Rube Goldberg and Stupid Systems


Every year, students compete all over the country in the Rube Goldberg Competition. Named after the American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer and inventor, it is now a noun. The process of creating a Rube Goldberg is defined as: doing something very simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary.

We see this every day in all kinds of businesses. The most recent example I witnessed last week at the new BurgerFi restaurant that just opened in my town. If you haven’t heard of this place, it’s a burger joint…plain and simple. And I’m guessing that because there are a lot of burger places, and most of them are less expensive, BurgerFi, which is a franchise, wanted something unique to set them apart from their competitors.

Enter the tracker system they use once you order. The order taker at the counter gave us our tracker and instructed us to place it on the mat on the table so our order could be delivered to us.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. IMG_3676

We find a seat and sure enough, the mat is easy to spot – right in the middle of the table.  We placed the tracker on the star in the middle of the mat which has black hole in the middle, which we assumed communicated with some high-tech GPS system so they know where to bring our order.

Sidebar: The BurgerFi logo is on the tracker pad. This is important information for later.IMG_3675

About two minutes go by, then the owner/manager comes over to our table and moves the location of the tracker, explaining we placed it in the wrong spot.

We take a closer look and in small print on the four corners of the mat are the words;     Place Table Tracker Here

We missed that. So I called the owner/manager over to ask him how IMG_3674often he has to change the location of the tracker for his customers. He told us “about 40% of the time…”. So, four out of every ten orders, he runs around the restaurant having to “fix the system”. I asked him if there might be a better way to find the right table without all the unnecessary effort. His reply was something along the lines of “Yes. But it’s part of the BurgerFi experience.”

This is a classic Rube Goldberg: doing something very simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary. There are so many other systems for delivering food to the right table that don’t occupy someone’s time trying to fix what isn’t working. Unfortunately, no one wants to abandon the system for a better way because the company has invested so much in the system and has tied it in with their “brand”.

Is your practice guilty of some Rube Goldbergs? Do you have systems that don’t benefit you or your patients? Systems that are outdated? Systems that require remediation? Systems that occupy the time and energy of valuable staff for no payback? The router system? The half the record in the paper chart/half on the computer system? The hygiene post card/phone call/email reply for “confirming” appointments system?

Bring your team together and use this blog post as a conversation starter about the stupid systems in your practice and how you can think smarter, not harder.


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