Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster? By David Andrews

Hate waiting in line? I know I do. The new book Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster? by David Andrews explores the myths and misery, secrets and psychology of waiting in line. Andrews went in search of answers to this age old question and unearthed a world of science, history and cultural norms about the often stressful, sometimes nonexistent and usually time-consuming act of waiting in line.

If you think about it, forming lines are a part of our everyday lives, and has been an aspect of our lives since we were children. Training for a life of line standing began early. Remember the sweat that went into teaching rambunctious kindergartners to pipe down, take turns and line up already? Children are taught to speak in turn and not to cut in line. This early childhood training prepares us for a lifetime of lining up. If you look back in history, forming lines was created as a way to avoid chaos and confusion. Sidewalks were built to separate pedestrians from traffic and keep them walking in a straight line. Streets and roads avoid chaos by having us form a line with our vehicles to control the flow of traffic. Ever make a phone call and been put on hold? There is a reason why you are subjected to either a sales pitch or that awful continuous music stream. Those are tactics designed to take your mind off the fact that your call is waiting in a lineup. Andrews points out that waiting in queue with a phone call is much easier than waiting in line at a store because you don't "see" the number of people in line ahead of you. You never know if you are the next call or if there are five people ahead of you. I don't care. It still annoys me. How about you? I found the business aspect of forming lines explained in the book quite interesting, especially chapter three. It explores the psychological aspect of waiting and includes some very insightful information. In 1985, David Maister, a business management consultant and professor at the Harvard Business School, published an article titled "The Psychology of Waiting in Lines" which focuses on the significance lines have in the business world. Businesses cannot always control their wait times, and sometimes they don't want to even if they could. For example, included in the article was the economic model of a theme park. Think about it. If people did not have to wait in lines for a particular ride, they would exhaust all the possibilities of the park in an hour or two. And, people associate the longest lines with the best rides. Also included in this chapter is David Maister's Eight Propositions Concerning the Psychology of Waiting. My favorites of the eight are, Occupied Time Feels Shorter than Unoccupied Time (which explains why we are so easily frustrated waiting in line), and The More Valuable the Service, the Longer the Customer Will Wait (remember this the next time you are waiting for your internet provider to answer your call).

Although it is a small, yellow, 200 page book, Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster? is crammed with information, including facts about other countries and cultures, and the author presents these facts in a very interesting and highly readable format. So, the next time you are waiting in line at the grocery store or the movie theatre keep in mind - there is most likely a very good reason. But, I doubt it will make your line appear to move any faster.

 

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