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Logical Rethinking

Genius solution at Dallas Fort-Worth airport gets Erin O'Malley thinking about the magic of creative problem-solving

erin Omalley
Erin O’Malley, keynote at the 2023 WO Leadership Conference, shares how assessing pain points creatively can help you hit on a logical solution.

By Erin O’Malley

Editor’s note: Erin O’Malley was the keynote speaker at the 2023 Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by WO. She authors a newsletter, and this particular entry caught our attention because it shows the power (and simplicity) of imaginative thinking. It’s excerpted here with her permission.

Recently, I flew to DFW. At JAX, before departing, I headed to the restroom.

“Oh crap.” Enter the moment of uncertainty when all the stall doors are closed, but are they all occupied?

Cue the contortion. When you have to turn upside down, 50/50 chance your bag slips off your shoulder and smacks you in the face, all in an effort to confirm there are feet on the ground and butts on seats in each of the stalls.

THIS ONE’S TAKEN

I spied what appeared to be an all-clear. My hand was inches away from pushing the door open when I pulled back. There was a sneaker! Not on the floor, but rather at eye level, pushing against the door in an apparent effort to keep the door closed so people like me would not bum rush in.

Let’s not even talk about the effort and mechanics of holding the door closed with your leg at a 90-degree angle while trying to relieve yourself. The need to block the door from an unsuspecting intruder is real.

I retreated and waited for someone to leave a stall, taking no more chances.

I like to hydrate as much as I loath airplane bathrooms so I’m known to get off the plane and bee-line to the nearest bathroom, dreading the turn-upside-down-to-confirm-occupancy move, which is even more not sweet when you’re level 10 full of liquids.

I headed in hot, then skid to a stop because…WAIT WHAT?!?!?

What do my eyes see? Are those red and green lights on the ceiling?! Is that a beautiful beacon of which stalls are actually unoccupied?

GENIUS LOGIC

The logic! The genius! The sheer beauty of a red light! A green light! The awe! The inspiration!

I stood there in a dumbfounded stupor, staring it all at the scene with wonder.

“Incredible…” I whispered.

Lights at the airport bathroom are green when the stall is open and red when it's occupied.
The annoyance: finding an open bathroom stall in a large public restroom. The solution: overhead lights. Photo courtesy of Erin O’Malley

When I headed out to wash my hands, I was greeted by another engineering marvel: the sinks! There were evenly spaced trios of a soap dispenser, a faucet, and a personal hand dryer! No more wash and wander! You know, when you pump the soap in the middle then shuffle over with your suitcase between your legs to rinse and then shuffle back to the other side of the bathroom where the paper towels are, dripping over your clothes and your bags and the floor and the sinks.

This whole bathroom experience…I gotta tell you, not only was I relieved physically, I was overjoyed mentally!

What an moment!

INTENTIONAL PROBLEM-SOLVING

So smooth. So thoughtful. So intentional. So caring. So efficient. So calming.

All of these feelings and thoughts about some well-placed colored lights and paper towel dispensers?

YES!

It all was so seemingly simple and straightforward, yet not something you see at most bathrooms.

It got me wondering. Did someone say something? Was there a letter campaign about how stupid it is not to have a way to know if someone is behind door number 2? Perhaps there was a woman on the design team who shared her experience as a woman who uses a bathroom.

Was it the cleaning crews who were over having to wipe up after everyone’s spills? Did someone throw out their back while peering under the stalls?

What finally led to someone saying and acting on the fact that there was a better way?

And the better way was so simplistic, yet so powerful and efficient and delightful.

WHAT ARE YOUR PAIN POINTS? 

When you take a different look at things. When you ask your people, “Hey, what’s a pain in your neck? What’s not working around here?” you can make changes and remove the pain. When you apply attention, plus logic, with an undercurrent of caring about the people you’re doing business with and for, seemingly simple solutions can come to life.

These solutions can bring surprise and delight. They can get people talking, posting taking pictures. (Of bathrooms!)

I’ve got a hunch there are so many pains, small and large, that if you gave some attention to, you’d see the possibilities of doing things differently. With attention, logic, and care you can create those experiences that leave people surprised and delighted.

Visit Erin O’Malley’s website here.
Subscribe to her newsletter here.
Read more from the 2023 Women’s Leadership Conference here.
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