Do We Have to Do It That Way?

We went on a road trip this week up into New England, just to get away from work for a few days. On the road, we stayed in a few different hotels.

At pretty much every hotel room I’ve stayed in over the past decade, there’s been a tiny coffee machine in the room — something like this:

hotel coffee machine

To me, they’re like the alarm clocks in hotel rooms: Something that’s purely decorative. In all the nights I’ve stayed in hotels, I don’t think I’ve ever used one of these machines.

But one night on our trip, in Burlington, Vermont, the front desk explained that they’d recently renovated the rooms, and made a small change. Instead of a coffee machine in each room, they’d built a coffee bar on each floor, available to all guests. We’d find it at the end of the hall.

When we went upstairs, we noticed it right away: They’d built out a full bar area with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, as well as sparkling and still water on tap. And in the room, where there’d usually be a space for a coffee machine, the hotel had been able to carve out a bigger space for a desk.

It was a small thing, but it got me thinking: What else are we doing simply because we’ve always done it a certain way? Sure, a coffee bar instead of a machine in every room is a small tweak for a hotel. But to me, it suggested that this hotel had asked some interesting questions when redesigning their rooms. They’d clearly asked guests what they wanted, and likely heard that guests wanted a better selection of coffee and water on demand. (Why is it that at most hotels, to fill up a water bottle, you have to go to the hotel gym?) They’d almost certainly noticed how many of those coffee pods were going unused by visitors. (Do those get thrown away? Do they just sit there, waiting for another guest?) And they’d considered how costly it is to maintain hundreds of small coffee machines instead of just a single machine on every floor. (Where do you even get the in-rooms machines repaired?)

The result was a simple but really smart innovation. And I’m betting that if you took a step back and looked at your work, you might find a few opportunities for improvement, too, simply by asking two questions:

Why do we do it this way?

And: Do we have to?


I took that photo of a tiny coffee machine at a different hotel. In retrospect, I probably should’ve taken a photo of the coffee bar, too!