Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Elegant Solution

Sometimes new ways of thinking lead to a better solution to a problem. One new elegant solution helped lead to another for us yesterday. My good friend Jeremy Gregg is executive director of a new nonprofit, Executives in Action (

Executives in Action was organized to turn unemployed executives into an asset for the community. Here’s some of the material from its Web site:


Executives in Action (EIA) engages transitioning senior executives in short-term, high-yield consulting projects with nonprofit organizations, advancing EIA executives as they seek long-term employment in the business sector.


EIA transforms unemployment from a time of uncertainty to a period of great opportunity for personal and community renewal.


EIA works exclusively with highly skilled and seasoned business professionals who are transitioning between full-time jobs – with a focus on C-level executives with 15+ years of management experience.

Nonprofit Partners

EIA appoints executives to high-caliber nonprofit organizations that have been thoroughly vetted by EIA staff. These nonprofits have a demonstrated capacity to provide executives with high-yield service projects and the support that they need to deliver meaningful results.

The idea is elegant. It turns a problem into an asset.

We currently have an architect, Frank Richardson, working with us through the program and he’s proved invaluable in helping us complete the CityWalk development. Yesterday Frank found an elegant solution to a problem that had been perplexing us for weeks—how to organize the mailboxes. It is one of those problems that should be simple, but isn’t.

The post office requires that mailboxes be in sequential order—no skipping numbers and no out of order numbers. Another rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that mailboxes for handicapped units (now called UFAS—Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards) be reachable from a wheelchair.

The way our units are laid out with 13 units on the fourth floor, 16 units on the fifth floor and 19 units on floors six through 14, with one UFAS unit per floor, seemed to make this impossible. No matter how we rearranged the mailboxes we either had the mailbox for one of the UFAS units out of reach of a wheelchair or we had to disturb the numerical order. We aren’t allowed to do either of these two things.

There was another less crucial problem as well. Different styles of units ended up with different numbers on the fourth and fifth floor than they had elsewhere in the building. For example, on every floor from six to 14, units ending in “19” are large two bedroom units (619, 719, 819, etc.). But on the fourth and fifth floors those units were number 413 and 516, respectively. That’s confusing.

Frank solved all these problems by making a leap of imagination and realizing that we could have mailboxes without units. If we just go ahead and assign 19 mailboxes to every floor, ignoring the fact that the fourth and fifth floor don’t have that many units, then everything works.

The mailboxes all line up with the UFAS units within reach and with everything in numerical order. The ADA is satisfied and the post office is happy. We just have nine extra mailboxes that don’t get any mail, and we may even be able to assign those mailboxes to our management company or someone else in the building that needs another mailbox. The post office only cares that the mailboxes are in order, not whether anybody ever gets any mail.

None of us could see that we could have mailboxes without corresponding units, no matter how long we worked on the problem. Frank saw an elegant solution—which is only fitting for an Executive in Action.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for being a part of an evOremore elegant solution to an even more perplexing problem -- CityWalk is our city's best approach to homelessness. It is a pleasure to partner with you, John.

    Jeremy Gregg