July 01, 2012
The Brilliance of Eliminating Left Turns

ED NOTE: Big thank you to Val Vadeboncoeur for this insightful report from the World Innovation Forum.

I caught Andrew Winston's excellent presentation at the 2012 World Innovation Forum last week in NYC in which he focused on how companies can use environmental sustainability as a driver of innovation.

This "Green to Gold" movement has been spurring innovation and boosting profits across a wide range of industries in recent years simply by trying to decrease waste and environmental impact.

Along the way, Andrew, who is the author of Green Recovery (and with Daniel Esty, the book Green to Gold) got into one of my favorite subjects. He offered a series of corporate innovation examples of what he called "head-slappers" and what I call counter-intuitive thinking.

One perfect example of counter-intuitive thinking is what Maersk Shipping did in their efforts to decrease their environmental footprint.

Maersk (a Dutch company) is the world's biggest container shipping line. They asked themselves an odd and challenging question: "Does a shipping company always need to go fast?"

By pursuing that seemingly absurd question, they realized that if they decreased the speed of their ocean-going vessels, they could save up to 40% of their fuel costs, and by merely scheduling and planning better, their ships still arrived on time when their clients expected them to. D'oh!

A little closer to home, Con-Way Trucking of New Jersey had a similar AHA!

By simply reducing the maximum speed of their trucks from 65 MPH to 62 MPH, they now save $10 million a year, and in this economy, that's the difference between making a profit or not.

UPS (and now FedEx as well) had another kind of head slapper insight.

They realized that in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, their truck drivers used up a LOT of gas, wasted a lot of time, and got into a lot of accidents when their trucks had to make left turns and got stuck, all too often, waiting at red lights.

So, they asked themselves the seemingly bizarre question: "Do our trucks really have to make left turns?"

Their conclusion? They didn't!

By re-designing their drivers' routes in busy city downtowns and by re-calibrating their UPS devices to avoid left turns, they save incredible amounts of time and fuel (not to mention having fewer traffic accidents.)

UPS now saves three million gallons of gas and 28 million miles each year by only making right turns!

Similarly, the folks at Scott Paper asked themselves: "Why do we need cardboard tubes to package our toilet paper products?"

What they realized? They didn't.

They now have a line of "tube-free" toilet paper which also saves lots of money AND the environment.

So... the question I (and Andrew) have for you is this: "How can YOUR company use environmental sustainability as a catalyst for innovation?"

And, even more to the point, "What powerful and challenging trigger questions can you ask yourself that might provoke a head slap moment in a flash of counter-intuitive thinking?

Because, sometimes, it's the seemingly ridiculous question that leads to the biggest breakthrough and innovation.

PS: A big thank you to George Levy and the other fine folks at HSM Global for inviting Idea Champions to be a guest blogger at the World Innovation Forum -- now three years running.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at July 1, 2012 05:27 AM

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