The “Toothpaste Moment” – Inefficiencies in standards and predefined procedures


Everyone that knows me would tell you that I have a tendency to criticize and poke fun at the inefficiencies in systems, processes and policies. A large part of me likes to think that that’s an inborn personality trait, and I’m naturally sarcastic. However, for those who seek to understand this unique sense of humor a little better can attempt to read the book “The Milkshake Moment: Overcoming Stupid Systems, Pointless Policies and Muddled Management to Realize Real Growth” by Steven S. Little.

Am not going to do a book review here as I believe someone else can do this better than I can. However, Steven cleverly articulated the idiosyncrasy of systems and policies, specifically how clumsy organizations can get.

Jokes, humor and sarcasm aside, as we look at how organizations tries to engineer processes, structure and policies to introduce standards and consistency in delivery, I’m sure we have no lack of examples where such implementations become an overkill.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about this toothpaste moment that I had. I tend to be a little bit of a tree hugger. In many of my business travels, I’ve noticed that the hotels would usually provide us with toothbrush and toothpaste.

The problem becomes a little bit more apparently when you stay for an extended period of time. Do you notice that usually, the toothbrush and toothpaste are sealed together in nice plastic wrapper?

While all that’s good from a hygiene and presentation angle, but I’ve always had the issue where the toothpaste would run out and I had to open a new pack which consist of both the toothbrush and toothpaste.

Thus, if I’m staying for an entire week, I would end up with 3 toothbrushes which I’m sure I would last me at least 3 to 6 months normally.

A simple remedy is to pack the toothbrush and toothpaste separately, which so far, I’ve only seen one hotel do that.

While the hotels generally do a good job with being environmental friendly, for example with their towel policies and such, they do face an interesting challenge with having to maintain a certain level of customer service standards and such.

If we use the same lens to look at an organization design, how do we identify the inefficiencies? This does not just apply to hotels and their toiletries. What about processes, tracking and monitoring?

Process administration creates overheads and cost resources to maintain. We need to whether the intended result is justified or if a tradeoff will cause a deviation. Let me go back to a hotel example again. For example, hotels issues umbrella to its guests when it’s raining. If the cost of administrating the loan system for these umbrella is more than the cost of guest losing the umbrella, would you still recommend tracking it? If the guest loses the umbrellas, would you make them pay for it?

The argument can be made from either side, and honestly there’s no absolute right or wrong answer. Some would also argue that the answer is different if it’s a luxury hotel vs. a budget one.

Finally, there will be many of these “Toothpaste Moments” or “Milkshake Moments’ that we’ll encounter as we embark on our organizational/ process design. I guess, at the end of the day, we need to rely on our trusty common sense.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Eric Wong

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Eric Wong is APAC Head of Talent Acquisition Leader at Fitbit. His experience spans across the various human resource functions such as HR Information Systems, Business Partnering and Talent Management. Eric currently sits on the Advisory Board of the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS). Connect with him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter @ErickyWong.