By Kevin Meyer
One of the first things you notice upon landing in India, especially Mumbai, is the traffic. Rules? What rules? Every conceivable type of vehicle combined with people and bikes and even cows, all jostling for another inch. A visual is always better than words, so watch the first few seconds of this video and you'll understand.
India's concept of rules is interesting. On one hand they love bureaucracy and rules – the list we received for our trade show booth spelled out every possible contingency under the sun, plus the associated fines and penalties for not following them. On the other hand… well there are no traffic rules.
This isn't the first time I've encountered such chaotic traffic. Italy was very similar. And just as with India it was a little eye-opening. It looks like mayhem and out of control, but traffic moves. Slowly, but nearly continuously, and perhaps analogously to the tortoise and the hare you almost seem to get to your destination faster than you would with traffic light after traffic light.
After the Italy experience I discovered there's actually a science behind what I observed. Rules, and even the visual indicators we love in the lean world, can sometimes remove the brain from the process. In India, and Italy, drivers and pedestrians are exceptionally aware of their surroundings. I was amazed how cab drivers in India could cut in and out of traffic seemingly having complete 360 degree peripheral vision. I was also surprised by how in over 12 days in India we saw exactly zero accidents – and we saw one within an hour of returning to the U.S. But we also saw an ambulance, sirens blaring, stuck in the same slow Mumbai traffic with no one making an effort to give way.
Can rules and visual signals, or at least some excess level of them, actually turn off the thinking and awareness process? Where is the line between the minimum level of rules and signals necessary for orderly society – and too many that effectively constrain the potential agility power of chaos? What is the impact on lean, such as visual controls, standard work, and 5S?