Ironically for a post on a blog called ‘Don’t Compromise’, this article is about negotiation – the accommodations we make, our relationships to those around us, and the ways we move forward while avoiding unnecessary conflicts and collisions. It’s also about rules, regulations … and traffic lights in provincial Holland. And just possibly about getting through the working day with fewer ‘prangs’.

Most of us accept the need for rules, regulations and handbooks – the dos and don’ts that we are obliged to follow. We also mostly accept that the more people in a situation – and most people’s working lives are fairly crowded – the greater the need for metaphorical guiding hands, there to act as signposts as to how we should behave.

But interesting thinkers pose interesting questions as much as they provide fascinating answers. When it comes to the benefits of detailed signposting of intended behaviour in a crowded, shared space, one interesting thinker was the late Hans Monderman. A Dutch traffic planner, Monderman was also a driving instructor in his spare time. There are few more crowded spaces than public roads, each driver pursuing their own destination but having to share the carriageway with many hundreds of others, each with their own agenda. And roads are public spaces: drivers kill and injure not just each other, but pedestrians too. Good driving behaviour isn’t just a matter of social grace: it’s a matter of life and death.

Monderman’s observation was that road signs and ‘street furniture’ (crossings, kerbs, barriers, and so on) did not achieve their purpose: drivers were encouraged to read signs, not the road, and drive at speed limits rather than within them. So he removed them. In over 100 Dutch communities initially, and then in other countries – there are over 40 of his ‘shared space’ schemes in the UK. To see what it looks like in practice, try the following interview video clip:

More interestingly, they work. Accident, injury and death rates have fallen. More relevantly (for those waiting for a learning and development link), Monderman saw his work as being about human behaviour: interviewed in Drachten at a road junction handling 2,000 cars and thousands of cyclists a day, he commented:

Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can’t expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road.”

The link with learning and development and to personal behaviours isn’t a unique insight – the blog Enlightened Tradition(which also quotes Monderman) draws parallels between the two, although it focuses on questioning the delivery model for training (and does so interestingly).

From ASK’s perspective, what is interesting about Monderman and his work is his view on how behaviour is shaped and reinforced and how ‘rules and regulations’ can be a convenient means of excusing inappropriate behaviour that impacts badly – fatally, in Monderman’s world – on those around us. His approach takes us away from ‘I was only following orders’ to a place where we take responsibility for own behaviour and how it imposes on others.

Monderman looked to create situations that encouraged people to read and interpret situations, recognise that using roads meant interacting with other people and handling your interactions with them intelligently by continually reading the situation and behaving accordingly.

And that’s not just good driving, that’s good leadership too.

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