A Frictionless World — Quotidian — 377

(Transcript of video originally posted on 21 Feb 2022)

Frank Rand once made this interesting observation, more than a hundred and fifty years ago… He said, “I am not a bad guy, I am not undisciplined, I am not an idiot, but what do I do… All the things I like, if I end up liking something or the other, it is either illegal, or it is immoral, or it is fattening..! What do I do!” There is a beautiful lesson hidden here for lawmakers and team managers. Let us see!


When it comes to horse training, the trainers highlight one little bit of advice. They say, techniques, tactics, can be many. That is not really important. But, principles.. a couple of crucial principles… those are VERY important. Among those, among those important few principles, they stress on this the most. They say, if you want that animal, that very large, very strong, taller-than-you animal, to do as you want it to do, this is what you need to do. Make the right thing easy, make the wrong thing hard. Do you get it? Whatever you want it to do, make it easy for it to do it. What you don’t want it to be doing, make it hard for it to do. That is the magic it seems! That is the magic of horse-training. Everything else derives from that. They call it “friction-removal”. Removing the unnecessary rubbing of opposing forces.

We have seen that with Facebook. If you have logged in using Facebook in some page of some website that is associated with this social network, a little tracker gets activated, a little cookie is awake, and whichever other website you visit from then on, it checks if Facebook is acceptable currency there, and automatically, frictionlessly, they log you in, and share your identity as a Facebook member. Yes, it makes your experience better, but it also helps Facebook keep track of what you are doing.

The same Friction-Removal was adopted by Amazon too. Every time you made a purchase, it didn’t keep asking you for your full name, your delivery address, your credit card details, etc, and instead, perfected the One Click to purchase. When they do that, they are removing friction. Because, when you throw things into your shopping cart, and enter checkout, it is a time-consuming experience to answer four different questions, click two different buttons, and go to “Buy” at the end. And, this may lead to my abandoning this shopping cart. So many more opportunities open up for this abandonment. Make the right thing easy, make the wrong things hard to do.

The same principle has been stressed over and over again, in this book. The book is called Nudge. It is not called Push. It is not called Shove. It is called Nudge. Slight, sideways, indirect, suggestive motion. In this book, the authors talk about how large companies around the world have made small, very small changes, to how they laid their office, to how they worked with their employees, that increased productivity, that increased employee happiness. Here is a small example. Consider a snack bar. They just hid the unhealthy snacks away from view, in a locked cupboard far away from easy reach, and placed healthy fruits and nuts in plain view, easy to reach, and that was enough to nudge people to eat healthily! Instead of locating the gym far away from the main office building, placing it right on the way to the parking lot helped more people take notice about what was happening there, and voila! You become a gym member, you start practising, and your fitness goes up! Nudge! Make the right thing easy! We will look at some examples now!

Here is a trash can. A trash can in a Japanese supermarket. Immediately after seeing it, you realise where I should be throwing my newspapers and where I should throw my bottles and cans. It is immediately apparent. Nothing but making the right thing easy, direct, and straightforward.

Have you noticed this in highways? Cat’s Eyes they are called. When you are driving in the dark, small lights glow. And show the way. But, why didn’t they level it smoothly with the road? Why the bump, bump, bump? Well, just in case you nod off, if you close your eyes drowsily, if your car unconsciously veers off to the left or to the right, it is not an accident yet, it is a wake-up call, a jarring bouncy bumpy wake up call, it jolts you back into reality, and you save yourself, and save many others around. The right thing is easy. You can drive smoothly. The wrong thing? Is harder.

You must have seen the common housefly everywhere, after all. But, this specific fly is supposed to have appeared in the Amsterdam airport first. This fly. It really attracted people’s attention. What’s special about it? Well, it is from www.urinalfly.com — and, you get the idea when you visit the website. The aim is to reduce spillage in the men’s toilet. They just gave a target. The moment a small sticker was stuck in a corner of the receptacle, as shown by the arrow, do you see the sticker, people immediately started playing the game, started focusing, and spillage was saved, and hygiene was improved. Make the right thing fun. Make the right thing easy.

Steve Jobs, famous for many things, famous also for his leadership at Pixar. Many amazing movies have come out under his leadership. The office campus of this beautiful, amazing company has a building called The Steve Jobs Building. The Steve Jobs Building was designed by Steve Jobs, he gave a lot of input to it, this was one of two buildings he worked on extensively before his untimely death, the other being the Apple Headquarters. The seniors at Pixar even called this building “Steve’s Movie” — after all, everything important at Pixar is a movie! Steve seemed to spend so much time and effort, almost as if he were directing a movie, they said. A beautiful, large atrium in the front, the tech team in the left, straight ahead marketing and other departments, and to the right, designers, artists, graphics folks. He wanted a place where all these people from all these departments will mingle. He designed a huge atrium specifically for that. And then, he said, “That is not enough. I want them to have chance encounters… there must be many unexpected random meetings” and, for such a large office complex, he proposed that there be just one toilet facility for this building, and that too, only near the ground floor atrium! “That is when everybody will come and go, pass by, meet people, and have chance encounters at least when they wash their hands! Amazing ideas would fly!” he said!

Okay, thankfully, his idea didn’t go through, for there would have been a long queue outside, otherwise! But, I hope you get the message. His intent was to make interaction, collaboration, group brainstorming, friction-free. He wanted to make the right thing… not just easy. He made it… inevitable! That is Steve Jobs for you!

These grass landscapes are a common sight. With concrete pathways turning at ninety degrees, or even acute angles. But, probably you must have seen this in Whatsapp also… You must have noticed that, after a while, this happens. Who are YOU to give me advice on how to go?! Did you even think about it, before laying the path? This is the path! The short path. The straight path. The right path! And the crowd decide to act by themselves. If the concrete path was the user interface, the short-cut path was the user experience, or so the joke went. But, did you know there is another layer to this? I found that out only recently. There is this concept called The Desire Path, it seems. In many university spaces, and in other large campuses, these days, they build the buildings, they don’t lay the paths. They just fill it with grass. And then, they let the crowd — they call it the Wisdom of the Crowds — they let the crowd form the paths. A small foot-wide path appears, and the grass wears away, and the path becomes even clearer with no grass at all, and the realisation sets in — Oh, is this the path you want to use? Is this how traffic flows from this building to that? Not many actually go to that other building? Those who go there avoid this route and often take that other route? The architects realise these practical truths, learn, they come back after a year, and they lay the concrete path ON TOP of the Desire Pathways. They say, this is the right way to do it. If you think about it, it probably makes much more sense than trying to lay down a path, and forcing people to use it.

In Maharashtra, there is this village called Shani Shingnapur. A temple for Lord Shani. A “self-installed” statue of stone. It doesn’t even have a roof, this temple. My guess is it is a meteorite of some sort. They claim that this deity is very powerful, and is famous and popular in the neighbourhood. This village has no fear of theft. So much so that they don’t even have doors. No locks, no doors even! A village full of houses with no safety precautions. How did they manage it? For hundreds of years! No doors. No locks on the doors. I thought about it for a while. Make the right thing easy, make the wrong thing hard — Remember? This is a “Wrong thing hard”. Did you think about it? A village. Surrounded by a jungle. Only a person living in this village can steal from a person living in this village. He has no door at his home. This guy has no door at his home either. Where will he hide the stolen goods?! Make the wrong thing hard! Do you get it?!

So, the lesson I take away from this is, if you are a lawmaker, if you are a manager of a team, where you lay down the code of ethics, the culture, the principles that you will follow as a team, just remember. Two things are very important. That law has to be applicable to you too. You can’t just lay it down — you have to adopt it yourself. And, the law should aim to make the right thing easy, … I am ready to do it. I am ready to do the right thing. But, you have made it so hard for me, because of your silly laws… that should never be the situation! And yes, it can strive to make the wrong thing hard.

That’s my takeaway. And, while talking about the wrong thing hard, here is a classic example. If you are watching TV, if you are addicted to Netflix, what do you do? Just throw away the remote. Every TV comes with all the controls on the side of the TV. Everything can be done. So, everytime you want to open up a new season, new episode, go try doing it without your remote. That is enough, the wrong thing is automatically made hard. Thank you!

And, by the way, this is our schedule for March. Looking forward to meeting you again on the second of March! Thank you!



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