Have you ever heard the one about the rock band Van Halen and the brown M&Ms?
Sure these guys are classic rock icons now, but that infamous reputation didn’t just happen by accident. Most people who have heard about the brown M&Ms think it’s just another story of rock excess, when in fact it’s a great example of using counter intuitive thinking to solve a problem.
The story goes like this. Back in Van Halen’s early days, they had a lot of competition from other popular bands of the time. Touring was important for bands to help grow their audience, make money and promote airplay. Instead of just playing the big cities, Van Halen got smart and decided to play more of the smaller towns that the other larger bands would typically skip. It turns out that local fans in those small towns would go nuts when Van Halen showed up, and the band would earn thousands of loyal followers for life.
The problem was that Van Halen put on one of the largest concert shows at that time, which placed an enormous demand on the electrical and structural requirements of each venue. Many of the local concert organizers were not experienced with anything of this scale and shows were often riddled with technical and safety related issues as a result.
To overcome this challenge, Van Halen came up with an oddly specific request for their rider, which in fact was a clever idea to weed out the concert organizers who could not manage their show’s production requirements. Simply put, if the band found a brown M&M backstage they would forfeit the show at full price. It was an indication of bigger issues because someone was not paying attention.
I'm not sure about you, but many people often have a brown M&M trigger in their life that helps indicate something may not be right. In my experience, I'm very conscious of germs as a professional hazard. I'm not a complete germaphobe yet, but as part of my job, I know a lot about infection prevention and food safety. I often see things through a different lens.
For me, when I eat out at a restaurant, for example, the menu is one of those brown M&Ms. I know it carries a lot of germs and when it's not cleaned properly, it’s a possible indicator of more substantial food safety issues. The same goes for the public washroom or when you see food staff wearing gloves and touching money or their faces.
I also see people in the washroom all the time, who come out of stalls and check their face, hair, and clothes but don’t wash their hands. In fact, on any given day it is estimated that 73 million Americans did not wash their hands after using the washroom. I know most people think hand washing is not important, but I’m sure you would think otherwise if you knew whose hand you were really shaking.
So I’m curious. What is that one thing you see that provides a hunch that things are not right when it comes to hygiene in public environments? What’s your brown M&M?
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