You are so Predictable

My Father studied History at University.  I studied Genetics.  This, in my brash young mind, made me a superior person.  After all a science is useful, you can apply a science and make money out of it.  History however, well what exactly can you do with that?

I challenged my Dad once with this very point.  He gave me the withering look that only a parent can truly master and said:

People will always do what people always do

People are predictable

Here is a case in point:

Next time you get in a lift (or elevator for those of us of a transatlantic persuasion), count the number of people and watch where they stand.  I will lay you a bet they line up like this:

Predictable People in a Lift

  • One person can rattle about doing whatever they want
  • Two people will gravitate to the corners
  • Three people will form a triangle
  • Four people make a square
  • Five people look like dots on a dice

More than that and it starts to get a little uncomfortable, but even then  social norms are obeyed.  Keep the conversation down, eyes front, don’t touch…

Next time you are in a lift have a look and see.

Of course it’s not just in lifts:

We might think we are unique but our behaviour is predictable.  So if you know what your customers are likely to want to do then you can make it easy for them:

  • We love to watch ourselves in mirrors, so if your customers have to queue give them a mirror to look at.  The minutes will fly.
  • We don’t look for things very hard, so put your best-selling products at eye level where they are nice and easy to find.
  • We scan read, so put the important bits in bold.
  • We put off making decisions, so make the hard decisions easy for us, (judicious use of opt in and opt out)

You won’t get it right for everybody, but getting it right for most people is a whole lot better than getting things wrong.

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Image by malias


  1. Hi James,
    I know of a local restaurant that, on the weekend, always has people queuing for tables. People are happy to do it because it’s that good. However, they make the waiting experience more involving and inclusive by letting you queue inside the restaurant hall, by giving you menus before you have been seated and even by serving drinks whilst you queue. Predictably, people are much more likely to stick around and wait for a table rather than seeing the queue and going somewhere else even when there is a reasonable alternative next door.


  2. Hello James

    Love this post. Your father shows up for me as being a wise man.

    All the best and hope all is great with you!

  3. James,

    I never really thought about the positions people take in an elevator. I’m definitely going to pay attention to that this week. Thanks for another great post.


  4. My O level chemistry teach used a very similar example to the lift to explain how electrons are distributed around an atom (bus seats filling up – not much call for tall buildings in Ipswich). I guess what we are seeing in the lift is each person maximising the space between them and their neighbours. In other words ‘repulsion’. I guess the trick is not to get energetically excited in a lift – it could all go horribly wrong.

    • James Lawther says:

      I didn’t realise you were from Ipswich Bernie, a town I have been through thousands of times but never felt the urge to stop.

      I am sure that fact reflects badly on one of us


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