Taipei 101 is one of the world’s tallest sky scrapers standing 1667 feet tall with 101 floors. So how do you go to the top floor? You hop on to one of the 67 elevators that rocket you up at the speed of 69 km/hour (37 miles/hour).Haven’t we come a long way since 1861 when Elisha Otis patented a steam elevator equipped with a safety device?

It’s the early 20th century, and the elevators are becoming a lot more popular. But people are complaining about how slow they are. Some of the elevators put the tortoises to shame. It is faster to climb up the stairs than to go up by an elevator (especially when it’s crowded and stops frequently.)

The elevator manufacturing companies listen to the complaints and spend a lot of time and money on creating faster elevators. Most tall buildings follow suit and spend a lot of money upgrading their elevators.

But right about that time, one smart person discovers a much cheaper solution to the problem that stops all complaints. No he doesn’t upgrade his elevators. He just places a mirror in it.

The real problem isn’t that the elevators are slow. It’s that people get bored in them. Give a mirror to monkeys and they will entertain themselves for hours at end.

Finding the Real Problems

Most people go along with the wrong way of solving problems:

  1. What is the problem? Elevators are slow.
  1. How to fix it? Create faster moving elevators.

The correct way is asking one extra question:

  1. What is the problem? Elevators are slow.
  1. Why is it the problem? Because people get bored in slow moving elevators.
  1. How to fix it? Don’t bore people. Occupy their attention. Place a mirror.

V-Matrix for Problem Solving

One single “why” question gives you clarity. And helps you get to the root of the problem.

It’s not always so clean and easy though.

The Disney Waiting Problem

Disney faced a similar problem. People hate standing in long queues. But Disney can’t do much to entertain folks standing in queues for one of their rides. And after a certain extent, they couldn’t even speed up their queues.

So they had to delve a bit deeper to solve the problem.

  1. What is the problem? Standing in long queues.
  1. Why is it the problem? Because it bores people to death.
  1. Why else is it the problem? Because people can sit on more rides if the queues aren’t these long. (Doesn’t lead to a solution.)
  1. Why else is it the problem? Because it’s frustrating to stand in queues.
  1. Why is it frustrating? Because people don’t know how long it’ll take for their chance to come.
  1. How to fix it? Place signs along the queue that let people know how long it’ll take them from that spot.

When signs are placed, people stop complaining. They brace themselves for the wait. A specific number placates them. If the waiting time on the sign is too long, people will automatically go to some other ride (thus not elongating the queue).

(Here is why Disney is no.1 in customer service. They lie on their signs. If a sign says that waiting time is 20 minutes from that spot, you’ll most likely be on the ride within 10 minutes. Under-promise and over-deliver.)

Action Summary:

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Waiting Line Psychology: 5 Rules to Keep People Content while Waiting

  1. Keep people occupied while they wait. Provide a mirror. Books. Videos.
  2. Let people know how long they’ll have to wait.
  3. Explain the reason for long waiting times.
  4. Follow discipline. Nothing fries people’s patience more than queue cutting. (Have a private hidden backdoor for special VIP folks. Or make it official with speed lane passes.)
  5. Make people wait in groups.

October 31, 2012