OPINION20 September 2021

Rory Sutherland: When obvious truths are invisible

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Impact Opinion Travel

In his most recently published Impact column, Rory Sutherland reflects on why we can become oblivious to the obvious in some settings.

Speeding train at night railway_crop

Here’s something I genuinely don’t understand – and, given that the readers of this publication must include many astute people with the greatest possible experience of the vagaries of human decision-making, I thought I might share it with you in the hope of enlightenment.

A few years ago, I asked a collection of rail engineers: “What is the point of High Speed 2?”

“Very simple, ” they replied: “To increase capacity, and to reduce journey times.”

“Fine, ” I said. “But you do realise you can do that not only at a cost of £60-100bn with a project that will take 15 years, but in six months for £3-4m?”

I elucidated further. “All you need to do to achieve these two ends is simple: reformulate the problem so that journey time is defined not as time spent on a train, but as end-to-end journey time. Once you do that, you can reduce travel time for perhaps 50% of passengers by 20-40 minutes, at minimal ...