Monday, May 14, 2012

Miracles, Coffee, and Creative Problem Solving

Okay, on our flight out to Seattle the flight attendants weren’t panicking, but they were pretty stressed out. Apparently no one had delivered enough Styrofoam cups to the airplane. Though they might be able to get through the cabin once with hot coffee, they knew they wouldn’t have enough hot beverage cups to come through again. For an early morning flight, this was disaster. People need their caffeine.

Their attempted solution was simple enough. They told passengers, as they came through, to save their cups if they wanted another cup of coffee. Now since there is no room at all on any of these airplanes, where exactly are you supposed to save the cup? And some people were sleeping when they first came through and would want a cup of coffee on waking up. Oh and add to this that the video system was broken down on a six hour flight and you could get a surly group of passengers.

As they passed through the aisle reminding people to keep their cups they bemoaned the lack of Styrofoam cups to serve hot coffee. Passengers wanted more coffee and there weren’t any cups left. My partner suggested to them “why don’t you serve iced coffee?” They had enough cold beverage cups. It was as though the heavens had opened and a miracle occurred. The attendants thanked him profusely and set about serving iced coffee to those who wanted it. They told my partner later that it was a great solution and specifically “solved” the problem of an unruly passenger in the back.

So, why couldn’t they find a solution? Because they were looking at the solution (more hot cups) and not the problem. Usually hot coffee is offered on all flights and is poured into Styrofoam cups. If you are missing cups or coffee the process is messed up. However, what happens when you focus on the problem and break it down to its essence? What people want in the morning is coffee. Most of us want it for the hit of caffeine (I know I do). I don’t prefer iced coffee in the morning, but if that’s what you’ve got, I’ll take it.

The solution worked. The passengers were satisfied with the substitution. The flight attendants were happy to avoid an unruly bunch of passengers. And all it took was a quick analysis of the real problem to develop a creative solution. And they gave my partner a free coffee with Baileys Irish Crème in it (plus a spare bottle). Hey it doesn’t get better. 

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