Merge's Blog

The “red apron” – a great example of creative problem solving

Earlier last summer, I blogged about What lies at the root of innovation and creativity? and highlighted the two cognitive factors that contribute significantly to creativity – preparation and goal-setting. I have emphasized these two factors in many many blog posts both before and since then. But today, prompted by a recent illustrative example relayed to me by a client, I want to dig a little deeper in the practical aspects of creative problem solving. Let me share the story with you first.

Happy young woman wearing apronMy client’s organization owns and manages a large number of long-term care centres, facilities where (mainly elderly) residents live full-time. Because of their age and related ailments, many of the residents take a large number of medications with their meals, all of which are dispensed by a staff member at their individual dining spots at each meal. Not surprisingly, this detailed task requires attention and focus by the staff member since the outcomes of errors can be serious or even fatal. The challenge is that the person dispensing the medications is constantly interrupted – by people asking for more soup, or napkins, or salt; or by residents’ family members needing assistance; or by other care workers calling for a helping hand. All of which was creating circumstances which could lead to dire consequences. So the team put on their creative problem solving hats and came up with a very imaginative (and visible) solution. The medication dispenser now wears a red apron. The rule is … the person wearing the red apron cannot be interrupted. It took some initial communication and training to get people to understand the significance of the red smock and to pay attention to the rule, but within a few weeks, the message was pervasive. So much so that today, if someone inadvertently or unknowingly interrupts the person wearing the red apron, residents of the community quickly jump in to bring them into the know. And occasionally, if the red apron wearer forgets and gets distracted, co-workers are quick to remind them that they are wearing the red apron! What a great example of creative problem solving.

From this real-life situation come three practical ideas that you should consider when trying to develop innovative solutions to the problems you face in your work processes. First, clearly identify what you are trying to achieve. The team at the care centre was very clear in articulating that they wanted the person dispensing the drugs to be laser-focused and not disturbed. Second, make your proposed solution simple. Not only was the concept of a “red apron” straightforward, but it was highly visible and therefore uncomplicated to implement. Finally, in order to achieve success with your proposed solution, communicate it widely to your stakeholders until you achieve buy-in. The team here communicated the “red apron” solution far and wide to residents, their families, staff and visitors, until it became part of the culture of the facility.

Well, I’d love to hear about some of your creative solutions to your workplace issues. Please tell us about your solution and if you can, highlight the practical aspects; that way we can learn from one another.


  • Hi Merge, I too have embraced the “red apron” initiative however in a slightly different leadership scenario. I run a weekly volunteer senior lunch program and had a similar problem identifying the weekly team leader. A red apron did the trick. We then carried the idea just a little further providing orange aprons for our luncheon servers, black aprons for our clean up crew and of course white aprons for our cooks. Everyone loves them and our coloured aprons have become part of our success story.

  • Thanks for sharing your creative solution Janice. Who knew that aprons could have so much value beyond just keeping your clothes clean! Seriously though, sometimes the most difficult problems can be solved with the simplest solutions!

  • Gotta love the TEAM RED APRON!! Yes, Team Red Apron. The Red Apron itself has now become an INDENTIFIED UNIFORM worn ONLY by those members of Team Red Apron!! A great opportunity exists here to take this to a whole new level of Team Building, Team Appreciation, Team Recognition. After all, they ARE a team!! And what’s neat about this Team is that the team members are constantly changing!! So what I say!! It’s still a Team! Sherri. Are you up for the challenge, the creative challenge?


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