Tuesday, August 26, 2014
How Design Thinking Got Me in Hot Water at the Airport
Someone recently asked me why one of my online resumes doesn't mention that I've taught Design Thinking. That got me to thinking about the times and places when I have given a presentation on Design Thinking, demonstrated it, or used it at work and how well that was received.
I must admit that I'm a long way from being an objective, casual observer of DT. In my experience, it works really well on a number of levels and I'm an enthusiastic supporter of it. At the same time, I also have to admit that being a evangelist and practitioner has not always been easy or welcome.
One story in particular comes to mind. For about three years I indulged myself in my passion for aviation by working as an airline customer service agent. (It certainly wasn't because of the pay.) The carrier I worked for was on contract to a much larger company and one part of the agreement was that late departures incurred late fees. As a result, the timing of the boarding process was critical. During my efforts to master it, I discovered a couple of areas which were particularly failure prone. One in particular had to do with getting an accurate "on-board" count. This was accomplished by a two part process.
The gate agent would collect the larger portion of the boarding passes and count them. On the aircraft the flight attendants would count passengers. If the totals matched, all was well. If not, a recount would occur, which almost always resulted in a delay and often arguments over who was responsible for it. Even on a smaller Regional Jet there could be as many as 50 boarding passes to correlate and tally. That was a lot of small pieces of paper to handle.
One trick some of the agents would employ was to gather the stubs into piles of 10 and staple them together. This would have worked pretty well, if the staplers had been up to the task. Unfortunately they weren't and the result was often a bigger mess.
I set out to find a stapler that could handle ten pieces of paper at at time - and found one at Staples (Model #51009) that was on sale. Even better, it had a unique action that allowed even people with weak hands to use it easily. There were 30 boarding gates so I bought 30 staplers and arranged for them to be delivered to work.
Sometime later I got a call from the station chief, telling me to report to their office. The staplers had arrived and were in shipping and receiving. The chief wasn't happy about it. They had arrived without the necessary paperwork and there had been a lot of confusion about them. I was told to remove them from the premises and that any future purchases of staplers were to be approved by management and selected from the office supply list. No matter how hard I tried to suggest that the staplers were an answer to a pressing need, it was of no avail.
Over the next few weeks I made personal gifts of the staplers to several other agents. One in particular who had very bad arthritis. Theirs was the only thanks I recall getting for thinking outside the box.
Tom and Dave Kelley recommend not being too revolutionary or radical in evangelizing DT. There is a lot of history and momentum to overcome in many organizations.
Next time, I'll send the "staplers" to my house and sneak them in.