Merge's Blog

An interesting way to improve efficiency (in traffic and in the workplace)

Earlier this year, I visited China for a speaking engagement.  As a first-time visitor to Shanghai and Beijing, the juxtaposition of modern skyscrapers and ancient temples, coupled with the sheer volume of millions of inhabitants, fascinated and overwhelmed me at the same time!  Teeming masses of people, a constant military presence, and skies that never saw a ray of sunshine contrasted starkly with friendly welcoming faces, efficient subway systems and chaotic traffic that was superbly organized.

ChinaSignsSmallerSpeaking of traffic, I observed one interesting thing that Beijing city planners do to control the movement of millions of cars, motorcycles and trucks.  On their highways, each lane has different minimum and maximum speed limits.  I took this photo on the right to show you what I mean.  Those traveling between 60-100 km/hr use one lane, others going slightly faster between 80-100 km/hr use another, and a third lane is reserved for the speed demons 😀 traveling between 90-120 km/hr.  I found this intriguing not only because I’ve never seen this before, but also because it just seems so intrinsically practical!  By separating traffic out in this manner, it ensures that the slowest vehicle doesn’t set the pace for everyone else.  And it occurred to me that perhaps here was a lesson for leaders everywhere.

How many times have you been involved in situations where the slowest “vehicle” sets the pace for overall speed?  Have you ever been in a meeting where discussion on one of several topics brings the entire meeting to a grinding halt?  What about at a training course where one slow learner slows down the entire class?  Or involvement in a new initiative or project where one negative killjoy destroys momentum for the rest of the group?  Would there be value in such situations in separating out the slowest vehicles and giving them their own lane so that the shakers and movers can continue on their way?  I think so.

What do you think?


  • Hi Merge,

    Absolutely there would be! The magic is knowing how to do it in a tactful way, since it often happens on the spot in meetings and can’t be prepared for through “streaming”.

  • Or do you let the slow vehicles drive on someone elses dirt roads?

    Darwin has his theory. Do we start making special lanes for the slow learners?

    Do the speed demons miss the signs, and quickly go off a cliff?

    I’d say clear out the slowpokes, and increase the speed of all lanes. If your environment is congested, limited visibility, and wet like my visit to Shanghai, good luck doing 100 km/h.

  • Lois, I can think of a couple of ways to do it tactfully. You may already be using these approaches, but I’ll share them with you in case they’re helpful.

    (1) Say “Can we take this subject off-line?”

    (2) Even better, ask the group, “Should we discuss this topic now, or should we defer it to later?” No matter what the answer, you will be moving forward with a greater degree of consensus.

  • Steve, you’re funny! You raise some very interesting points, and to some degree, I agree with you on all of them. There are times when it might be best to send the slow vehicles to another country (or company). There are times when it is appropriate to create a special environment or forum for the slow topic or person. And yes, there is a danger that the movers and shakers will be going so fast that they’ll miss their exit on the highway. I still think the Chinese have it right though … they understand that a “one size fits all” approach is not the most efficient way to achieve their objective.


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