Thursday, December 18, 2008

Traffic Lights, obey?

This story struck me as some sort of variant on a fable, or observation on the wider picture in life. I often refer to things being fractal ideas. The amount of detail in the minutia is the same as the amount of detail in the "big picture" and you have to be able to flow between the two to make sensible judgements, not just focus on one element. Other call it system thinking.
Today I arrived at a set of temporary traffic lights, with some unattended roadworks on a back road. The idea was they created one way traffic and alternated between each direction. A good idea given one side of the road was a giant hole. However, the traffic lights had got stuck, they were on red both directions. This of course leads to two queues of traffic. In reality though it leads to 2 cars facing each other each making a decision about what to do next, the rest of the people are just bystanders as a moral dilema occurs. The rule is, you dont shoot through a red light. Its clear, its obvious, its even measurable. We can even automate the catching of people who shoot red lights with cameras and sensors. There was no such policing in this case. So just how long do we all sit there before someone realizes the instrumentation for the rule is broken?
Clearly shooting the red light is wrong, getting out and turning the lights off, fixing them etc. is tampering, doing a u-turn to avoid the lights is a possibility, or just sit....wait....hope it sorts itself out.
I would love to have a psychological profile of people done in these minor situations. The go for it driver, decides enough it enough, and then a few more follow them through. Or the driver in the queue who realizes they cant wait for the one at the front to come to the right conclusion and incents the one on from to move, lights flashing or just overtaking the laggard and leading the way anyway.
Of course there is a counter argument, if they all shoot the light then no one gets anywhere. That I guess it what happens when leaders clash and wars start.
In the end of course sense prevailed and a flow of self organized sorting out occured, small groups led by one leader go, then someone falters, and the next group is led forth from the other direction.
It feels like this is how innovation happens. People generally follow, there is a way to do things, but each person will have a limit, a point at which they can say nope, we need to do it this way.
That is of course how wars stop too.
As a mental excercise what do you do in the stand off traffic light dilemma?


Unknown said...

I'd most likely get out and start doing my PC plod impression and direct traffic...

I'd be conscious of the fact that I look like a twat though..

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