Why We Don’t Need Bigger Roads, Just More Engaged Drivers

A Friend Snaps a Photo of Our Reflections in the Window as We Wait for an Elevator on the Campus of Purdue University, 12/1/2010

A friend of mine snaps a photo of our reflections in the window as we wait for an elevator on the campus of Purdue University, 12/1/2010

I was once in a course on economic thinking, and the class was posed the following question:

“Workers in a high-rise office building are complaining about having to wait too long for elevators. The level of discontent seems to be rising. What might be done? Some suggestions are offered. These include:

  1. add more elevators;
  2. increase the size of the elevators;
  3. speed up the elevators;
  4. stagger the working hours of different groups in the building;
  5. make some of the elevators go non-stop to the higher floors, while others cover the lower floors stopping at each floor as needed; or,
  6. use a differential charge for using the elevator, with higher price at peak-use times.”

After being given time to argue the merits of these possible solutions and put forth alternative options, we were surprised to learn the often implemented real-world solution: leaving the elevators themselves the same, and simply putting mirrors in elevator lobbies. Even though we had all waited in elevator lobbies that were walled with mirrors (they were all over campus), this idea had not occurred to any of us because we were attacking an entirely different problem than the one mirrors address.

We don’t always need to move more quickly. If we experience each moment as meaningful, then the pace of our actions becomes insignificant and the idea of “waiting” vanishes altogether.

The first three solutions try to fix the problem through brute force, attempting to increase elevator capacity or capability in a single stroke. The next three start to get a little more creative, attempting to cut down on demand or increase the efficiency of the elevator set-up, but they still approach the problem as one of insufficient elevator space to meet the demands of all the workers wanting to use them. Continue reading

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The Parable of the Polygons: How Individual Decisions Create Large Collective Impacts

No, Lake Michigan Has Not Been Invaded by Little Shapes With Faces…

This blog and firm are based on the premise that a group of people making seemingly independent, individual decisions can have colossally large collective impacts to wreck or save the world; our decisions are often more important than we realize. Today I have a perfect illustration of how this can work. It has to do with the age-old question of what happens when you combine game theory, sociological theories of segregation, visualization, and little shapes with faces on them.

…You weren’t asking that? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. The answer is “The Parable of the Polygons,” and it is nothing short of brilliant.   Continue reading

Why Honeycomb Commons?

CSIRO ScienceImage 7113 Honey bee comb showing cells

Last night I shared a campfire with a Floridian, an Israeli, and a Frenchman, all of whom have traveled and now live in other parts of the world, and the thought occurred to me: I could pick no more an exciting time in all of human history to be alive than right now, in this moment. In this globalized, interconnected world, we have never had more possibilities available to us and yet, I believe, our problems have never been more complex. It is this tension that I hope to enter into with this blog and organization, with the motivation that is encapsulated in the following question: How can we move into the future as a society globally (but especially locally) with both an awareness of our mistakes and fallibility as a human species and a sense of collective optimism about another world that is possible?

But what makes today’s problems so complex? Continue reading