Cycles on the ceiling

A story about design thinking

We visited IDEO at Pier 28 in San Francisco as part of Columbia Business School’s digital leadership program. We sat enthralled through a short class on design thinking (more here: One must mention, in case you didn’t already know, that IDEO designed the original mouse for Apple. ( But this article is not about what we were shown and awed by. It’s about a story we heard when we were leaving after a tour of the office.

As we trooped down the corridor leading to the exit, one could not help noticing the many bicycles on the ceiling. It seems that most folks come to office on a bike (of course, they do). And they have been doing so for years. People would get off their bikes, grab their rucksacks and dump the bike in the corridor. There were a lot of bikes in and around the corridor and workspaces. One of the local authorities, on a routine visit, pointed out that the bikes were a safety issue and needed to be dealt with.

Soon after, an employee solved his bike problem by designing a pulley system and hanging his bike over his work space. That logically led to organising a ceiling parking system in the corridor. But there was a problem. No one used the pulley systems. Bikes kept being left in the corridor, leaning against the wall. Changing behaviour is not easy. IDEO, of all people, knew that.

In a seemingly unrelated act, individual lockers (see pic) were put up on the corridor wall. In a matter of weeks, all the bikes were up on the ceiling. It seems no one wanted to block someone else’s personal cubby hole. Problem solved.

Now, that’s design thinking.