What’s in the Fridge?

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast and using food refrigeration and handling as an example, Seth discusses system thinking and the opportunities available to us for a better design.

Seth began with the following observations. First, the refrigerator is wasting a lot of power every day. Two, the marketing industrial complex has pushed us to do more and more food shopping than what we need. Third, we waste a lot of food. Four, a lot of us are fat. One of the reasons for obesity is we are eating out a lot. We mindlessly eat that food with a lot more fat, salt, and sugar. Next, we are unaware of what we are consuming. Finally, the refrigerator is a symbol of the miracle of food supply chain in our era. The convenience and a vast selection any time we want also created a lot of waste.

But the system is inefficient. It wastes energy. It wastes time. It lets us fall into so many traps of being manipulated by the marketing industrial complex into emotional and mindless eating. The whole idea of the food chain comes to a single point in the refrigerator in our home.

What would happen if we reinvented the fridge? Here are some ideas.

Number one, we can put scanners in the fridge. The scanner can recognize the food items either via a bar code or its appearance. The refrigerator knows when we put something in the fridge, what item it is, and how long it has been in the fridge. It also can make a good guess as to how much is in it, how much it weighs, and how much we take out.

Number two, if the refrigerator knows what food we have, it should be able to display the inventory without needing us to open the fridge door. The inventory could sort the items based on their projected expiration dates. A smart refrigerator would also recognize the connections between food. It knows when something is not in balance, too much cereal and not enough milk for example.

Number three, what if the fridge is linked to my phone and it knows we are in the supermarket? The fridge can send us a message and suggest the items we should consider buying or restocking.

Number four, if my refrigerator knows what we usually buy, why doesn’t the fridge start suggesting to us what might be for dinner tonight? It can come up with efficient ways to use things in the fridge that need to be used up. It can find new combinations of items that will surprise and even delight us based on what we eat. It can come up with recipes that match our preferences in terms of how much time we have, who is coming over, or how many calories we have eaten today.

Furthermore, can our food buying habits be coordinated with local supermarkets’ procurement and sales activities. Instead of guessing what consumers might buy and overstock, can our refrigerators provide information to the supermarkets and local farmers for just-in-time inventory practice? Since we are each consuming tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of food a year, can the wholesale food process be more efficient?

There are four factors to keep in mind as we think about the new system. The first factor is the connections that exist between each one of us, our devices, and external organizations.

The second factor is the status implication. We are constantly thinking about how we compare to others. Our status matters to us. The third factor is convenience because we are now forever hooked on convenience. We want to do the thing that is faster and easier.

The last is metric. What happens when we turn our fridge into a score where we could win by being more efficient? We could win by cutting our food bill. We could win by spending less time cooking even better things. Keeping scores (gamification) could be a key part of both status and convenience.

The reality of the business of food is that people eat every day. It is one of very few industries where we do not have to create demand. We think they’re invisible and permanent, but they are not. The real wins are going to happen when we rewire the systems that are so ubiquitous.