now, that’s good thinking.

As managers, we need to give our employees some breathing room because it is possible to reduce costs and also deliver an improved product.  As employees, we need to give our bosses a break when they dare to assign us the impossible task, because it is possible to reduce costs and deliver an improved product.