When bureaucracies become single minded

One of the most powerful things you can do is focus your entire organization on a single goal, a single idea, a single way of doing things.

We’ve seen this used successfully in organizations like Federal Express (which spent its first decade obsessed with being on time) and Southwest Airlines (which wants to be nice).

Be careful what you wish for. Two true stories from last week:

Standing in the airport security line. The guy behind me hadn’t got the memo, apparently. He’s busy dumping toothpaste and shaving cream in the garbage. Then he grabs an aftershave product and says, quite loudly, "I think I can bring this… it’s a balm." I’m not making that up.

The woman didn’t bat an eye. She said, "fine."

Then, traveling through Newark, I grabbed a bottle of water after getting off the plane. The counter person (not a trained security agent, mind you), says, "you need to leave the cap here." This got my attention. It turns out that the policy at Newark (not other places I visited recently, just Newark) is that you can’t buy a bottled water post-security and keep the cap.

It’s a bring your own cap sort of situation I guess. (Are you allowed to bring your own cap?)

I will leave the analysis of the logic to you.

By energizing and focusing a huge organization of people on the eradication of liquids of all kinds (but not balms), the government tells a story. It’s a story to the passengers, and a story to their employees as well. Yes, it’s all marketing, this too.