Monday, 4 May 2009

Creativity in the small things

Before I got into science writing I was mostly working in business creativity, something I still get involved in, though not quite as often now. This involves solving problems and coming up with ideas for business. It's not all about the big 'how do we make millions more profit' type ideas - and I think the concept of creativity in the small things is one that's just as applicable to writing as it is to business.

Let me give you a 'creativity in the small things' example from my BA days. Like many creativity ideas, it was never implemented - the opportunity is still there, but chances are it won't ever be used, because those involved don't have the imagination to implement it.

Like many organizations, BA had a whole manual giving details of allowances in different countries. For each country, reflecting exchange rates and goodness knows what, you were allowed so much for breakfast, so much for lunch and so much for dinner. I suspect someone was employed full time just updating the allowances.

A more creative solution? Have an allowance system based on the price of a Big Mac meal. You could allow, say, two Big Mac meals for breakfast, three for lunch and four for dinner. Before anyone worries about impending heart attacks, could I emphasize that I didn't mean you should have four Big Mac meals for dinner. Just that the amount of money allowed for each meal would be based on the cost of a Big Mac meal in that country.

You can throw away the manual and its hundreds of pages needing updating. McDonalds will do the sums for you. It's so simple, you might think at first sight that it's silly. But I really don't think it is. Creativity, as I said, in the small things.


  1. I have a feeling I've heard this before but can't remember where... The idea of the Big Mac as a kind of international monetary unit. I'm lovin' it.

  2. I agree, I find this really appealing and neat.

  3. The original Big Mac index was (and still is) prepared by the Economist (

    It's sufficiently robust to allow for a comparison of currencies but I don't think it could really do justice as a global allowance system because McDonald's local pricing policy is based on whether they dominate a market or are newcomers, or are somewhere in between. In each country their prices reflect this and hence in some countries they could be expected to be significantly different from the Purchasing Power equivalent of the actual currency.

    In any case the best deal these days for a company with multiple locations is to only allow staff to claim for actual expenses; no allowances. Exactly what MPs have been trying to move away from ....