The Empty Soapbox

(via GK Murthy) One of the most memorable case studies on Japanese management was the case of the empty soapbox, which happened in one of Japan’s biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soapbox that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soapbox went through the assembly line empty. Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. Post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soapboxes that passed through the line to make sure they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but they spent a whoopee amount to do so.

But when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed with the same problem, he did not get into complications of X-rays, etc., but instead came out with another solution. He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line . He switched the fan on, and as each soapbox passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.

Always look for simple solutions. Devise the simplest possible solution that solves the problems. Always focus on solutions & not on problems.

Now look around and see how many of these simple solutions we require to make India a better place to live. Our roads, way we drive, our congested airports etc.

1 thought on “The Empty Soapbox”

  1. Agreed, simple is beautiful and elegant. But sometimes, if done well, it (complicated approach) satiates the intellectual pursuit (often individual, seldom organization) to do things non-trivially. With the fan being a stop gap arrangement, a second derivative process could be a scalable method to combat other problems in the future. The US/USSR space pen anecdote being another example:


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