Christian Hunt on Escalators in Japan [Podcast]

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By Adam Turteltaub

So what do escalators in Japan have to do with compliance and ethics? As Christian Hunt found, quite a lot. In this podcast the author of Humanizing Rules and founder of the consultancy Human Risk shares an interesting tale.

A community outside of Tokyo found that the rate of injuries on escalators to and from train platforms had grown alarmingly high. The culprit was a tendency of some people to walk or run on the escalator, rather than just stand there. They ended up jostling other passengers, many of whom were older. This led to several injuries.

To combat the problem a campaign was launched requiring people to stand on the escalators. Signs were posted telling people that hurrying up or down the escalator was prohibited. There was no rigid enforcement, just a reliance on people’s goodwill.

At first there was near universal compliance. People saw that no one else was running or walking on the escalators, which provided social proof that standing was the only acceptable behavior. Also, with so many people just standing, it was more difficult to get by them all, effectively forcing people to stand where they were.

Not surprisingly, injury rates plummeted.

Over time, though, compliance rates dropped. For some, resisting the urge to hurry and not be late was just too strong, but, happily, injury rates remained far lower than their peak.

As Christian explains, this case of what he calls “compliance in the wild” – something compliance-related we see in everyday life that we can learn from – provided several lessons for compliance teams:

  • Maintaining 100% compliance is extremely difficult for long periods of time
  • Even less than 100% compliance can be a big win
  • Battling human urges (including simply feeling you are late) is extremely challenging

He also provides a warning that, when seeking to influence human behavior one must be mindful of not annoying them any more than you need to. If you go too far, it may well provoke bad behavior elsewhere.

Listen in, but maybe not while riding an escalator.