In the summer of 2006 Germany hosted the World Cup soccer tournament. At the time I was working for an architecture office in downtown Munich. Right across from our office was a small Italian grocery run by Cossimo. One hot day, coming back from our team lunch, we met him outside and he started chatting.
“Guys, you can’t imagine this. I bought this expensive refrigerator but I have nothing but trouble with it. The cooling is too slow. The city is full of tourists and I lose so much in revenue every day, because I don’t sell as much beer as I could. After I refill it, it does not get cold fast enough. You know, people like their beer cold. I called the fridge manufacturer’s hotline and they promised me that they will see what they can do. But the World Cup will soon be over and all the tourists who buy the extra beer will go home. Maybe you guys have an idea about how to tune the cooling. You guys are engineers, right?”
We decided to take a bit of time and help him, but it was easier said than done. Christian from our team raised the (legitimate) concern on how we could help Cossimo as a bunch of architects, civil engineers, designers and cabinet makers. We had no clue about cooling systems and above all we could not afford to waste our time. Nevertheless, we decided to take a shot. But as a bunch of everything-but-the-cooling-specialists we had absolutely no idea where to start. The first thing we tried out was to reframe the problem:
Slow cooling problem > Lukewarm beer problem
With this small trick we noticed that the problem moved somewhat within reach. This encouraged even Christian to proceed and we all went across the street the see what was happening. The first thing we observed is that some of Cossimo’s customers, especially the younger ones, were buying soft drinks. As the portion of soft drink buyers grew, and more time had passed, we could not ignore it and call the problem a beer problem any more. We had to reframe it once again and ask ourselves what we could call the beer and soft drink buyers with one term. We came up with soccer fans, because all of them had the same thing in mind; they wanted to watch the next game on the square two blocks away. But we did one more thing. We asked ourselves what was going to be different after we were done. This helped us realize that we were on a mission of refreshing soccer fans.
Lukewarm beer problem > Refreshing soccer fans
By spending some time in Cossimo’s shop and observing what was going on, we gained a crucial insight. We saw people touching the bottles in a search for cold ones and picking bottles mostly from the back of the fridge. Then Christian said:
“Let’s tilt the shelves!”
“Tilting shelves will make the bottles from the back slide to the front and within reach of Cossimo’s customers when the space in the front frees up. And neither the fans nor the shop employees will need to touch the bottles any more. They can all rely on gravity for help. All they need to do is select from the front and refill from behind.”
Our boss listened to our discussion in the background and decided to send Michael and Ingrid, our cabinet makers, across the street to try our solution out. After they drilled a few holes and fastened some screws, the shelves were tilted and the cold bottles slid smoothly down to the front. Cossimo saw this and started jumping around:
“Mamma mia! You guys are genius! Can I offer you some grappa or maybe beers? Or, are you hungry? I have some bruschetta over there… But guys, please tell me. How did you come up with this simple idea?”
We were happy to make Cossimo happy, but it was too early for a beer and too late for bruschetta. It was 3:00 PM and we had just had our lunch. We told Cossimo that we came up with the idea to tilt the shelves by thinking how to “refresh more soccer fans” and promised we would stop by later. We were able to fix the “slow-cooling-problem” justwithin a couple of hours by thinking in outcomes:
Outcomes = Current situation + X
First we designed an outcome that really mattered through reframing problems to meanings. The slow-cooling-problem did not mean anything to anyone, not even to Cossimo as it turned out. All that mattered was refreshing the soccer fans. Secondly we analyzed the situation and saw people handling the cold bottles in the back of the fridge. And last but not least, we had to focus since we only had a couple of hours to help Cossimo and the World Cup lasted only for a few weeks.
Refresh soccer fans = More than enough cold beers in the back of the fridge + Tilting the shelves
After work we stopped at Cossimo’s grocery to celebrate and take him up on his offer of grappa and beer. But Cossimo had had his own stroke of genius. Same as our Anna had assigned the meaning of bridge over the crocodile river to the row of books and had fun walking across it, Cossimo installed fans at the cash register and with his “ciao bellas and ciao bellos” designed a Bella-Italia experience for the growing line of soccer fans.