The Details Hiding Behind Your Curtains

Sitting in my favorite coffee shop the other day, I was gazing out the window over the bar seating, watching the busy people hurrying through the cold drizzle, collars pulled high. As I enjoyed a delicious cup of dark fresh coffee, as all reliably are at this particular shop, a customer walked out the door next to me. As he did, an interior decorative curtain was whisked out with him and got hooked on a black metal column outside the door. The door shut, and now the curtain, still attached to its rod, was half in the shop, and half out, looking very strange.

Shortly after, a kitchen worker walked out and began chatting with another employee who was having a smoke. As he went to walk back in, he noticed the strangely arranged curtain, and pointed it out to his colleague, the barista. Though I couldn’t hear them, it was clear that they were wondering who had put the curtain that way. They kind of laughed about it, like, “That’s a silly idea,” and shrugged it off, walking back into the shop and leaving the curtain as it was.

It was remarkable to me that, having not seen the accidental repositioning of this curtain, they assumed that it had been intentionally placed this way by some other worker, perhaps a superior. While they agreed that it looked rather silly, neither decided to take any action, deferring judgment to the mystery decorator.

Unable to contain myself, I interrupted my phone conversation to tell the barista that the curtain had accidentally entered this indecisive state of half-out-ness on the exiting shoulder of a recent customer. “Aaah,” she said and returned the now slightly soggy curtain to its normal state.

These clearly competent employees for some reason did not feel the impetus or empowerment to fix an element of the shop obviously gone awry, minor though it may have been. The barista serves kick-ass coffee consistently every time, and the cook serves up delectable sandwiches reliably, but window- (or in this case, door-) dressings are out of their purview. If this shop were purpose-driven, the slogan might be, “Our Purpose is Coffee, Not Curtains.”

What’s the meaning of this?

As we at Do Good Design Co. have been going through some hard-core process optimizations, it occurred to me that there might be some disarranged curtains hanging around that people simply take for granted. Everyone on a team should be motivated to question and take action on those things that seem out-of-place. Your organization’s team might rally strong around a common purpose, whether it’s great coffee, exceptional design, or housing the homeless, and do an amazing job at that. With great focus, they can truly excel. When you’re so focused on a singular external purpose, sometimes it can be easy to overlook your other, implicit purpose, which is to attend to your organization itself.