As simple as a sticker or a longer walk


Headshot of smiling women with wavy blonde hair standing outside in front of a tree in a white shirt by Cristina Peter, Whole Student Development co-lead

Two of my favourite innovation stories come from industries that seem very different to our educational context, but can inspire some creative thinking on some of those shared values that we strive for: it’s all about good service and a great experience.

The first story came up in both of our training sessions: Doug Dietz had finished creating a truly magnificent medical machine, the MRI, when he visited a hospital and noticed a young child panicked by the thought of staying still in such a big,loud and scary machine. He had supported a medical breakthrough that simultaneously made children cry. The easy solution was to create a quieter machine (impossible, sorry). The simplest answer was leaving the machine and instead creating a large sticker that would make the MRI machine look like a pirate ship. Children got a ticket to go on the “ride”, and the only way they could defeat the pirates was to stay very still.  Sedation rates for children plummeted and Dietz witnessed one child asking if they could ride again. You can see his TED Talk on his process here.

My second favourite story is of an airport that had good customer service reviews except for the long baggage wait times. The easy solution was to speed up the baggage handling process.The airport did everything to speed up the process, including hiring more baggage handlers, having consultants make recommendations until the total baggage collection time was down to 8 minutes. The complaints kept coming. Finally, someone suggested putting the baggage belt further away from the plane tarmac.Complaints suddenly stopped; in the time it took to walk from the plane to the baggage claim, the bags had arrived. Nothing had changed, but customers were occupied with walking rather than with waiting. It wasn’t easy getting to it, but that was the simplest answer. You can find the Hidden Brain podcast this story was featured on here.

When I was a high school student, I was into some really dorky things…like the Principle of Occam’s Razor. This principal, in 15 year-old layman’s terms is that the simplest answer is usually the best answer…but sometimes it’s not the easiest answer to come to. The two stories above are great examples of Occam’s Razor…particularly in the sense that they demonstrate how humans tend to get stuck in an “easy” pattern or frame of thinking and completely miss the problem at hand. It’s not about a faster baggage process or a quieter machine, it’s just about reframing the experience to support better service. The best way of solving a problem is not always the “easy” solution that we think of first.

After completing interviews and collecting large amounts of data, I was a little overwhelmed by the complexity of issues we would need to innovate around. The first thoughts were “we need to change the whole system; build a more powerful app; pour millions of dollars into this program…” And maybe we do, and maybe we will…but sometimes it’s important to remember that the answer isn’t easy…it’s as simple as a sticker and a longer walk.



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