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Three Things I Learned at the Urinal

When you are as curious as I am, there are learning opportunities everywhere—even in the bathroom. Lately, when I go to a public restroom, I am reminded of three important leadership lessons.  I don’t know where your mind is going but stay with me here.  

Public men’s restrooms typically have urinals, which are basically little toilets high enough that you can urinate into them while standing up. They are super convenient, but they come with one major drawback: back splatter. Basically, there’s splatter when water hits a hard surface. You don’t need to have used a urinal to know that. (I had prepared a discourse and calculations about water flow and gravity, but I’ll spare you.) There are various urinal designs–different shapes and water levels–and devices that try to reduce the splatter.  

The latest anti-splatter device is the urinal screen. It’s pretty simple, but innovative. Imagine an upside-down brush with thick, singular, upward-pointing bristles that dissipate and deflect the urine stream so there’s less back splatter. The screens come in different shapes and sizes for different urinal types and with different features like odor resistance and deodorants, and branding plates.  

Alright. So, now that you have all that background, how is going to the restroom a learning experience?  And what can you learn at the urinal?  

The first reminder is the importance of training your staff in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. Even the simplest tools can be confusing.  As obvious as their function is to me, I have seen these urinal screens installed in some peculiar ways.  I’ve seen them upside down, as in, with the flat surface on top as if the “bristles” were to keep the screen elevated from the urinal surface.  I’ve seen them installed two to a urinal stuck together facing one another as I imagine they were packaged.  And I’ve seen them cut into pieces and spread over multiple urinals perhaps because they were only thought of as deodorizing devices.  I asked a building manager about the latter and, although I didn’t get a response, the next week they were installed intact, one to a urinal.  However, the following week, they were each flat against the back of the urinals for some reason that I cannot begin to fathom.  A simple lesson in what these screens are for and how they should be inserted would make them actually useful and not be a waste of resources. 

The second lesson of which I am reminded is that different problems require different tools.  There are so many different urinal solutions because, as I mentioned above, urinals are different.  For example, the screens just don’t work if the water level in the urinal is above the screen or if the screen lays flat on the bottom of the urinal.  So, even if it’s cheaper to buy a product in bulk to use everywhere, it doesn’t do any good if the product doesn’t fit the application.  Sometimes, different problems require different tools. 

Lastly, when I visit a urinal with an ill-placed or ineffective screen, I am reminded that users often will create their own solutions.  If you understand the physics of back splatter, there are ways to use a urinal and minimize splashing.  Men all over the world have figured these ways out.

So, if you’ve provided a solution without training or one that doesn’t actually fit the scenario, don’t be surprised if it isn’t used and people find an alternative without telling you. 

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