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Finding Better Ways To Pour Coffee

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courtesy: David Yanko of Virtual Saskatchewan

This blog is about “finding better ways to pour coffee.”  At the risk of sounding like a bureaucratically-generated cliche, it’s a little like a more focused “think outside the box,” which I hate.  Allow me to explain what I mean, starting with a quick story.

A few years ago, I walked into my office break room.  It was early morning and the first pot of coffee was brewing.  The coffee pot was about one-third full, so we had a few more minutes before it was finished.  My eyes were still glazed over as my brain had not been woken up by the usual caffeine jolt that it requires.  It was then that I noticed a co-worker holding his mug underneath the coffee maker spout, directly receiving the brewed coffee.  Not a big deal, I thought, he’s just bypassing the temporary holding pot and putting the freshly brewed coffee one step closer to his stomach.  Lots of people do this.  But then, in an effort to get that caffeine nectar even more quickly, he took the one-third full coffee pot and began pouring it into his mug.

At this point, he’s filling his mug from two sources simultaneously.  This took a bit of dexterity, as it is a bit difficult to position the pot at the appropriate pouring angle while still keeping the receiving mug underneath the still-brewing spout.  My co-worker had mastered the technique, and he was sipping our cheap, crappy office coffee in no time.  I chuckled/marvelled at the maneuver, and had to ask when he got so impatient that he needed his coffee so quickly.  He laughed, and told me that a former employee at the company had shown him the trick long ago.  Whenever he got to the pot before the coffee was done brewing, he applied his learned skill and reaped the oh-so-important benefit of getting caffeine as early as humanly possible.

At the time, I thought nothing of it.  Other than replicating the technique myself, it didn’t cross my mind until recently during an interview.  While interviewing prospective candidates, I often ask simple questions just to get the ball rolling, i.e. – What have you done at your current job that you are most proud of?  For engineers, what have you implemented that has been universally adopted by the company?  Suddenly, the coffee pouring jumped into my head.  It occurred to me:  I need innovative coffee pourers.  Not only do I need innovative coffee pourers, but I need someone who most efficiently pours the coffee.

The point here, and I think this applies not only to engineers but to all professions, high-skill jobs demand complex problem solving.  Finding the most creative problem solvers is paramount to leveraging the most competitive advantage in the marketplace.  Back in college at the quarterly job fairs, a very successful software company was a frequent visitor.  They were looking for the best and brightest programmers, but you would never have guessed it from their 1-on-1 evaluations.  They handed each prospective candidate a packet that closely resembled an IQ test.  There wasn’t one question about C++ syntax, or any questions on algorithms, or even your quintessential programming problems (write a function to evaluate factorials using recursion).  Each question was a brain teaser, riddle, or trick question (three men are on one side of the river, and they all need to get across).  The goal was to find the candidates that came up with the best, most innovative solutions.  Year after year, this company pulled the brightest kids out of my school.

Now, I would never advocate that you simply hand a candidate some riddles and choose based on the responses alone.  The example is well-suited for fresh hires right out of college where the employer can evaluate GPAs, professor recommendations, graduate research, publications, etc.  And, I’m certain the follow-up interviews would be purely technical.  What I am saying is that hiring managers should place a lot of emphasis on how candidates attack and ultimately solve technical problems.  You may just find someone that pours coffee better than everyone else.

What kinds of unusual solutions have you run into in your day-to-day work?  I’m really interested in hearing the fun, mundane office-life innovations that people have discovered.  I’d love to hear more “coffee pot” stories!

Category: Blogs, Efficiency, Engineering & Design

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One Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    Taking the coffee before the pot is full weakens the rest of the coffee. I also have seen and used the technique before I realized I was robbing others of a “normal” cup of coffee and giving myself the stronger portion (assuming the grounds get weaker as the brew continues). It maybe good for innovation, but only at the expense of robbing your co-workers.

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