What I Learned From An Expired Bottle Of Mayo

October 28, 2011  

The late Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect…connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Or, in my words, in order to innovate, you need to collect and connect the dots.

The other night I decided to make myself some tuna fish. As I started to prepare my meal, I realized that the 18 ounce squeeze bottle of mayo I was about to use had expired six months prior. I guess I don’t use it very often because the bottle was still 90 percent full.

After throwing out my expired food in frustration, I realized that there is a lot to learn from things we routinely do around the home. Here are just three of the lessons I learned from around the house.

Fail cheaply

Although Costco is one of my favorite stores, I rarely buy perishable items there. As a person who lives alone, I find it difficult to predict how much I will use. Sometimes, as is the case with my mayo, buying the smallest size and paying a premium is better than saving money on larger quantities. Smaller quantities result in less space used, less waste when things aren’t needed and lower costs all around. In business, your best bet is to become masterful at creating small, inexpensive and scalable experiments that give you insights into the real world, not just backroom-based predictions. As you gain new insights and become more confident that a new idea will work (i.e., there is greater predictability), then you can ramp up and go for efficiency.

Sell one, make one

It’s safe to say that one situation no one ever wants to encounter is to be sitting on the toilet and running out of toilet paper. The best solution is to always have a spare roll within reach. When the main roll is finished, the spare role is put into the dispenser and the backup roll is replaced. This is an example of a simple manufacturing technique called “sell one, make one.” To avoid running out of product, companies often produce large quantities of inventory. But as we saw in the “fail cheaply” example above, this can lead to waste. Items that don’t sell need to be liquidated at significant discounts. In the meantime, the inventory takes up space and hurts your cash flow. Instead, if you get your manufacturing process (or your innovation implementation process) efficient enough, you can make one immediately after you sell one—that is, when you sell one, you make one. You will never run out if demand never exceeds your ability to manufacture.

Lather, rinse but don’t repeat

Shampoo bottles are infamous for telling you to lather, rinse and repeat. Perhaps I am one of the few, but I had been following these directions every morning without much consideration. As an experiment, I tried skipping the repeat step. No difference. I even experimented with using less than one pump of shampoo. Same result. Sometimes we take on wasteful activities because we never think to step back and question them. I reduced shampoo usage by 75 percent without any impact on my hair. From my experience, most companies can reduce wasteful activities simply by questioning what has always been done in the past.

Three simple insights, and all were generated from a bottle of mayonnaise.

Want to improve your business? Start by looking around your home. Every day, take an inventory of the innovative products you possess…

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

Leave a Reply