Why one airport made something worse, but people liked it

written by  Ryan Seamons

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Activity ≠ Progress

Your mind has to constantly adapt to identify what actions are mere activity vs real progress. Often the actions that result in progress change over time. As humans, we have a hard time seeing when doing something that feels productive isn’t getting us good results.

My favorite example of this principle is a story from the Houston Texas airport.

Many years ago, airport executives had an issue with complaints about the wait at baggage claim. In response, the leaders upped the number of baggage handlers in an attempt to speed things up. And it worked … at least in making things faster. The average wait time got down to 8 minutes, well within industry standards.

But the complaints didn’t stop.

When they dug further and actually spent time with customers, they observed that the issue wasn’t just the time it took bags to get from the plane to the belt. It was the wait. The walk from the gates receiving complaints only took about 1 minute. Passengers then spent the next 7 minutes waiting in airport-hell, wondering when or if their bags would ever come.

So the team made more atypical change. The gates were moved further away from baggage claim. The walk time increased 6x.

Complaints dropped to almost zero.

We are ok as long as it feels like progress is being made. Perception often overpowers reality. Passengers should have been happier with a system that didn’t make them do more work. But feeling like something didn’t take long is more pleasing than something that feels slower (even if it is actually better).

Often, we are like those passengers. We want to feel like something is happening. This is why individuals and teams don’t pause to think. It doesn’t feel productive. Let’s just jump in! One remedy can be activities that help you pause to reflect (like Career Cards, launching in two weeks).

Success awaits the person who stop chasing the feeling of progress and makes a habit of continually adjusting and pushing toward real progress—even if that means sometimes having to wait.

How could pause at times to make more real progress in your work?


“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

About the Author

Ryan Seamons
writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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