Saturday, October 21, 2006

Coffee Grounds, Flying Bathroom

I’m flying out to the annual Product Development Management Association. Getting up to stretch my legs, I took a trip to the lavatory where I was amused to see a bag of coffee grounds hooked to the coat hanger on the door. I finished up my business, and still smiling from amusement, I exited the lavatory and asked a flight attendant what the heck was that bag of coffee grounds doing there?

She said it was to freshen the air in there. I laughed and asked her why they didn’t just use an air freshener. She said United doesn’t supply them with air fresheners so they’re forced to use things like the bag of coffee grounds. “Maybe I should start a business,” I joked. “Yes, you should” she responded, chuckling, as I walked back to my seat still pondering and smiling in amusement.

Yet another example of Eric von Hippel’s astute observation that users are a wonderful source of innovative ideas. I knew that airlines have been in financial trouble and that this trend would be creating opportunities for innovation, but not being a flight attendant or a pilot or a mechanic who’s actually on the ground (or in the sky as the case may be), I wouldn’t have known what the problems were or what resources existed close at hand to solve the problem.

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