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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

When you ask different questions, you always get different solutions. Here’s a fun story about an airport that had people complaining about baggage claim wait times. Their solutions on the surface seemed good. But it never really solved the problem in the eyes of the customer. But when they asked a different question, they solved the problem.

We are in the “Ask” portion of the FAST Innovation Model (Focus, Ask, Shift, Test)

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We’ve been talking about asking better questions. Today, I want to give you a fun example.

An airport here in the U.S. asked his passengers, “What is your biggest complaint?” What they heard is that baggage claim took too long. It took on average 15 to 20 minutes from the time that the cargo doors open on the plane until the bags arrived at the baggage carousel.

So they took to the task of “speeding up the bags.” They invested a lot of money in conveyor belts, faster conveyor belts, more baggage handlers, better technology, and they got it from 15 to 20 minutes down to 8 to 10 minutes.

Now, if you think about it, that’s a huge improvement. Most people would be getting ready to declare success.

They then asked the passengers of the airport, “Now, what is your biggest complaint?” What do you think they heard? Baggage claim! From the traveler’s perspective, it still took too long…

Now, you understand, as innovators, the law of diminishing returns. If it took them that much time, money and effort to get it down to eight minutes, to get it to seven minutes, six minutes or five minutes would be prohibitively expensive.

But then they have an epiphany. Yes, it takes 8 to 10 minutes for the bags to get from the plane to the baggage carousel, but it only takes the passengers one to three minutes to get from the plane to the baggage carousel.

Instead of speeding up the bags, what do you think they did? They slowed down the passengers! They literally reconfigured the airport. So it would take on average 8 to 10 minutes to get from the plane to the baggage carousel. This is a great upsell opportunity because now there are stores where they’re walking by.

And when they get to the baggage claim, the bags are there. When they asked the passengers, “Are you now happy?” They were ecstatic!

Here is the problem, they were solving the wrong problem. Speeding up bags is not the same thing as reducing wait time. They sound similar, but they’re not the same. Because wait time is made up of the speed of the bags and the speed of the passengers.

If you spend your life trying to speed up bags, you’ll never think to slow down passengers. Asking a different question will always lead you down the path to different solutions.

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