Efficiency: being invited in for coffee, I discovered, is rarely about coffee

by Paul Carder on August 17, 2014

by Paul Carder@paulcarder

Returning home late in one of my first cars, one of my first girlfriends invited me in for coffee. She filled a huge kettle right to the top, and switched it on. I remember saying, “Are you expecting someone else to join us?” Unaware of my humour (probably our eventual demise), she proceeded to explain how her father had told her that all machines are most efficient when working at full capacity. For once, I kept my mouth shut – there is a time and a place. I think I just smiled and said, “He’s a clever guy, your Dad”, not that I had a clue, and hoping that I would not meet him that evening. Anyway, I doubt that the coffee was important. I discovered it rarely was.

Somewhere, the truth about the efficiency of the kettle had been lost in translation. Like the old World War I story, recounted here by Ben Rooney in the Wall Street Journal:

In the annals of military folklore is the story of the supposed orders being sent by a British unit in World War 1 that was sent as “Send reinforcements, we are going to advance” but received by the headquarters  as “Send Three and Fourpence, we are going to a dance”. And this was in the days before Google Translate.

The real point is, of course, that filling the kettle ‘to the max’ may ensure that the kettle works at maximum efficiency. But, it is not efficient for two cups of coffee. And, if you have little interest in the coffee anyway, it is certainly not effective! Even the sentence is not efficient – “Would you like to come in [stop]” is efficient. “For a coffee” could be replaced….

Is this going somewhere? Maybe. So, coffee is not the biggest issue. When to meet, how to meet, where to meet – we can be more effective. That is a bigger issue.

At the corporate level, imagine the numbers. My friends at Condeco are making inroads into analysis of the efficiency of meeting rooms and related resources. In fact they have been recognized by Gartner for doing so. Some of the world’s largest organisations such as GE, Chevron, Barclays, Unilever and BBC, all use Condeco to book their meeting rooms, desks and resources across the world.

How many very large kettles are there out in the huge corporate world, boiling up for just two cups?

Or, how many very large meeting rooms are there in all those thousands of buildings, being used by two people for a meeting? Any facilities director knows, there are “a lot” (those in the companies listed above, having Condeco reporting tools, will know far more accurately). Worse, “no shows” are the equivalent of boiling the large kettle, then not drinking the coffee anyway! But on a macro and very expensive scale.

As managers of the corporation’s second-largest expense – buildings, space and related resources – we must do more to manage this inefficiency. Much like the question, how often in human interaction does ‘coffee’ mean ‘coffee’? How often does a meeting need a meeting room? Where, and what size? These are decisions with a cost implication.

Coffee often does not mean coffee. Two people boiling a huge kettle is inefficient. And every ‘couple’ meeting in a 20-seat conference room is costing your shareholders.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

paul September 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Derek, yes, the business value, or ‘externalities’ in economic terms, of coffee, could have been a productive PhD subject ….one for someone in the future!

Reply

derek clements-croome August 24, 2014 at 9:16 am

Well Paul it depends if you are having a second cup maybe? You need to look at Newtons law of cooling to see the optimum time for having the second cup. There are two main slopes and try to keep to a time within first slope so that any reheating is minimal—–this is a very unromantic interpretation of what your girlfriend may have intended.
Also you must not boil the water for coffee but you must do for tea if you want to get the best results!
But of course having coffee has many other lovely social virtues—-discussion, intimacy, friendship, reading…..–either alone or a deux or more. The coffee houses of Vienna are witness to that—try Café Halweka in Dorotheagasse 6 when next in Vienna.
You are so busy on the media I notice but this is also a good way of quickly gaining experiential knowledge for your PhD.
Perhaps one should be looking at the added value of coffee where the energy question is only part of the issue.
Derek

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