Empty Problem!

Once a toothpaste factory faced a packaging problem.  Many empty boxes were shipped without the tubes inside.  Therefore, the company hired a consultancy firm to solve the issue.

After spending a lot of time and money, the problem was solved.  A high-tech precision scale was installed at the end of the production line.  The scale would trigger a bell and stop assembly line whenever a box weighed less than the required weight.  Each time the line stopped, someone would check and offload the empty box from the line, and then restart the machine.  As a result, the company no longer shipped empty boxes and started gaining market share.

Interestingly, during one of his production review walks, the CEO discovered that the number of boxes picked up by the scale were zero instead of a dozen as it used to previously.  He suspected a defect in the scale.  But the investigation into this matter reconfirmed that the scale was working fine.

Perplexed, the CEO walked down the production line and noticed a desk fan placed just a few feet before the precision scale.  The desk fan was blowing away all the empty boxes into the bin.  One of the workers explained, “The guy responsible for checking the scale and restarting the line was tired of walking over every time the bell rang.  So, he placed the fan there.”

The story, humorously, shatters three common myths about “innovation”: 

  1. Innovation isn’t always about cutting-edge technology. Sometimes, the solution is so simple that we tend to miss it!
  2. Innovation isn’t always about new solutions. Sometimes, it is about revising an existing solution in a better way!
  3. Innovation isn’t always about top-down strategies. Sometimes, it is tactically driven- bottom-up by the execution teams!

Often, success lies in our willingness to imbibe ‘incremental’ innovations in the way we run our personal and professional lives.

Originality, Adapted, Skills, Style


  1. Amazing as always… Nice to read, agree with the myths. 🙂

  2. Excellent take away. Often on job improvisations turn out to be simple innovative tweaks that save big time.

    Also, this reminds me of another toothpaste story that I read a long time ago,

    The challenge was while the consumerism was well set and customers were loyal, sales continued to be stagnant.

    Many plans were laid out and discussed only to be rejected, meanwhile, a person approached the toothpaste company claiming that he can boost up the sales by 40% in exchange for his idea for a hundred thousand dollars(this was 1950s) along with exclusive rights. Company was skeptical to involve an outsider.

    However, company gave a shot looking at his confidence.

    After the legal formalities, the person, handed an envelope with a small paper slip which had the idea “Make the hole bigger”.

    It idea was that earlier the opening of paste was 4mm, that must be increased to 5mm which would boost the usage of toothpaste.

    Simple logic behind the idea being “Once the paste comes out of the container it is not easy to push it back.”

  3. 🙂 Nice! What a solution!

  4. Eye opener story as good as the “pen and pencil” story from “3 Idiots” movie! But mostly, authorities are not open for new ideas from the execution teams.

  5. Nice words on myths about “innovation”.. 🙂

  6. Good one .. Its all, what we see good in others and what we intent to adopt !!

  7. Nice, its all about Keep it Simple

  8. The point “a” in above story is super.

  9. Very Nice and Simple ! I remember the dialog from movie ‘Love you Zindagi’ – “Hum hamesha mushkil raasta kyun chunte hain zaroori kaam ke liye? Kya pata aasaan raaste se bhi kaam ho jaae…” we can save lot of energy if we are able to think simple wherever possible.

  10. This reminds me of a famous saying on laziness by Mr. Bill Gates..

  11. Very nice..it shows Knowing is not enough we must apply.

  12. Very nice. Try to find out smart solution before investing too much.

  13. Good one .. a lazy one will always find a solution.

  14. Nice,
    Apply KISS theory, “Keep it so simple”. As i said every problem has simple solution, Don’t make it complex.

  15. The respect shown by the person putting the fan, towards his Seniors is worth noting here.

    After few days (/hours) of implementing his solution of putting the fan, he must be confirmed, that the scale solution is redundant. Then also, he didn’t raise the need of removing the scale (which might be slowing down the assembly process).

  16. yes1! we can save lot of energy and money if we are able to look at problem with open eyes.

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Empty Problem! - Arun Nathani Blog