How a Forced Experiment Led to a Faster Commute

When news of the labor strike broke, commuters were furious. London’s Underground, affectionately known as the “tube”, is the subway system responsible for transporting millions to their destination each day. So when some routes were shut down during the 2014 strike, commuters were forced to find alternative ways to get to work.

Since Underground passengers are required to swipe their access cards when both entering and leaving the system, researchers were able to analyze the data to determine what happened during the labor strike… and what happened afterwards. Would passengers find a better path once their old patterns were broken?

Once the strike was over and all trains were operational, it might be easy to conclude that commuters would return to their normal route. After all, getting to work quickly is the clear objective of every passenger and with detailed train maps, you’d expect commuters to have already optimized their fastest path. But the data show otherwise.

As commuters were forced to explore different paths, many discovered better routes. According to the data, five percent of the two million daily commuters stuck with their new route after the strike ended. That’s 100,000 people who found a better way because an external situation forced them to rethink their approach.

To a degree, the COVID crisis has had a similar effect, forcing us all to explore new routes in business, family, education, health and community. And like the London Underground, there’s an upside to breaking our previous patterns. While none of us requested a global pandemic, one positive that can come from this disruption is that it’s forced us all to rethink, reimagine, and reinvent. Previous methods that seemed comfortable can now be replaced with upgraded versions as we discover more creative approaches. COVID has accelerated the impetus to find fresh paths in all areas of our lives.

Sometimes it takes an unexpected and unwanted force to compel us to find a new approach. Just like the 100,000 Londoners who discovered a better way to get to work, let’s discover creative ways to lead, serve, and win. Frustrated in the moment, those angry commuters now look back at the labor strike with gratitude for how it forced them to change and adapt. My greatest hope is that we too can look back at COVID in a similar way, recognizing it as an opportunity to evolve.

Here’s to our own new and improved routes.