In the early industrial age, buildings began to spring up all over the east coast. Many of these new buildings were taller than anything ever built before and most had elevators. As buildings got taller and taller, more people began to use elevators. Elevators in those days were pretty darn slow. People were constantly complaining about how slow the elevators were.
Elevator companies were challenged with this problem and came up with the typical problem statement elevators move too slow. So they went off to design elevators that were faster and safer, but at the time it was very expensive to do so. Several companies went off and running to build a safer and faster elevator, and one elevator company proposed a different problem statement. They may have had a different name for the approach, but they were using the fundamentals of the est problem statement tool. One engineer said, I think our elevator speeds are just fine, people are crazy.
Then an engineer proposed that they work on a different problem statement. He proposed that the problem was people think elevators move to slow. He inserted two words people think into the problem statement which allowed the design team to approach the problem from a completely different angle and thus a whole new set of ideas. Instead of concentrating on larger motors, slicker pulley designs and such, they concentrated on the passenger in the elevator.
When they looked at the problem from this angle, the ideas started to snowball. Is it really too slow? Why do they think it is slow? How can we distract them? How can we make it more comfortable? Are customers scared of heights?
This lead to some first hand customer research. They found that a lot of people thought the elevators were a lot slower then they actually were.
They also discovered that people had an exaggerated sense of time because they had nothing to do but stare at the wall and think about the safety of the elevator being suspended in the air, and preoccupied with the fear of falling.
There wasn’t room for additional equipment of any sort, so they brainstormed on that. This lead to the idea of mirrors in elevators so people would think about something else besides danger. Was their hair combed properly? Did her makeup look okay?
By installing mirrors in the elevators, people became distracted and were no longer preoccupied with the fear of falling. On a follow up survey, customers commented how much faster the new elevators were even though the speed was exactly the same. The elevator design itself had not changed at all.