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Invisible in Plain Sight

During my career I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many places around the world. Most of my time, however, was spent in Europe or the USA. And during my travels, I noticed something interesting; Europeans hold the fork in their left hand, knife in their right hand and eat with the prongs facing down (figure 1) while Americans (right-handed ones anyway) hold the fork in their right hand and eat with the prongs facing up (figure 2)

So why do I notice this? Until recently, the answer was “I have no clue”. It’s just something I picked up on over the years and used as conversation fodder with my European colleagues.

I recently had an epiphany! I was out to dinner with my wife and noticed that she was using her fork “European style”. Since she’s not European, I had to ask why the change after 54 years of solid American training? Her answer was “Since I’ve been traveling to Europe a lot, I just decided to try it their way and it stuck”. That of course raised my curiosity further. Why would someone who has done something the same way for 54 years, something as basic as eating, suddenly change?

The answer is efficiency. I conducted a quick, unscientific motion study during dinner and learned that the European way is much more efficient.

When I want to eat something like a piece of meat American style, I hold the fork in my left hand and the knife in my right. I hold the meat still with the fork and cut with the knife. I then lay down the knife, switch the fork to my dominant right hand, grasp it like a pencil and retrieve my food. Then I need to switch everything back to start on the next piece of food. If I want to eat that same piece of meat European style, I would hold the fork in my left hand and the knife in my right. I would steady the meat with my fork, cut with my knife and just lift the food to my mouth with my left hand. I’m then ready for the next piece.

WOW! The amount of wasted time and motion in the American system is astonishing. If I were to take the amount of wasted time and multiply it by the number of meals I’ve eaten with a fork and knife to date, I suspect the total would be in years!

My point isn’t that eating quicker is better. In fact, just the opposite is true. My point is that the wasted motion and time in my eating process has been invisible in plain sight.

In my consulting practice, I preach that the answer to inefficiencies around the workplace are often right in front of you. Sometimes, it takes a facilitator to show you how simple adjustments can yield big improvements in productivity. In this case, my wife unknowingly played the role of facilitator.

I will probably never switch to the European style of utensil mechanics. However, this will be a conscious decision. I will choose to be inefficient.

I probably wouldn’t choose to do that with my business!

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