The founding of Southwest Airlines on the back of a cocktail napkin is my favorite "solving a problem with a picture" story. It goes like this:
Way back in 1967, Texas businessman Rollin King’s WILD GOOSE AIRLINES (a small charter flying operation that shuttled sportsmen around the Lone Star state) failed financially, so he hired ex-NY lawyer Herb Kelleher to close the books. Afterward they retired to San Antonio’s swankiest bar, The St. Anthony’s Club, for a commemorative drink.
What they drank remains a mystery, but what is known is that at some point King picked up a napkin and said, "Herb, I have an idea for another airline; one that connects just the main metro areas of Texas…" He drew three dots on that napkin to represent Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, then connected them with three lines to form a simple triangle.
Presto: Southwest Airlines was born. From that humble napkin emerged the most profitable airline in history.
(It’s evident why the Southwest model was so innovative when you compare it to the route maps of the existing airlines of the day: the traditional hub-and-spoke models meant that a simple connection between these three Texas cities wasn’t possible.)
Nice story. But what’s even better is that I flew Southwest recently for the first time and guess what I saw on the cocktail napkins the flight attendants handed out?
That’s right: the new Southwest route map. Southwest is the only airline that prints their map on their napkins. I’ve got to believe that’s an homage to their heritage.