What traffic can teach us about transparency

Dianna Lesage
4 min readJan 24, 2019

I have 5 siblings and none of us wanted to sit in the passenger seat when my mother was driving. We fought over who had to ride shotgun because that person was the designated map holder and traffic general. My dear mom has a serious case of road rage when sitting in traffic, and one thing that always baffled me was her tireless pursuit of traffic investigation.

I am a very logical person. In my mind, if there is traffic- you just wait. It isn't a pleasant or enjoyable experience but unless your car can fly, you simply must endure it. The nearly universal demand to know why the traffic exists makes no rational sense. Knowing that an accident 2 miles down the road is the reason for the traffic you’re sitting in now does not help you in any fundamental way. The exception here is if there an an alternate route you might be able to take to exit the traffic and get around the road block, I concede this- but that’s not usually the case. Under normal circumstances there is no alternative route, your car can’t fly, and you just have to wait.

So, after loosing countless sibling battles resulting in being the appointed “traffic controller”- I finally asked my mom what could be done to stop her exhausting plea for traffic justification. She told me she simply wanted to know why there was traffic. If she knew that we would only be in hell for 2 more miles but free to travel onward after, she could tolerate the delay.

What my mother, and nearly every other driver, is really seeking here is a frame of reference for understanding the delay. One of my favorite TED Talks, given by Rory Sutherland (a brilliant and funny behavioral psychologist) describes this problem and its simple- yet genius- solution perfectly:

The single best improvement in passenger satisfaction on the London Underground, per pound spent, came when they didn’t add any extra trains, nor change the frequency of the trains; they put dot matrix display boards on the platforms — because the nature of a wait is not just dependent on its numerical quality, its duration, but on the level of uncertainty you experience during that wait. Waiting seven minutes for a train with a countdown clock is less frustrating and irritating than waiting four minutes, knuckle biting, going, “When’s this train going to damn well arrive?”

Dianna Lesage

Venture Studio expert. Creator capitalist. Lover of innovation.