Weekend Fun: An Elegant Solution by Subtraction (“Parks & Recreation”)


Our good friend Matt May (see posts and podcasts about him here) has a new book coming out in October,  The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules For Winning In The Age Of Excess Everything, a follow up to previous books including In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.

Knowing how to subtract or remove the right thing from a system often leads to an “elegant solution” (another book of Matt's)  as opposed to an expensive, complicated solution through addition.

There was a silly subplot on the “Campaign Shake-Up” episode of NBC show Parks & Recreation where the townspeople of Pawnee have this little quirk where they put their mouths on public drinking fountains – a clear public health risk, one that had to be solved by a team.

A clip (from Hulu, probably not viewable outside the U.S.) showing the problem:

Later scenes show a team trying to solve the problem, with one idea being a cage over the spout (which was easily removed by Andy – pic):

The health department was making up education posters, but I love how the team tried to error proof the fountain, as it's way too easy for people to ignore education signs (as with handwashing in hospitals).

The final countermeasure, as shown in this next clip was to REMOVE the splash guard, so water just shot up into the person's mouth (pic):

“If it's not there, you can't put your mouth on it,” deadpans April.

The idea was then called “simple, elegant, and cost effective” by the Rob Lowe character. That's Kaizen — or, just don't put your mouth on the fountain.

Quite a “Matt May moment,” eh?


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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