Alternative Solutions

Problem Solving Has Gone To The Birds

I came across a fascinating project the other day, The Crowbar.  Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman, two entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, are approaching the problem of inner city litter in a completely unique way – using crows as a clean-up crew.  Their approach encourages the birds to recognize and pick up cigarette filters, take them to a special trash can/feeding station, and deposit them there in return for a small item of food.  Similarly, in the Southwest Florida community that I call home, I heard about a similar program to enlist great-tailed grackles to clean beaches of small trash items in return for treats.

The success of these projects remains to be seen but the ‘out-of-the-box’ problem solving employed is assured.  The idea of harnessing the (famous) intelligence of these birds to deal with a perennial inner-city issue is impressively innovative.  And there’s a useful lesson to be learnt – always explore other options because there’s rarely just one possible solution.

What I find particularly exciting about The Crowbar, is how van der Vleuten and Spikman have used technology not to solve the problem directly, but to enable a solution.  That’s how some of the most successful organisations use technology.  Uber enables transportation from point A to point B, Airbnb enables unused living space, Netflix enables on-demand entertainment … and The Crowbar enables urban litter control.

– John Pirtle, April 2018 – [bio]