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

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 ...