I’M not sure if you’ve noticed it. For decades now, some brilliant manufacturers have been using for their products those reverse bottles with spouts on the bottom rather than at the top, similar to what you would imagine plastic containers of ketchup, mayonnaise, even shampoo and conditioner to be. What’s the point of doing that?
Manufacturers are harnessing the benefits of gravity to make it easier for the consumer to squeeze the last drop of a product from its container. Gravity is free. And so, why not use it for everyone’s advantage? In my 2016 book, “Total Quality by Maximization,” I emphasize gravity, air, sunlight and other forces of nature that we can use to solve quality and productivity issues.
That’s maximizing the use of available resources and a value-adding feature that consumers may not even realize could be had until someone offers it to them after getting the inspiration from a Heinz™ tomato ketchup bottle standing on top the dining table. Indeed, it’s a brilliant use of gravity to make life a lot easier for people who hate shaking ketchup bottles to empty their content. While the same principle can be applied to shampoo and conditioner plastic bottles, it may not be appreciated much by those who find it easy to always dilute the remaining content with water while inside the bathroom.
For the Japanese, maximizing the use of free natural forces is illustrated in “karakuri” or a form of low-cost automation and the use of cost-efficient mechanization of manual tasks in factory operations. It is aimed at increasing productivity by reducing the manual content of a work process as the system uses levers, cams, chutes and guides to harness air and gravity.
In the 18th and 19th century Japan, karakuri was in the form of mechanized puppets, which have now been transformed into tea-serving robots that start moving forward when a cup of tea is placed on the plate in its hand.
Air, sunlight, gravity and other forces of nature are unlimited, and therefore, an unlimited source of energy. Resource optimization is what I’m advocating for managers and their organizations to rediscover, which is what they’re missing if they continuously ignore employee ideas and unutilized company resources, which can be summed up within the context of the 6Ms (manpower, material, machine, method, measurement and milieu).
The last M, or milieus, is a French term representing Mother Nature and employee Morale, which are equally important.
Incidentally, air and gravity may also be used by the service industry to help it solve a myriad of manual tasks. Take the fast-food restaurant for example. Have you noticed why they have slanted aluminum food display that connects the delivery of hamburger, spaghetti or whatever they have from the kitchen to the sales counter?
Many decades ago, when public telephones were in vogue, I remember PLDT’s public coin-operated landline phones with a slanted steel plate below the machine so that when users put down their bags or anything on top of the plate, they would not forget to pick it up again as they would always be reminded of it by gravity. The moment they left the public phone booth and forgot their bags, they would soon hear its impact on the floor.
Exactly, that’s another form of karakuri or the smart use of air and gravity.
So, what do you think? Think carefully about what you want before removing your blinders. Write down the criteria and stick to them strictly. Use only practical, low-cost and common-sense solutions in solving problems or any work difficulties, like eliminating strenuous bending to reach out for a spare part, tools, a work-in-process or a finished product to the next process (internal or external customer).
In “Frugal Innovation: How to Do More with Less” (2014), co-authors Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu explain “how inventive entrepreneurs and firms in resource-constrained emerging markets concoct frugal solutions such as a fridge that consumes no electricity, a bicycle that converts road bumps into acceleration energy to run faster, or a mobile-based service that allows users to send and receive money without having a bank account.”
Of course, you can imagine that it may take some time before these ideas are tested and become commercially viable. It’s only a matter of time and a serious fundamental rethinking how companies must operate, build and deliver products and services to customers, and create value for themselves and the society in general while preserving the environment.
Really, problem solving is not progress if you have to spend the company’s money for the solution. However, this requires working closely with customers in so many ways, understanding their needs, and converting that knowledge into commercial products. Sometimes, you don’t even have to become a scientist to create new products out of the old.
Take the case of the square watermelon, which became popular in Japan in the early 1980s. Cubic watermelon was invented to fit compactly in small refrigerators, prevent it from rolling over and make it easy for cutting, except that it costs close to $100 apiece.
The inventor, a certain graphic designer by the name of Tomoyuki Ono, created the square watermelon in 1978 by simply placing baby melons inside regular wooden boxes that assumed its shape as they matured. The list is endless. Sometimes, you may not need to reinvent a product by tampering with nature.
Another thing. If you’re fond of eating in buffet restaurants, have you wondered why they only offer smaller-than-usual plates? The obvious answer is, so customers don’t serve themselves more than they can finish in one sitting and contribute to the wastage.
In conclusion, never think of solutions that require extensive investment on machine, labor and time, among others. Create and maintain an army of workers who can work as your everyday and everywhere problem-solvers. After all, if you’re in management, you can readily understand that you can’t do it alone.
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Join our June 17-23, 2018 Tokyo Study Mission on World-Class Leadership featuring the best practices of Panasonic, Fujifilm, Kao, and Nissin with the personal help of Prof. Tetsuya Abe of Rikkyo University and author of “World-Class Leadership: Leading Yourself, Your Team, the World and Society” (2012). For inquiries, contact Ricky Mendoza at (02) 846-8951 or 0915-406-3039 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.