Sunday, March 21, 2010

new model for apartment living

One of the benefits of apartments is that they can leverage the common areas to save residents (owners, renters, whatever) money, time, and space.

For example, instead of 100 different driveways, you can have a single parking lot/garage. It takes much less space and everyone can chip in for cleaning, maintenance, snow removal, security, etc (usually through association fees).

You can have one big pool instead of lots of individual ones. Again, residents can combine on cleaning, maintenance, capital costs, etc. Each person gets a better pool and it costs less.

You can reduce the size of residents' living rooms by having a really nice social area that could be rented for entertaining more than 5-10 people at a time. Instead of getting your own living room dirty, you could reserve the buildings social room. In case many people want to entertain at the same time, you could have some partitions and a reservation system for different sized parties.

So what else could be combined in this way if we use our imagination? How about the kitchen? How often do you use your oven on average? 60 minutes per week? That seems ripe for sharing. What if we created a shared cooking space on each hallway (say for 10-20 apartments). It would require much less space than 10-20 separate kitchens and still could accommodate a kick ass industrial size and strength oven, range, microwave, convection oven, grill top, pressure cooker, and perhaps more. You would never have to clean the appliances or the cooking area (but you still would your dishes!!) because that could be taken care of centrally. And if you are the type of person who likes to reheat leftovers at 2am in your pajamas, you could still have a microwave or toaster oven in your own pantry in your apartment. Maybe a wet bar too for plumbing. You would still come out ahead. This shouldn't resemble a dorm kitchen because you are sharing with other people like yourself - families, professionals, and so forth. Not 18-year olds who are away from home for the first time.

And even better, we can make use of technology. We could have a log-in on the appliances so if someone abuses their privileges, we would know who and could make them fix it/pay for it.

How about bathroom facilities? Not the master bath. Even though it is still not a college dorm, I think I would prefer my morning shower with more privacy. But how about the second bathroom? That could be out in the hallway and shared - big enough to accommodate the needed demand. It would cut down on the household chore that people hate the most - cleaning the bathroom. You would only have to use it when your house is busy. And it would be your guests that have to use it ;-D.

Would any of these be attractive to you? It could make apartment much cheaper (to buy or rent), reduce your household cleaning chores, give you better equipment and facilities, and more.

Double Blind Vote Counting

There are a lot of design modifications that can improve our voting systems. One example I am a big fan of is instant runoff. In this form, you don't just vote for your first choice, but also your second, and perhaps third and fourth depending on how many people are running. If no one gets 50% of the vote, the bottom candidate is eliminated and his/her supporters' second choices are used. This continues until someone has 50%. What this does it prevent anyone from winning with less than 50% of the vote. It prevents a minor candidate who gets a small minority of votes to swing the election from one major candidate to another (Nader, Perot, etc).

But today, I want to share the idea of double blind voting. In many countries, voting is mostly counted by hand and it is impossible to recruit people who are unbiased as to the result. So how do you prevent them from skewing the results? Well, what you do is have two rounds of counting, both of which are blind (hence "double blind"). Each district is designated by a number that the counter can not associate with the actual location. The order of the candidates is changed for each district and designated by a number so the counter doesn't know for any district which candidate is which number.

In the first round, the counter who types in the district has no way to cheat because he/she doesn't know if the person voted for candidate X or Y. Changing the district number could just as easily be switching his favored candidate for the other one.

In the second round, the same thing happens. The counter doesn't know what district the ballot comes from, so he doesn't know if his favored candidate is A or B. So switching the vote could again just as easily be going in the opposite direction of his bias.

This is a great example of using process design to deal with a vexing challenge with significant implications.

Semantics and Customer Experience

Semantics are often a very important part of how customers view a company's product or service. Sometimes, the label is meaningful because it indicates something real about the product. Calling a health insurance evaluation committee a "death panel" is important because it suggests that these individuals can be making life or death decisions about your access to care.

But more often, the semantics don't change anything tangible, but still have a huge impact on the customer experience nonetheless. One example is something I have been aggravated about for quite some time. Business Week magazine has a habit of publishing "double issues" once in a while. These issues aren't any longer or more substantial in content than the regular issues. They do give BW an excuse to take a week off following these publications, so I am sure it is a money saving exercise. I feel cheated because I am losing an issue without getting anything in return (so I guess this one is tangible to some extent). If they would just be honest and say that they are going broke because of a weak advertising market and have to do this to cut costs, then fine. I would still feel like I am losing an issue, but at least it would be honest. I think I am more annoyed by the dishonesty than I am by the loss of the issue.

An example that I think is purely about the semantics and has no real tangible loss is the terminology for alcoholic drinks that are served in martini glasses, but have no relation with the classic martini. I am talking about Appletinis, Chocotinis, Razztinis, etc. The original martini is a sophisticated and pure drink. It is supposed to be ordered because you like the taste of the alcohol going down. There is a reason it was the drink of choice of the Sean Connery James Bond. Can you imagine him ordering a Chocotini? Perish the thought!!!! I have nothing against people ordering a drink with Godiva liquor, vodka, and chocolate shavings around the side. In fact, they taste pretty good. But it ruins my experience of ordering a real martini when it shares the name with this concoction. Now, the word martini more often refers to a drink ordered by barely legal girls trying to get drunk in a dance club without tasting any alcohol. These are all the opposites of the experience I am trying to have. At home, I can think whatever I want and what other people call other drinks is irrelevant. But if I order a martini in a bar and the bartender gives me a list of these foofy fruitinis (term I got from an NPR commentary this morning), it ruins it for me. Instead, I just order a gin, served neat. Different glass, but better experience.