The Walk More, Wait Less Innovation

August 20, 2012  

Think about this problem.

You run an airport.  It takes on average 8 minutes for luggage to go from plane to baggage claim.  Customers can walk to baggage claim in one minute, resulting in 7 minutes of impatient waiting.  Complaints are high.

What do you do?

Conventional wisdom says, speed up the process.  Use more automation.  Hire efficiency experts.  Hire more baggage handlers.

But according to a recent New York Times article, this isn’t what they did in Houston’s airport.

Instead of speeding up how quickly bags arrive in the claim area, they slowed down the speed at which passengers arrived. They moved the arrival gates so that they are further away from baggage claim. This increased the walk time so that waiting in the baggage claim area was reduced to almost nothing. Complaints also dropped to almost nothing.

This innovation highlights a key point in innovation:  solve a pain.

In this particular case, the pain is the waiting.  The walking is not perceived as painful.  It is productive time.  Waiting is not.  Disney does a great job of helping people pass the time in their amusement parks while waiting an hour to get on a ride.

I wrote about the concept of the perception of time back in 2006.  I talked about how time passes at different speeds when stuck in traffic versus when moving quickly down the highway.  I started the article with a favorite quote of mine from Einstein…

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours.”

Time, and hence customer satisfaction, is relative.

Traffic is pain.  Waiting is pain.  Unproductive time is pain.

I wrote several articles on the power of solving a pain, versus creating a gain.

One article is about financial investments: people will take massive risks to protect what they have because loss is perceived more powerfully (pain) than a financial gain.

I also wrote an article on why a blizzard was the key to the ATM’s success: although people were not interested in the convenience of cash machines, when a blizzard prevented them from getting money elsewhere, ATMs became an overnight success.

When innovating, look at the pain points of your customers.  Be sure to look at the perceptions of pain, not your guess as to the pain.

Waiting is more painful than walking.  Unproductive time is more painful than busy time.  Driving slowly on back roads, even if it is takes longer in the end, is perceived as being a better option than sitting in traffic on the highway.  Financial losses are felt more deeply than financial gains.

Design your business to reduce the pain.  The perception of pain.

P.S. I provide other examples of the pain/gain concept in my book “Best Practices Are Stupid.”

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