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Drachten, horses & cognition

February 28, 2009

A well written posting from Mark Gould that picks up the origin of the word manage in english (manège, french for the art of training and riding horses) moving on through a series if interesting quotes to traffic management with a great example to compliment the Magic roundabout in Swindon. This example is all about removing excessive control (centralised cognition) in the forms of traffic lights. Its also described here and you can see it in action here.

There is of course an ideological danger in these examples, starting to believe that management per se is a bad idea. Distributed cognition (I far prefer that to wisdom of crowds which is more often the blindness of herds) takes place within a management framework. It is enabled by management, its not the same thing as delegation or for that matter anarchy. Management set the boundaries, stimulate activity within the system then amplify or dampen emergent patterns. Its not an either/or but a both/and.

The Dutch traffic engineer referenced in the example shows great insight: here. I wuote from the referenced article in Wired. Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. “The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,” Monderman says. “To my mind, it’s much better to remove things”. What we have to remember is that the engineers are there at the start to set up the conditions from which the system evolves.

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