The Toilet Zone

Kevin Carson writes:

One thing that large institutions seem to have in common is public restrooms with completely unusable toilet paper dispensers. The typical public restroom in a large organization of any kind has one of those Georgia Pacific monstrosities (or something similar), encased in a plastic housing that makes the toilet paper roll difficult to reach and often almost impossible to turn. The housing is locked, so that an empty roll can be changed only by a housekeeper with a key, and it’s impossible to just take the roll out for easy use. The worst part of it is, these toilet paper dispensers probably cost $20 or more each. … [Y]ou can probably go to Home Depot and get a toilet paper spool that actually works for less than a dollar. …

So why do we find so many examples of this sort of thing? Why does just about any large institutional building have toilet paper dispensers that seem deliberately designed, at enormous cost, to perform their function as badly as possible? The answer lies in the nature of large organizations.

For his explanation, check out the latest chapter of his forthcoming book. But the following cartoon may give you a hint:

Dilbert comic

(This isn’t the first time I’ve used a Dilbert strip to illustrate Kevin’s organisational theories. They’re a natural fit, because they’re tracking the same insane reality ….)

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6 Responses to The Toilet Zone

  1. Taylor November 9, 2007 at 12:52 am #

    I just got an e-mail forward today from my father, who was trying to show me what happens when a parent of students (my younger sisters) enrolled in the public school district tries to voice concern with the utility of some of the business classes being taught on campus.

    He had sent the e-mail directly to the superintendent of the school district, CCing the principal and VP of the school. He received back an e-mail from the VP which thanked him for his concern, but ended up “politely” scolding him for not sending the e-mail up the chain of command properly. The scolding explicitly stated that in the future he should send it to the VP first, who will forward to the principal, who will forward to… …who will forward it to the superintendent! Of course, such a system not only practically guarantees the “meat of the message” will be “lost in translation” at some point, but that the various bureaucrats along the chain of command will have ample opportunity to play politics and bury anything that makes them look bad as well!

    The Dilbert comic was funny, but it seems to be a criticism that can be applied to any bureaucratic entity… most especially an actual bureaucracy!

    Interesting post. I have often wondered similar things when in the bathroom of a “large institution.” The one that always gets me, however, is… why don’t more people install industrial strength toilets in their own homes? That seems to be the one aspect of an institutional bathroom which continually outshines the private bathroom. Is it really that much more expensive (both in space and dollars) to install and operate such a device?

  2. Kevin Carson November 9, 2007 at 5:05 am #

    Thanks for the plug, Roderick–and especially for using toilet humor to send readers my way.

    More times than I can count I’ve seen a Dilbert cartoon that perfectly fits some principle of radical org theory. I’ve seriously thought of asking permission to use them, but 1) it would drastically drive up printing costs; and 2) I probably pissed him off with that post on copyrights.

  3. Joshua Holmes November 9, 2007 at 2:50 pm #

    The idea is to make dispensing toilet paper difficult so that people will use less of it. It’s not just an efficiency question, either. At many manufacturing sites, worker disgruntlement manifests itself first by trashing the bathrooms, including clogging the toilets with paper. The crazy dispenser contraptions make that more difficult.

  4. Anon2 November 9, 2007 at 3:08 pm #

    The crazy dispenser contraptions make that more difficult.

    Interesting. I guess that puts the crazy toilet dispensers in the same category of unspoken menace as barbed wire, triple electronic-locks and armed guards huh?

  5. Mike Erwin November 9, 2007 at 5:11 pm #

    “The crazy dispenser contraptions make that more difficult.”

    And inspire people to come up with other ways to get back at the company for everything else – and for the crazy dispenser contraptions – and for the next preventative measure.

  6. allen November 9, 2007 at 7:01 pm #

    The dispensers do not make things more difficult unless one is either a moron or a moron puts the new rolls in incorrectly. In large organizations, of course, one might find that everyone is a moron. On the other hand, as the owner/manager of a small RV (not trailer) park, I can tell you why we use such dispensers — you wouldn’t believe how many people otherwise will steal entire rolls of toilet paper. So our options are to hire someone to make sure that the tp isn’t stolen, or to put in a security system (cameras, etc.) or to spend about $20 for each dispenser, each of which will last for years. Easy decision.

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