Ramblings & ephemera

To solve a problem, you first have to figure out the problem

From Russell L. Ackoff & Daniel Greenberg’s Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track (2008):

A classic story illustrates very well the potential cost of placing a problem in a disciplinary box. It involves a multistoried office building in New York. Occupants began complaining about the poor elevator service provided in the building. Waiting times for elevators at peak hours, they said, were excessively long. Several of the tenants threatened to break their leases and move out of the building because of this…

Management authorized a study to determine what would be the best solution. The study revealed that because of the age of the building no engineering solution could be justified economically. The engineers said that management would just have to live with the problem permanently.

The desperate manager called a meeting of his staff, which included a young recently hired graduate in personnel psychology…The young man had not focused on elevator performance but on the fact that people complained about waiting only a few minutes. Why, he asked himself, were they complaining about waiting for only a very short time? He concluded that the complaints were a consequence of boredom. Therefore, he took the problem to be one of giving those waiting something to occupy their time pleasantly. He suggested installing mirrors in the elevator boarding areas so that those waiting could look at each other or themselves without appearing to do so. The manager took up his suggestion. The installation of mirrors was made quickly and at a relatively low cost. The complaints about waiting stopped.

Today, mirrors in elevator lobbies and even on elevators in tall buildings are commonplace.

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