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Category: Small Business

Stop procrastinating—accomplish items on your to-do list! This new candy-based “Kanban board” will amaze and shock you when it doubles your productivity! Results not guaranteed.

Background:

One popular method of organizing items that need to be done is the “Kanban board” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_board) (e.g. the web site Trello).

Conceptually, this resembles a to-do list with categories as columns. Each item to be done a single sticky note (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Here is a basic Kanban-style to-do “list” with sticky notes on a whiteboard. Some of these tasks are quite annoying, and may be postponed for a long time! That snake will have the run of the garage forever, at this rate.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to get motivated to do items on a to-do list, especially if there is no appealing inherent reward.

Proposal:

In order to fix this procrastination-promoting scenario, we simply use clear tape to affix a pice of candy to each to each sticky note (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: The board above has been modified in a cheap and easy-to-set-up manner: a single piece of candy is taped to each not-yet-completed task.

When a person completes a task, they are allowed to eat the piece of candy that is taped to the task’s card.

For especially time-consuming tasks (e.g. “file taxes”), one could imagine taping several dozen small chocolates to the note in order to provide sufficient motivation.

PROS: Allows even the most unrepentant procrastinator to get motivated to accomplish a task.

CONS: May have negative health consequences for people who are especially productive, thus reducing their overall productivity. A paradox indeed.

Worried that a new student or a new employee will not get enough help in learning the ropes of their new situation? This problem, and many others, can be solved by a giant egg.

Background:

In many situations, such as political debates, the first day at a new school, or the first day on a job, making a good first impression is extremely important.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s hard for a newcomer to reliably make a great first impression if other people aren’t already predisposed to like them.

Proposal:

Fortunately, the animal kingdom has provided us with a solution.

Recall, if you will, how people are almost universally predisposed to have warm feelings for a newly-hatched baby bird (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Humans, as a whole, are generally predisposed to nurture the baby bird in the image above, even though it is unlikely that it would make a good politician, classmate, or coworker.

The solution is incredibly obvious: a new student or employee should be introduced to their classmates / coworkers not in the standard fashion (e.g. “This is Zebulon, he’s the new network administrator”) but by hatching them out of a giant egg instead (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: New employee onboarding would consist of everyone standing in a circle around a giant egg, out of which the new employee would emerge in birdlike fashion. This could be applied in various situations, for example: 1) introducing a new employee, 2) introducing a transfer student at a new school, or 3) inducting an elite military operative to a shadowy black ops squad.

Conclusion:

As a result of this new employee introduction process, everyone would be predisposed to help the newcomer feel welcome. This is definitely practical, and will almost certainly soon be adopted by schools, corporations, and governments.

PROS: Reduces friction in employee / student / etc. onboarding.

CONS: Requires storing a giant egg somewhere: this might be impractical in situations in which real-estate is at a premium (unless the egg is collapsable or deflatable somehow).

Revitalize your city’s probably-terrible public transit system with a new and unexpected source of funding!

Background:

In many cities, there is no substantial funding for public transit. This results in extremely poor service (routes with minimal coverage of the city and few buses). This leads to a “death spiral” where people stop taking the (terrible) public transit, the service gets even worse, and so on.

These problems can, in theory, be fixed with enough money, but who wants to pay for it?

Proposal:

There is a simple way to encourage companies to pick up the tab for public transit. Currently, advertising is the only method of obtaining private funding for buses, but maybe we need to think of some other options.

Consider the bus route in Figure 1:

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Fig. 1: Here is a default bus route, before it is changed it due to corporate sponsorship. Circles indicate bus stops.

In order to entice a company to help pay for this bus line, we’ll let the company have some influence over where the buses go!

This could result in several possibilities, including:

Possibility 1: A bus route could be “detoured,” with a new stop added in front of a specific business (Figure 2). This would bring new customers to the business, and allow the business’ existing signage to reach more eyeballs.

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Fig. 2: If a chicken-themed fast food restaurant sponsored this bus route, the final route might be detoured as shown. Although the route might take a few minutes longer, the passengers would be delighted by delicious and economical fast-food chicken!

Possibility 2: One or more bus routes could be re-routed so that the route itself spells out a company name or slogan on the map. Since these routes would show up on online map searches for transit routes, the chosen phrase (e.g. “CHICKEN_4_LESS”) would be shown to countless map-viewing individuals, even if they didn’t end up actually taking that specific bus.

Possibility 3: As a more nefarious option, the sponsoring company could route the buses around competing businesses, rather than toward their own.

Conclusion:

This is a great way to fund public transit that does not require city bonds or taxpayer funding.

PROS: Helps promote the futuristic cyberpunk-style dystopia that was promised in 1980s science fiction.

CONS: Might slow down buses a lot, since these chicken-vendor-based routes are unlikely to be optimal for commuters.

Never face “decision paralysis” due to a few one-star reviews on items you’re buying online, thanks to the “SURPRISE ME” purchase randomizer!

Background:

In the post-online-shopping world, there are now nearly innumerable purchasing options for every style of item.

If a person wanted to buy a particular style of baseball cap in the pre-Internet world, they would have the following option:

  • Go to a store
  • Purchase one of the, say, 4 or 5 suitable caps that are in stock.

But in the Internet-shopping era, the process is as follows:

  • Go online
  • Find literally thousands of options at nearly all price points
  • Find hundreds of reviews for each cap, ranging from “This hat saved my life ★★★★★.” to “This hat burned down my village and destroyed everything I ever loved. However, shipping was fast: ★★★☆☆.”

The issue:

A person may be unable to decide on a suitable purchase due to two factors:

  1. The overwhelming quantity of options (“overchoice“).
  2. The incredible amount of information available about each option (“analysis paralysis“). This is especially seen in purchasing of consumer electronics (e.g. a new stereo system or a television).

The solution:

Fortunately, the solution is very straightforward, and can be implemented by any web shopping site (see mockup in Figure 1):

  1. The user finds an item on the web site that is similar to what they’re looking for.
  2. The user adds this item to their shopping cart with a special button marked “SURPRISE ME.”
  3. Instead of adding the exact clicked-on item to their cart, the web site adds a similar randomly-chosen item that costs anywhere between 75% and 125% of the price of the clicked on item.
  4. The user is not informed of the actual contents of their shopping cart at checkout, only the total cost.
  5. A few days later, the mystery item arrives at the user’s house by mail.
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Fig. 1: Here, we see an online store that has a “surprise me” button that will allow the user to purchase a random item that matches their requirements (at left). (This is an alternate version of the situation described in the “solution” section above).

Conclusion:

Using the system above, decision paralysis can be avoided. This increases both the rate of all-devouring consumption of your customers, AND your company’s profit margins!

PROS: Could be legitimately implemented, probably does not break any local or national laws!

CONS: The rate of returns might be extremely high.

Vastly improve your whale watching tourism business with this new “guaranteed whale appearance” whale jail, A.K.A. the “cetacean cube.” Never disappoint a demanding and entitled tourist again!

TITLE: Vastly improve your whale watching tourism business with this new “guaranteed whale appearance” whale jail, A.K.A. the “cetacean cube.” Never disappoint a demanding and entitled tourist again!

Background:

Tourists in certain countries are willing to pay money to embark on a short boat trip in search of some sort of evidence of whales existing (e.g. a dorsal fin, waterspout, tail).

The issue:

Unfortunately, although this activity is billed as “whale watching,” there is no guarantee that a whale will make an appearance during the voyage, even if there is, in fact, a whale somewhere in the water underneath the whale-watching boat (Figure 1).

This is because the whales do not receive a cut of the tourist proceeds and thus, under capitalism, are not incentivized to appear at any particular schedule.

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Fig. 1: Despite there being many exotic marine animals in the water in this example, none of them are visible due to the opacity of the ocean water. The whale watcher is completely dependent on the whale deigning to come up for air at some point during the whale watching expedition. Outrageous!

Proposal:

The solution to this AWOL-whale problem is simple: an enormous transparent cube that is partially submerged into the ocean near the route of the whale-watching ship.

After the cube is partially submerged, most of the air in the top is pumped out, thus causing the water level to rise substantially above the normal water level (due to the lower atmospheric pressure in the cube).

The cube actually only has five sides: the bottom of the cube is open to the sea, thus allowing sea creatures to enter (or leave) the cube.

 

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Fig. 2: Thanks to this “cetacean cube,” the whale can be observed as if it is in an aquarium. Additionally, other sea life that does not need to surface for air can also be observed in the cube.

Conclusion:

This system should be of great use to coastal whale-watching tour boats.

PROS: Gratifies many tourists who would otherwise have had a whale-free vacation.

CONS: It may be difficult to create a structurally sound transparent cube for millions of gallons of water and to somehow anchor it in the open ocean. Even if it is possible to construct, it may be beyond the financial resources of a whale watching business.

Is a university lecture or job talk going on FAR longer than it is supposed to? Emphasize punctuality with this new incredible heat-lamp-based presentation setup!

The issue:

Sometimes, a college lecture or work presentation goes far over the allotted time (Figure 1).

Frequently, the presenter doesn’t even realize that they are over time.

 

One simple way to prevent a presentation from going over time would be to just have the power outlets turn off at exactly the designated end-of-presentation time.

However, this hard stop could be annoying: what we really want is something that will make the presenter inherently want to wrap up their talk.

Proposal:

The solution is simple: just have an array of heat lamps pointed directly at the presentation podium.

When the time limit has expired, the heat lamps turn on, one at a time. At first, the podium will be just a little warm, but it will quickly become scorching and unbearable. Thus, the presenter is encouraged to conclude their talk in a timely fashion.

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Fig. 2: The heat lamps above the presenter will gradually turn on when the presentation hits its time limit.

Conclusion:

An earlier shark-related proposal turned out to be too expensive, as it required creating a new auditorium with a raised platform above a shark tank. So this is an almost-as-effective solution for the university or business on a tight budget.

This heat lamp idea could be used in conjunction with an earlier software-only plan to “burn away” slides as they are shown. This “burning” idea would synergize well with the heat lamps, too!

PROS: Does not have the same recurring maintenance costs of the shark version of this idea in the link above.

CONS: May cause a circuit breaker to trip if the building is not wired for 6000+ watts on a single circuit.

Avoid many employment discrimination pitfalls with a new interview anonymization system! Tell your HR department about it today.

The issue:

When selecting an individual for a job, an unavoidable aspect of the process is the physical appearance of the candidate.

A job candidate might be unfairly penalized because of preconceptions about their age / sex / race / etc. Not only is this unfair to the candidate, but the overall situation also opens a company up to employment discrimination lawsuits even if they are not illegally discriminating.

Proposal:

To help avoid even the most subtle biases in the evaluation of a job candidate, the HR department should issue a full face-covering mask to all on-site interviewees (Figures 1 and 2).

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Fig. 1: When interviewing job candidates who are wearing these masks, we don’t have to worry about certain types of illegal discrimination occurring, since the candidate retains most of their anonymity. These masks could be cheaply obtained from a halloween store (perhaps using the “Friday the 13th”-style of hockey goalie masks as a good baseline mask).

If there are multiple job candidates in a single day, the HR department could stock a number of distinct masks, so as to distinguish each candidate. “The red mask one” versus “the really unsettling purple-mask one,” for example.

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Fig. 2: It is possible that the mask should also cover hair, since hair color, texture, and style also “leaks” information that could theoretically lead to bias in the interviewer.

Since the masks are different styles without the colors, it may also be preferable to have the masks be entirely black-and-white (Figure 3), to avoid any cultural connotations with specific colors.

If you think this is ridiculous and would never happen, consider that a double-digit percentage of male candidates in the early-2000s Western world would prefer not to wear a pink mask (see also the dialog surrounding the “Mr. Pink” codename in the movie Reservoir Dogs), and other countries may have their own color-associated biases.

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Fig. 3: With these de-colorized masks, we don’t have to worry about culture-specific color associations.

Even with a mask, a person’s voice still provides substantial information about them, so these masks could also contain built-in voice modulators that would make all job candidates sound like Jigsaw from the Saw series.

Conclusion:

This is somewhat similar to the previous “anonymous government officials” idea (which has, surprisingly, still not been implemented!) but is more generally applicable.

PROS: Helps job applicants get a more fair evaluation, shields a company from accusations about certain types of illegal discrimination.

CONS: None! This is a perfect and practical idea.

 

 

Evade pesky zoning laws with this one new scheme that lets you (maybe) turn a commercial building into a personal residence!

Background:

In order to support technological progress, many people are willing to endure great hardships.

The issue:

For example, most Americans are willing to drive for 30–60 minutes every day on their commute, just so that they can help create a market for new types of transportation [*].

One might imagine that a person in the hour-long-commute situation would just move closer to their job, but local zoning restrictions (Figure 1) often make this impossible.

[*] For example, the car, the diesel car, the hybrid car, the electric car, the “ride-sharing” car (actually just a taxi connected to a phone app), and the elusive and currently-hypothetical “self-driving” car.

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Fig. 1: In the city map above, red areas are commercially zoned, and purple ares are residentially zoned. There is often a long travel distance to get between zones. (Real zoning is presumably more complex than “residential” vs “commercial,” but 95% of the author’s knowledge here comes from SimCity, so give me a break, man.)

Proposal:

Here are two proposed ways to help people live closer to their jobs:

  • Start a new “night watchman training” business with extremely comfortable suspiciously-apartment-sized rooms, and charge people a rent-sized amount of money for on-the-job training / courses for students. (If the students somehow fail to stay awake, they can just keep paying for the course as long as they want.)
  • Start a “sleep study clinic” (Figure 2). Normally, this is a legitimate business that diagnoses sleep apnea and other issues. Our modified version would be similar, but cheaper to set up, since it would not require any expensive medical equipment: in fact, the only piece of equipment supplied is a 5-dollar stopwatch (included with the apartment). When a resident is about to go to sleep, they can start the stopwatch, and when they wake up, they will have a vague idea of how long they were asleep. Naturally, this would be a paid service (costing about the same as the prevailing rent in the local neighborhood).

 

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Fig. 2: By converting this building from a traditional office to a “sleep study clinic,” it will be completely non-suspicious to see a bunch of rooms that look like furnished apartments, occupied by residents who stay there overnight.

Conclusion:

This is a plan that some developer should definitely try, just to see what happens.

PROS: Might help people rethink their established notions of what a “normal” commute should be.

CONS: Some overzealous “spirit of the law, not the letter of the law” lawyers and city council members would definitely put an end to a scheme like this. Also you might go to prison and/or owe somebody a bunch of money in fines.

The “jigsaw puzzle credit card” is the new ultimate invention in credit card security. Refuse to get a new corporate credit card if it doesn’t come with this incredible feature!

Background:

Credit cards are a popular payment method, especially for business transactions.

The issue:

Sometimes, high-value business transactions require the approval of more than one person.

Additionally, if a credit card is lost or stolen, someone will have to meticulously verify that no fraudulent transactions were made on it, which can be very time-consuming!

Proposal:

Both of these problems, and more, can be solved by physically cutting the credit card up into multiple pieces.

Each piece would be held by a different individual, and the card would need to be re-assembled (like a jigsaw puzzle, as in Figure 1) prior to any transaction.

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Fig. 1: This card can be disassembled into four pieces, all of which would be required in order to either use the chip or read the complete credit card number.

With this “jigsaw puzzle credit card” system, any transaction will be physically impossible without getting the approval of all card-piece holders, thus removing the need for complicated reimbursement systems involving people signing off on business expenses.

As an added benefit, if only a subset of the credit card pieces are stolen, the card will become unusable and the thief will be unable to make any unauthorized transactions.

This would be useful for both business travels and individual users who were, say, traveling to a foreign country with their friends or family.

Conclusion:

It would be possible to make cards in many different styles: for example, a card could be split into only two pieces, or as many as 8 or so before it started becoming impractical.

PROS: Facilitates commerce! Also works with debit cards, ATM cards, library cards, etc.

CONS: Each piece’s unusual shapes would make it difficult to fit into a wallet. Perhaps each piece could be slotted into a plastic “dummy” credit card, thus maintaining wallet compatibility.

Expand the ability of your small business to collect tips using the incredible secrets of UI / UX design plus human psychology!

Background:

In the United States, certain classes of business receive a substantial amount of their total revenue in the form of tips. Restaurants are probably the most common example.

However, now that a huge fraction of transactions are done by credit card or phone, it has become feasible for additional businesses to get in on the tip-collecting process (tip-collecting tablet example in Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: A lunch truck or takeout restaurant might have a tablet like this one. If designed properly, the user interface should subtly persuade the customer to click one of the tip buttons.

For example, previously, a lunch truck might have had an anemic tip jar—obviously a repurposed peanut butter jar—with 87 cents in it. But now, that same truck can just put a button labeled “TIP: 15%” on their electronic checkout screen, and a substantial fraction of patrons will select that option.

As a thought experiment, consider how many people would tip two dollars on a $10 burrito cash transaction (very few), then compare that to the number of people who would click the “20%” button on an electronic checkout (many more).

(Please appreciate the high-quality market research that went into the preceding sentence.)

The issue:

While the best part of this system is that it allows a normally non-tip-based or non-service business to get tips, there are still stubborn holdout customers who will not include (for example) a 25% gratuity for an oil change, or when buying tomatoes at a grocery store, or when paying a traffic ticket.

But there is still a way to persuade these individuals!

Proposal:

In order to incentivize people to click the tip button (instead of just the “checkout: NO TIP” button), we can simply have a secondary screen that shows the tip amount.

People might object to this brazen attempt to shame them for not including a tip, so we will disguise it a bit by calling it an “Order Confirmation” screen, and using it to provide a customer transaction number (i.e., it is a supplement to the normal “your order is number 326, your burrito will be ready when that number is called” process).

 

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Fig. 2: Here, we see a checkout counter with the tablet from Figure 1 at the bottom, and a helpful order confirmation screen at the top, showing off a customer’s generosity to other patrons along with a reminder of their order number.

Conclusion:

People might object to having the full dollar value of their transaction visible on the “confirmation screen,” so we could potentially show only the tip percentage rather than the full value.

PROS: Increases previously-untapped revenue streams for low-margin businesses.

CONS: None!