By Sarah Moss, Strategic Programs and Government Affairs Manager, Denver Fire Department
May 2017

Sarah and a roadside dinosaur
Sarah and a roadside dinosaur

In early May, I set out from Denver on a road trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado with my friend and fellow Black Belt Amanda Schoultz, Senior Aide to Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon. During the four-hour drive, we talked about Peak Academy’s Black Belt program and how we are supporting a culture of process improvement and innovation to elevate customer service in each of our jobs. Little did we know, innovation would become a theme of our mini vacation.

After a few hours on the road, we decided ice cream was in order. It was a road trip, after all! We stopped at a quick-serve restaurant (which shall remain nameless to protect the un-innovative). The menu listed, in various combinations: ice cream sundaes, milkshakes, and blended ice cream with an assortment of toppings, including Oreos. I ordered a blended ice cream with Oreos and Amanda asked for an Oreo milkshake.

The cashier, looking stumped, replied, “We don’t have Oreo milkshakes. We have chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.” Another staff member chimed in, “Besides, I don’t know how we would charge you for it.” Amanda and I looked at each other in stunned silence as the old axiom of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” played out before our eyes.

Undeterred, Amanda ordered a blended ice cream with Oreos, picked up a straw, and we got back on the road. Once the ice cream melted a bit, Amanda sipped her less-than-perfect milkshake. We devised approximately a dozen ways the cashier could have employed creative thinking to fulfill Amanda’s original order despite the menu constraints to delight a customer.

Amanda's innovation in bottle opening
Amanda’s innovation in bottle opening

Once we arrived at our campsite, we unpacked our cooler and discovered that while I remembered the beverages, I forgot to pack a bottle opener. This time, however, innovation won. Amanda surveyed the tools at our disposal and opened our drinks with her Jeep’s trailer hitch – an example of how innovative thinking shapes our approach to tackling challenges in all facets of life, not just in the workplace.

Road trips make memories. For these two Black Belts, “Just charge me for a side of Oreos!” and “Who needs bottle openers?” will be shorthand rallying cries for all kinds of problem solving for years to come.

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