An Observation on Decision Making from Traffic

I was driving on the highway yesterday and there was a decent amount of traffic congestion – enough to make you slow down and speed up slightly, but nothing to make you come to crawl. Next to me was a younger girl, who obviously was frustrated by this and kept trying to pass me, but since we were on a scenic two lane highway its a bit harder to do. The girl was persistent though, so for the next 20 miles she kept switching back and forth between lanes but was still stuck in the same spot in traffic. Watching this girl reminded me of this quote by Rita Mae Brown:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

How often have we’ve seen this same mindset exhibited in business? The same mailers, ad’s, and commercials go out with just slight tweaks. Tired sales and business practices are used again and again with the thoughts ‘well, its going to work this time!’ Sometimes this tenacity pays off and you get a big hit – but lets be honest, those cases are rare. Instead we are wasting a lot of effort and energy on mediocre outcomes – and thats money and time that can be put to better use.

Unfortunately this is a hard habit to break – it’s not easy to question the norm, to go against the tried and (inaccurately) true. There is a reason why the lottery pulls in a lot of money. Buy $20 worth of $1 scratch offs and you might walk away with $5, but the reason why people keep going back is that they remember that time when they won $50. The same is true for going to psychics – people remember the hits and forget the hundreds of misses! Once we get a result we become hooked, and its hard to break away from that to try something else that isn’t a guarantee. This is a big problem though since it’s insane to keep doing the same thing ever and expecting different results.

We LOVE repetition, because it gives us a sense of security. We know what to expect and hold onto the hope that something fantastic might happen.

Farmville is poorly designed game, but  it’s highly successful for a reason. According to this article by Business Insider, a 14 x 14 plot of land requires 600 clicks to harvest, re-plow, and re-seed. It’s not popular because it’s a great game – its popular because everyone else is doing it and the repetitive nature makes it addicting. These are the same exact reasons why a lot of poor business practices are still in use – everyone else is doing it, and the repetitive nature with the hopeful surprise of a large reward keeps them in place.

Ok, so this sounds like a rant and you’re probably wondering what this has to do with traffic. Well, the tenacity of the female driver paid off and she eventually got ahead of me by two cars – but she wasted all that effort (gas, time and frustration) for such a small return. Sometimes changing a car lane a few times is the right choice, but more often than not it’ll leave you stuck in the lane that isn’t moving.

What are you wasting your effort on, and does it make sense? Dont get caught up in the past or the latest trend, but understand what you want to achieve and then go about finding the best way to do it!