Intentionally Inefficient

Intentionally Inefficient

For an hour, we were next in line, which didn’t mean much as the group ahead of us were ten people, seven of them children, all of them needed fittings for their mountain bike rentals. The staff at the shop climbed over each other, passing gear of various sizes, looking for wrenches and adjustment tools to configure each bike to the rider.

It takes a lot to fully prepare someone to ride a mountain bike down a dirt-dry ski slope in the offseason, much less ten people. In the hour we stood watching, the line behind us stacked up fifty people deep.

We were next, sure, but I was certain we weren’t riding on a bike that day.

In my head, I started racking up all of the inefficiencies. My operational mindset took over and considered all the ways time was being wasted, where things were being held up, and all the places one-minute jobs were taking five.

How can you get someone suited, calibrated, and ready in twenty minutes, instead of forty? How can you work with three people at once, instead of one at a time?

As a customer on the outside, I saw the inefficiencies because it was keeping me from an experience I had paid for. My reactive way of looking at it: they want to make more money, don't’ they?

It turns out hourly employees don’t much care about ROI. They like to do things the way they’ve always been done.

As we left, without riding, I started thinking of all the reasons people weren't rushed through.

  • Safety, of course. Downhill biking requires body armor and pads and full-face helmets for a reason. A loose brake or a misaligned seat or a weak hydraulic could mean a broken bone, or worse.

  • Bike tires likely cause more wear and tear on the mountain than skis and several feet of snow. The more people on the mountain, the more its torn up, the more time it takes to restore the trails.

  • More people riding means more people supervising. More bike patrol. More people tending the lifts.

Increasing the efficiencies in one system typically requires the increase in the effectiveness of other systems both upstream and down. To go from shipping 10 people out the door each hour to twenty requires the next step to be ready to handle twice the load. On the other end, are enough bikes coming back every hour to serve the next handful of customers? How long does it take to repair derailleurs and adjust tire inflation and clean the thing off so it works for the next person who takes it out

Maybe the bike shop moves slow and the technicians keep things in disarray to prevent flooding the mountain and all of the other employees on it.

Or, maybe this is a ski resort town in the middle of June and this is just the pace everything moves at. Maybe not everything needs to be hyper-efficient all the time - just good enough to keep the business open for the people who need it.

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