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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More Traffic Ranting...

Ok, I know I have ranted before about how annoying some people can be when driving. But it bears repeating.

I was pulling into the grocery store of a parking lot the other day. The lot is set up so there is only one lane in, and once you are in the lot you can go straight or turn right. Simple enough, right?

I was behind this car that pulled in to the single lane entrance, got up to the "decision making point" of going straight or turning right, and then...just...stopped. Not for too long, but I could almost hear the mental gears grinding away as the person in front of me tried to figure out whether to go straight or right. Finally, after what seemed like an hour and a half (though in reality was probably only 5-10 seconds) they turn right. I choose to stop following them and go straight.

Now you might be thinking, "well, sometimes the lot is pretty full and so you want to try to see where the free spots are." Good thought. Unfortunately, this was early in the day, the lot was only half full (I'm an optimist, otherwise I would call it "half-empty"), and open spots were clearly visible all over the lot.

In the grand scheme of things, wasting 5-10 seconds of my life while someone decides whether to go straight is not a huge deal. But it got me thinking about the whole "indecisiveness" thing.

These days, I am doing a lot of work helping people be more flexible and think quickly on their feet. This parking lot story demonstrates why some people are really getting in their own way when it comes to that area:

1) Making things more important than they are - This is what takes the inconvenient and turns it into the absurd. The person in front of me wasn't making a life decision. They just needed to figure out whether to turn right or go straight. There is no reason to over think it! Can you imagine how tough it would be for them to make an important decision?!

Have you ever seen someone nearly cause a multi car pileup (or worse, almost caused one yourself) because they see the turn they are supposed to make and so they slam on the breaks and cut across three lanes of traffic? I am not taking about on the highway, where if you miss a turn you could drive 35 miles before the next exit. I'm talking about driving around the town when missing a turn simply means making a u-turn a few blocks up.

Same rule applies out of the car. How many times have you seen someone get stressed out about a decision that, in the grand scheme of things, matters very little? This is not the way to be a quick thinking, decisive person.

2) Paralysis vs. taking action - Here's the real danger of not thinking quickly. When uncertain on a course of action, many, many people will choose no action at all. In a car, this backs up traffic. In business, this leads to no progress, no resolution, and usually a worsening of the underlying issue.

Great improvisers know that when faced with a difficult decision, it is better to take some action and then readjust as you go.

3) Know who are you inconveniencing - Seems like people have no idea of the impact their actions have on others. This person in front of me didn't care that there were cars behind him (or her, I didn't see). A few days ago I was eating at an outdoor cafe, and I saw a car go through an intersection on a one lane Philadelphia straight and then...just...stop. With a car behind him! I have no idea what was going on or why. Maybe he dropped his fruit rollup on the on the floor and picked that exact moment to pick it up. Who knows. But for a good thirty seconds, this car just sat their, totally blocking the other car, and didn't seem to care. Eventually, the first car just started moving and went along it's merry way.

I don't get it! And this is not an isolated incident. The selfishness of the world when driving never ceases to amaze me. People will double park, stop traffic, drive the wrong way down one way streets, with no consideration for anyone else!

You may think that "well, when you're driving who cares? You don't know these other people, so who cares?" Now there's an idea that Machiavelli would envy, but fine.

The situation gets worse when you think about other life situations. People constantly respond in the moment in ways that don't take others into consideration. The classic example of this is punctuality. Have you ever had plans ruined or thrown off because someone showed up late? Some will say it's just their nature. I agree; it's just their nature to be inconsiderate and rude.

Too harsh? Come on, you know it's not. Sure, Ding Happens, and we're all going to be late on occasion. I'm talking about people who are consistently late. At that point, they have made a decision to say, "I am going to live my life without any consideration for your time or schedule."

When it comes to making decisions, thinking quickly, and being flexible, those who are best at it are able to take into consideration the wide reaching effects of their actions, both on themselves and others. This is what leads to great leadership, connections, and friendships.

Am I reading too much into a 5 second delay in a parking lot? Probably. But it's a slippery slope my friends, it's a slippery slope...

1 comment:

Jeff Porten said...

Sounds to me like you're mooshing up your apples and oranges. The five-second delay was probably entirely unconscious on the part of the driver, in a psychological class of decisions that takes place below attention. Most likely, he was daydreaming about something else, and five seconds was the time it took before he realized that his unconscious mind had spotted a decision point.

That's not a problem with flexibility, that's a problem with mindfulness and living in the moment.

Re procrastination, I note that I intended to go to dinner an hour ago, and instead I'm on the couch catching up on my RSS feeds. Assuming you enjoy having an audience, it's not always about inconveniencing other people with poor time management skills.

Finally -- I think the problem isn't selfishness, the problem is how you define social norms. We're engineered to live in villages of 2,000 people, and we live in communities of millions -- this requires a certain give-and-take. For example, I resent having to play Frogger every time I cross a mall parking lot, risking injury or death as I dodge cars driving around looking for "good" spaces that will cut 50 feet from their ambulation. Notably, both of us will solve our selfishness issues if you just pull into the first space you see when you park and walk the rest of the way.