The Humble, Essential and Safe Elevator

Stuck in an express elev­at­or around the 13th floor of the McGraw-Hill office in New York for 41 hours, Nich­olas White’s story should be some­what fear-pro­vok­ing.

Inter­sperse with inform­a­tion on the import­ance of elev­at­ors in mod­ern cit­ies, a pro­file of elev­at­or con­sult­ant James For­tune and a dis­cus­sion on the psy­cho­logy of elev­at­ors, the art­icle some­how becomes reas­sur­ing instead.

Two things make tall build­ings pos­sible: the steel frame and the safety elev­at­or. The elev­at­or […] is to the city what paper is to read­ing and gun­powder is to war. Without the elev­at­or, there would be no ver­tic­al­ity, no dens­ity, and, without these, none of the urb­an advant­ages of energy effi­ciency, eco­nom­ic pro­ductiv­ity, and cul­tur­al fer­ment. […] And the elev­at­or is energy-efficient—the coun­ter­weight does a great deal of the work, and the new sys­tems these days regen­er­ate elec­tri­city. The elev­at­or is a hybrid, by design.

This quote from a spokes­man for elev­at­or com­pany Otis:

We’ll wait ten to fif­teen minutes for a train, without com­plain­ing, […] but wait thirty seconds for an elev­at­or and the world’s com­ing to an end. Which means, really, that we’ve done a good job. We deliv­er short waits. But why are we held to a dif­fer­ent stand­ard?

and the vari­ous dis­cus­sions on the psy­cho­logy of elev­at­or spa­cing brings to mind this quote from Re-cre­at­ing the Cor­por­a­tion by the recently deceased organ­isa­tion­al the­or­ist, Rus­sell Ack­off:

There is a clas­sic case in which the ten­ants of a large office build­ing com­plained about the increas­ingly poor elev­at­or ser­vice. A con­sult­ing firm spe­cial­iz­ing in elev­at­or-related prob­lems was employed to deal with the situ­ation. It first estab­lished that aver­age wait­ing time for elev­at­ors was too long. It then eval­u­ated the pos­sib­il­it­ies of adding elev­at­ors, repla­cing exist­ing elev­at­ors with faster ones, and intro­du­cing com­puter con­trols to improve util­iz­a­tion of elev­at­ors. For vari­ous reas­ons, none of these turned out to be sat­is­fact­ory. The engin­eers declared the prob­lem to be unsolv­able.

When exposed to the prob­lem, a young psy­cho­lo­gist employed in the building’s per­son­nel depart­ment made a simple sug­ges­tion that dis­solved the prob­lem. Unlike the engin­eers who saw the ser­vice as too slow, he saw the prob­lem as one deriv­ing from the bore­dom of those wait­ing for an elev­at­or. So he decided they should be giv­en some­thing to do. He sug­ges­ted put­ting mir­rors in the elev­at­or lob­bies to occupy those wait­ing by enabling them to look at them­selves and oth­ers without appear­ing to do so. The mir­rors were put up and com­plaints stopped. In fact, some of the pre­vi­ously com­plain­ing ten­ants con­grat­u­lated man­age­ment on improve­ment of the elev­at­or ser­vice.

via Kot­tke

3 thoughts on “The Humble, Essential and Safe Elevator

  1. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    The Intu­ition­ist looks like a good read… now on my list.

    This is a phrase I hope to use from now on: ‘I didn’t fin­ish the book, but I really enjoyed it’. I con­tin­ue read­ing books long after I should have put them down. Long after I have got everything I wanted from it. In fact, even poor books I read to the end, hop­ing they will get bet­ter, hop­ing the act of fin­ish­ing will redeem it, some­how.

    It doesn’t.

  2. Pingback: Post: December 23rd, 2009: ERS-2009-12-23 #185 Show Notes « The Elevator Radio Show Podcast

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