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Stand on the right, write to understand

EscalatorI had an interesting conversation today with a fellow-runner today about cutural norms in different countries. One that particularly came to mind was escalator etiquette on the London underground, which is a particular obsession of mine. I am one of those people who get irrationally enraged at people who stand on the left - a combination of always being in a hurry together with a desire to get some cardiovascular exercise whenever the opportunity presents itself means that I walk up every escalator on principle. Even at Waterloo, where my quads are burning by the time I reach the top of the third consecutive escalator.

But the stand-on-the-right-walk-on-the-left system so dear to Tube-users' hearts turns out to be massively inefficient: since relatively few people share my gung-ho approach, most preferring to stand and be carried upwards, most escalators run at well below capacity, meaning a crowd of cross commuters at the bottom waiting to join the static right-hand side while the left-hand side remains almost empty.

In 2015 London Underground tried out an experiment at Holborn, requiring commuters to stand on BOTH sides of the escalator, no walking allowed. The theory was that this would transport a greater number of people more efficiently by allowing the escalator to operate at capacity. It worked. But also, it didn't work. That is, numerically more people were transported to the top of the escalator more quickly than with the traditional system, but the commuters hated it. Here's how the Guardian reported on it

“This is a charter for the lame and lazy!” said one. “I know how to use a bloody escalator!” said another. The pilot was “terrible”, “loopy,” “crap”, “ridiculous”, and a “very bad idea”; in a one-hour session, 18 people called it “stupid”. A customer who was asked to stand still replied by giving the member of staff in question the finger. One man, determined to stride to the top come what may, pushed a child to one side. “Can’t you let us walk if we want to?” asked another. “This isn’t Russia!”

Rationally, and in terms of the big picture and the public good, the pilot should have been adopted. But it wasn't. Turns out we're not entirely rational and we value our freedom to choose over the public good. 

I have to admit, I'd have been in the complaining camp. It would drive me crazy to be forced to stand and be carried sedately, passively up when I'm used to exercising my leg and lung power along with my right to choose.

There's an interesting point here for writers hoping to persuade readers to think or behave differently: demonstrating your point by logic and/or the use of figures or evidence is all very well, but it won't actually change your reader unless you recognise the deeper drivers too. Why do your readers do the things you want them to change, or not do the things you want them to start doing? What are they getting out of their current behaviour, suboptimal though it might be, and why does that matter to them? Unless you recognise that and address it directly, ideally work with it and turn it to your advantage, ju-jitsu like, you might get agreement at the level of the head, but you'll never get real change. I can tell people about the incredible value of writing a book as a business practice, but only if I can convince them that by doing so they actually save time and effort by creating a coherent content strategy and building their network more effectively will they carve out the time to do it. 



This entry was posted on 19 February 2017 at 16:18 and is filed under writing | habits. You can leave a response here.

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2 responses to 'Stand on the right, write to understand'

Paul Davis says

Very interesting observation from British culture. In America people are even more focused on choice so that people will stand or move on either side. I think that may be why you rarely see an escalator without a static stair case nearby. The people who want to control their speed or exercise use the static stairs. I love your application to marketing!

Added on 19 February 2017 at 19:21

Alison Jones says

But static stairs don't get you to the top as fast as climbing the escalator - I have to be in a REALLY desperate crowd before I resort to them! Glad you enjoyed the blog, Paul.

Added on 19 February 2017 at 19:37

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