The Monday Morning Question

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I have just finished reading Tim Brown’s new book, “Change By Design.” Tim is the CEO and President of IDEO, the amazingly versatile, design-centric global consultancy. While there are many excellent passages about “design thinking,” as an entrepreneur I am always considering the Monday morning question. Whenever I listen to a conference speaker or read a business book I ask myself, “But what will I do differently on Monday morning?”

The curse of the pragmatic, I suppose.

In any case, for me it was Brown’s advice to open your eyes to the everyday things you never really notice. “How far back should you stand from the person in front of you? Why are manhole covers round? What would it be like to be color-blind?”

Brown goes on to say that “Good design thinkers observe. Great design thinkers observe the ordinary.” I love that. And I think that’s what a lot of writers and photographers and book creators do. They observe … and then create. I know that’s what I do.

So, I am now committed to observing one “ordinary” thing every day. Today’s candidate is the toothpaste tube. Now I should tell you that I am a habitué of the old fashioned, for real, toothpaste tube – not the new stand-up pump-y things. So I started to think about how much toothpaste do we throw away in an “empty” tube, which reminded me of a long-forgotten study that a friend of mine did at University a zillion years ago.(Maybe this is the point of observing the ordinary – considering the ordinary creates connections and patterns not otherwise obvious.)

In any case he studied how much of the egg white was discarded when cracking an egg open and removing the shells. I remember it was a big number – something like 18%.

Are we wasting 18% of the toothpaste every time we discard a tube? What would a more efficient dispenser of toothpaste look like? How would it work? And off I go … contemplating the ordinary, a practice I’ll try to keep up, even after the next Monday morning question comes around.

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  1. Good book and good post Eileen. Hope all is well at Blurb.

      January 20, 2010 – 5:27 pm   Permalink
  2. I think the same idea applies to photography. In an extreme event, many folks can make an interesting photograph, but put the same folks in an everyday, expected situation and suddenly there are far fewer great images.
    I’ve found that my favorite photographers make images of things that most photographers would walk right by.
    As for the toothpaste, it’s an interesting question. In terms of waste, I think it is somewhere between the gas that drips out of the pump before you can hang it back up, and say…an inkjet printer that clogs and you gotta run the “clean heads” script 4,829 times.

      January 20, 2010 – 6:18 pm   Permalink
  3. ah yes, the ordinary. as a photographer it is my goal to find the extra in the ordinary. it’s a mindful practice for sure and something that not only hones my eye, it soothes my soul.
    thanks for this Eileen.

      January 20, 2010 – 9:45 pm   Permalink
  4. Interestingly we have used the example of the toothpaste tube to show students how to brainstorm for a new course in design thinking at the British Open University. It’s a really good topic because there are so many possible ways to dispense toothpaste.. indeed as I was posting this I just thought of one I had not thought of before. How much is wasted will depend on user behaviour. How many users are roll and squeeze people who try to get out every last drop or no effort people who give up when squeezing the tube in the normal way doesn’t work? Tim Brown is very inspirational, and this is an excellent book. There is a good video of him talking about design at Great blog post.

      January 21, 2010 – 2:25 am   Permalink
  5. Like the changing seasons, the lifecycle of the toothpaste tube adds another, slower rhythm to our bathroom lives. What makes you think other people haven’t thought about this? Other little packs of gloop also present this problem at many points in our lives.

    Most practical guys (the sort that fix their own motorbike) probably solve this before they are ten. For dreamy, creative types, here’s what to do. (It’s easier since the tubes changed from metal to plastic). When no paste emerges from your tube, lay the tube down flat, and with the straight side of your toothbrush handle, push down firmly and stroke the tube from bottom to top, moving all the paste back to the top. Then, before each squeeze, fold the tube below the paste to stop the paste squeezing down. That’s good for another week. Repeat if required.

    When the “fold” is right next to the top of the tube, you can place first and middle finger over the conical top of the tube and squeeze its contents out with the flat of your thumb. Well below 1% left, I think. For the obsessive, cut open the tube and extract a final brush full with the brush head.

    But who cares about toothpaste? It’s the plastic tube you should be re-using. Buy in bulk and refill your tube!

    The distress of seeing an incompetently squeezed girls toothpaste tube that can unexpectedly snap a guy out of love.

    By philip
      January 21, 2010 – 2:44 am   Permalink
  6. Hi Eileen,
    I loved your article and enjoyed what you said about observing the ordinary, it is a really good point.
    I had to smile when I read what you ask about toothpaste tubes! I am on the ‘old school’ and was brought up on ‘waste not; want not’. I have for all my adult life, when the toothpaste tube gets towards empty (which of course it never is), I then squish it as much as I can with the handle of the toothbrush to use up as much as possible, and then when I have satisfied my urge to squeeze it, I cut the end off and extract the residue. I know that sounds like what my daughter would call quite anal, BUT….you would be amazed just how many more teeth cleaning days you would get from that tube!
    I do the same with anything that comes in tubes.
    p.s. I also hate the pump action thingies :) and never buy them, except for hand or dish wash and then I top it up with a bit of water to get the residue out. :)

      January 21, 2010 – 5:15 am   Permalink
  7. The “squeezer” could be an oval shaped plastic disc with a slit in its
    centre, the tail end of the toothpaste tube would be inserted in the slit
    and then as the tube empties, the “squeezer” would be pushed up to the top opening.

    By Sarita Berges
      January 21, 2010 – 8:00 am   Permalink
  8. i wish so bad that i was at the conference with so many super creative ppl in utah! have a blast! your company is A-mazing! I created a wedding album for my brother + new sister-in-law for christmas, and it was the best present $ could buy! ha! thanks! blessings! julie

      January 21, 2010 – 8:57 am   Permalink
  9. my friend once told a story about toothpaste – it comes from a seller point of view:
    Tooth paste producer was wondering how to increase sales of his toothpaste for 20%. An observer replied: increase the dispenser hole of a tube for 20%, as most people use the toothpaste automatically so they cover the toothbrush with it. Supposedly it worked.

    i agree with you, observation is crucial.

      January 21, 2010 – 11:24 am   Permalink
  10. design for ease – for joy and delight – for sustainability…is addictive. almost 30 years of uesr experience research evolved my ‘observer’ into a perspective that has shifted everyday choreography into a walking meditation of sorts. And, in turn, made me more activist when it comes to education (but then i started out as a Montessori teacher a million years ago), product packaging, enviro issues and the sourcing of our (not so slow) food. I LOVE blurb – it has set my creative heart dancing – THANKS for birthing your inspiration into software and service!

    By Judee Humburg
      January 21, 2010 – 12:11 pm   Permalink
  11. I recently wrote a book titled “A Simpler Time” about by life from 1938 to 1970. Everyone lived with less and wasted less during those days, but they were still good times! I know we can’t go back to those days, but we could learn from those days. Living “green” was a natural thing back then. Clothes were passed down; There were fewer throw away products; most homes were smaller; children walked to school, etc, etc. You didn’t waste the toothpaste, or the soap, or the shampoo, you used every drop. “waste not, want not!” oh so true!!!
    Ideas from another generation!
    Donna Peacock

    By Donna Peacock
      January 22, 2010 – 4:02 pm   Permalink
  12. Love it. Thanks for the great post. It truly is what we will do differently on Monday or the take away and action modification that helps us grow. Good luck on observing ordinary things. I hope to hear about your new insights.

      January 23, 2010 – 2:06 pm   Permalink
  13. Great post!

    In the interest of getting the most out from your tooth paste, I suggest using what we did as kids: backing soda. You could pretty much get 100% of the product out of the box – well, unless you are a kid and then most of it gets spilled all over everything in and around the sink.

      January 26, 2010 – 9:43 am   Permalink

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