So, by now, I’m sure you’re used to these blogs taking you on a tangential journey.
But this time, I want you to join me at the foot of the escalator at London’s Holborn Underground station. It’s Monday morning, at a quarter to nine. Rush hour. People everywhere.
You look up. And you wait to get on the escalator due to the sheer numbers, because you know that London Underground commuters stand on the right. It’s a long tangential journey up (see what I did there?) though it’s not the longest escalator on the Underground (that’s Angel’s, fact fans).
It’s not pleasant. Nobody looks at anyone else, and there’s some tutting. Stand to the right. Pass on the left. Don’t interact with the other commuters.
Welcome to London.
But why have I placed you at the foot of Holborn escalator specifically? Because they’ve been trialing a new system recently. As you know, custom dictates that we stand on the right and walk up on the left of the escalator. But nearly 60 million passengers use Holborn station each year, and in rush hour there’s always a big queue to stand on the right.
What if you made both sides standing only in peak hours? Would it increase throughput because more people can get on? Well, they trialed it for an hour (8:30am to 9:30am) each day. And guess what? Standing on both sides increased the flow up the escalator dramatically during rush hour, by over 27% in fact. There’s much more analysis of why it worked in this article.
But the point is this: even if it’s a better system, it’s very unlikely to change. It would be too unpopular. And this is why it’s relevant to the charity sector.
Commuters and supporters are individuals.
We don’t comprehend the greater good.
Think about the stressed office worker who normally walks up the escalator. Standing on the left will slow her down. What does she care that the average journey time will be reduced? She’s going to be late.
Now think about our supporters. My contention is that we often see them as a block of people, as an amorphous group of escalator travelers, if you will. I’m sad to say it, but we need to stop imagining what the greater good is.
Commuters don’t see the world from Transport for London’s perspective. And like the office worker in a hurry, our supporters will also have their own personal connection and motivation.
We need to stop trying to think about what will please the most people most of the time. Or our communication becomes beige.
So next time you’re thinking about contacting however many thousand people, just stop for a second. Think about them on that busy escalator. They’ve all got different motivations, want to go at different speeds. And although they may look away, they’re aware that you’re there. You just need to learn how to reach them.