All I did was swap the contents. How hard could it be to get used to a change like that?

It’s well over a month since I moved the contents of the cutlery drawer at home. The old one had suffered years of wear and tear and didn’t slide too well, so it made sense to shift the burden to the next drawer along. Get a few more years out of the kitchen units. Save some money.

Horrors. Time and again we mistakenly open the old drawer, cursing as we realise all over again that it’s not in that one anymore. It’s changed. How frustrating. We feel stupid, as our brains singularly fail to learn the new way.

And even though everyone in my family understands and accepts the logic behind my, oh so rational, improvement, it is bemoaned universally. They would happily go back to the old, familiar way. No matter the consequences. It wasn’t that bad, they tell me. It was good enough and we can cope with the eventual repair or renewal costs.

Tough nut to crack, the force of habit. And I only changed the cutlery drawer.

2 Responses to The force of habit…

  1. Terry Rose says:

    This is a great example of simple changes / improvements being so frustratingly difficult to standardise (made to stick and become the new norm). Often, much bigger changes – in this case replacing the kitchen – don’t suffer from the same problem because the old drawer would no longer be available. But of course replacing the kitchen brings its own problems and is expensive.

    When helping folks implement ‘simple but difficult’ changes I ask them to come up with one or two quick and easy things that can be done to prevent the old ways of working from being reintroduced. I wonder what could be done for the kitchen drawer example?

    And then another thought comes to mind. If you knew beforehand that simple changes can be difficult to standardise, perhaps you would have considered other potential solutions. There’s typically more than one solution to any problem. For example, transposing the drawer runners from the next drawer along to the cutlery drawer.

    And yet another , this time somewhat depressing, thought. In many organizations the idea of systematically looking for improvements is not the normal or natural thing to do. “The drawer still opens doesn’t it?”

    Terry Rose

  2. David Allen says:

    Glad you liked my example, Terry. I’m delighted it prompted so many thoughts.

    No one in my family attempted to go back to the old ways of working; partly because the old drawer really doesn’t work that well, so they kind of accepted the need to improve, however grudgingly.

    Other potential solutions is an interesting thought. I could, with more effort and drawing on my limited technical expertise, have transposed the drawer runners. I could also have bought some new runners, at not too much cost. Options such as these, since they asked more of me, were less appealing. So I went with the easy option, perhaps deluding myself that it was an elegant solution.

    But you’re right, my solution (dare I say, management’s solution) was not the only one. And I must confess to no engagement with other users to explore all the possibilities.

    Given that, it might interest you to know that there is another downside to what I did, other than the pain of getting used to it. If you look at the photo, you’ll see a chopping board. Before I moved the contents of the drawer, it was possible to access the cutlery easily, down to the right hand side, whilst working at the board. Now, the drawer is directly below the board, right in front of you when chopping. It’s harder to access and when you do food frequently falls off the board into the drawer, leading to more work cleaning up. So it’s far from ideal. Yes, I could move the chopping board, but then the cutlery drawer would be to the left; great for lefties, but we’re all right handed. Oh dear.

    Lots of learning here then. And plenty of scope for some more PDSA in the kitchen.

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