The morning coffee time challenge: How to turn problems into data and innovate solutions

An IBM executive gave advice to graduates. He said to develop the skill of figuring out how to do something with data. This can be finding it, gathering it, organizing it, generating it, analyzing it, interpreting it, making meaning of it, communicating it, and innovating from it. I bet he means quantitative data (numbers). I enjoy taking qualitative data (observations, what people say, etc.) and turning it into quantitative data so that you can more easily do something with it. Innovation can be more successful if it is grounded in data. Here is an example of how to take stuff and turn it into data and an innovation. Lately I have been most passionate about helping people to innovate their own lives, solve their own problems, respond to change, and transform themselves at a higher level. This begins with identifying a challenge. A common challenge I see many people face is not having enough time. A similar specific challenge I have in my life is waking up early and getting somewhere early enough without being rushed. I love sleeping and I need an intervention to help me get up, moving quickly, and energized without being rushed. This is a challenge that if I could solve it it would improve my work and life as a whole. So I decided to zero in and keep asking what the problem is.

What is the problem? I’m rushing in the morning and just getting to early appointments in the nick of time. What is the problem with that? I don’t have enough time to get ready in the morning?

Now we have an opportunity to turn our observations into quantitative data. What is the quantitative or numerical measure associated with this challenge. It is time, specifically measured in minutes. I decided to keep track of the order that I did things in the morning and how many minutes each took. This was in order to arrive on time for an 8:15am meeting.
1. Wake up (usually woke up right away but did a 10 minute snooze sometimes). 7:00
2. Brew coffee 7:00-7:20 (20 minutes before it was ready)
3. Check all of my various email accounts while the coffee was brewing. 7:05-7:25
4. Bathe 7:25-7:45
5. Groom 7:45-7:55
6. Get Dressed and prepared to leave 7:55-8:00
7. Leave for meeting 8:00
The problem was that by the time it came to get dressed I was rushing and wasn’t happy about that. I only had five minutes to get dressed, gather everything up, and head out the door. This needed to change. I was waking up early enough…I had always been able to get ready in one hour…so something was different now. I needed to get to the bottom of it.
I reviewed my time list above and I saw two items that I was spending a lot of time on that I judged to be too much. I didn’t have a problem with 35 minutes for bathing, grooming, dressing, and preparing to leave. I did have a problem with what happened right after I got out of bed…the coffee and checking of email. When I focus on that part of the morning routine I notice the email checking happens because of the coffee brewing time. I have to wait for the coffee so I go online and sometimes linger there even after the coffee is ready. So that problem would go away if the coffee problem could go away. One problem causes another. So, I will next zero in on the problem that matters most…coffee taking 20 minutes to brew:

You now have to ask what is the problem with the problem.
Why was coffee taking 20 minutes to brew?
1. The coffee machine is small and old. It drips really slowly.

What are potential solutions?
1. Get a new coffee machine. This seems like a waste since the coffee machine works fine.
2. Brew the coffee and then bathe. Not a good solution because I want the energizing effects of the coffee early. Plus it is a nice reward when waking.
3. Clean the coffee machine with vinegar so that it is less clogged and brews faster. Great idea!
4. Delay brew the coffee so that I hear it 20 minutes before I wake up and it is ready the moment I step out of bed! Great idea! This will help me wake up more energized. The delay brew has two great benefits.

I implemented the innovation. It was simple. I loaded the coffee machine up at night and programmed it to start brewing at 6:40am. I decided to give it a difficult test the other day. I had the 8:15am meeting the first day after I arrived back from a trip to Chile and Argentina. It was a long flight and I hadn’t slept much so I knew waking up would be really difficult that day. I heard the coffee machine kick in at 6:40. I was up before the alarm. I enjoyed that first sip of coffee at 7am and started getting ready. I was ready early and had time to check emails before I headed out the door at 7:55. People were surprised to find me at the meeting early after my long trip and even commented about it. We talked about using data to innovate and I shared the story. The innovation worked!

All of this started from a challenge or problem…I’m rushing in the morning.
The solution was rather simple. What was needed though was the quantitative data to help me “get it.” Many times we cannot see what is most obvious. I couldn’t see that coffee was taking 20 minutes to brew or that I even had a delay brew function on my coffee machine.

What is a challenge you are having in your life? Is there a way to observe and assess it and turn it into data that is quantitative…like time, dollars, a 1-10 rating, etc? Doing this will help you compare in relation to other things and see what the problem is so that you can focus in on it and develop innovative solutions that may be simple once you have awareness.

Stay tuned for part 2. Yerba Mate: Connecting in ideas from other countries to solve your problems.

About The Author


Darin Eich is the author of Innovation Step-by-Step: How to Create & Develop Ideas for your Challenge and Root Down & Branch Out: Best Practices for Leadership Development Programs and has a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Darin was also the president and co-founder of BrainReactions,, and other startups. Darin gives speeches and can be hired to help your institution facilitate, create, and develop innovation programs, courses, retreats, and even conduct assessment or coach staff on developing leadership programs. Visit Innovation Training to see for yourself or email