Fly in the Urinal – A Life LessonOctober 4, 2007
Some parables are more graphic than others. This may be one of them.
Janitors cleaning restrooms in Amsterdam were complaining with each other in a bar one night, griping about the notoriously bad aim of Dutch men when using urinals. (Personally, I think it has something to do with legalized Pot in Amsterdam, but I digress). A researcher, overhearing this fascinating conversation, decided to do some research into the subject. He called several manufacturers of urinals and asked them why they designed their receptacles in their current shape. Supposedly, they answered that this shape is supposed to reduce the amount of spray that leaks over the side. The bowl shape is supposed to make it easier for men to aim and hit the mark.
Obviously that theory doesn’t hold as much water as the experts thought it would.
So this researcher asked them if there was a “sweet spot” in the urinal that would make spray a thing of the past. Indeed, there was and they identified it for him. He went to a manufacturer of urinals and asked if they would do an experiment. Would they put a target in the urinal for men to fire at. The company agreed, and the researcher also got a hold of the janitors from the pub to see if they could arrange for these special urinals to be used in their buildings.
After making the necessary changes, they measured the degree of spray compared to the same buildings before the change. There was a noticeable difference. But the improvement was not enough to warrant the massive expense of replacing urinals city-wide. Something had to be done to improve men’s aim further. No one knows who suggested it, but someone put forward the idea of painting a fly on the “sweet spot” of the urinal and then see if men aimed at it.
The “fly urinals” were tried out in the same buildings. Several more companies were now interested in the results. The testing on the surrounding area was done every day for over a month. The results shocked everyone. The floor and walls around these urinals were as clean as the floor in a hospital. They had achieved urinal perfection.
So what can we learn from this? Most of the goals we set in life are too unfocused, too vague and too unchallenging. Someone getting a college degree only thinks vaguely about their future job. Someone raising a baby hopes that child will grow up healthy. A husband only thinks in general terms about how his wife feels about him, and does very little to affect that.
In order to make the kind of changes we all want to see, we have to focus as clearly as we can on the target and then give ourselves incentive for achieving them. First, it helps to have an admirable goal. As a believer in God, I think that God helps me set the goals I need to obtain. His Spirit within me helps to refine those goals to my peculiar life.
For instance: I want to see the people I live with on my block come to my church. But that goal is too vague. How can I achieve that? I can preach to them, but I doubt that works very well any more. I can pay them to come, but I know that sends the wrong message. So my goal these days is to spend more time walking around the neighborhood. When I spot a neighbor, I ask God what he wants me to achieve with them that day. Recently, one of my neighbors was out cleaning his new Harley Davidson motorcycle. I was going out to get the mail, so when I spotted him, I asked God what I should talk about. “Ask him about the bike and keep asking until he gets tired of talking about it”.
That was not a short conversation.
We went everywhere from the origins of the company (this was a 100th Anniversary bike) to all the bikes he has every owned, to the glories of Sturgis, South Dakota. After a half hour, he half apologized: “Look at me go on and on” he said. “you must be bored to tears.” “Not at all” I said. And I wasn’t. I was fascinated about what obviously had caused this man joy for years. In just a few minutes, he has asked me what I did for a living. I went down the list of my roles and he didn’t flinch at all when I said “Pastor”. We then talked about his church background. Then we found out our daughters had attended the same school (We later learned they knew each other).
I have a new friend and we have decided to do some things together. If I hadn’t aimed at this mark, I might still be wandering the neighborhood aimlessly.
Nowadays, only my dog gets to spray indiscriminately.