One of our family traditions at this time of year is the big clear-up. There’s a time limit on our tolerance for the accumulated junk, the temporary displacement of furniture to make space for Christmas trees, decorations, cards and mountains of discarded wrapping paper, piles of new toys and other festive fripperies. At a certain point (Twelfth Night, good of them to mark it on the calendar) some kind of alarm switch trips and it’s a case of loading up the car to transport the rubbish to the refuse tip. Where, we quickly discover, we are not alone — everyone else has had the same idea. Cue long wait in queue.
When I teach about searching for innovation opportunities one of the great tools to introduce is ‘find a queue’. It builds on a well-established principle of lean thinking — most times the presence of a queue means that value isn’t being added somewhere. Something or someone is being forced to wait for something to happen and that’s a waste of time, space, energy, etc. . So there’s an opportunity to think about how to change the process — to innovate to smooth out the bottleneck. Find a queue do a process map and begin the improvement journey.
So sitting in a queue for the refuse tip started me thinking on the innovation opportunities so much accumulated waste might have to offer. And whilst it might be possible to improve the ways and speed with which families can be separated from their rubbish the real benefits are buried a little deeper.