Wisdom gone for a Sixer...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, September 21, 2010 9:28 PM
This is an interesting incident that I witnessed nearly a couple of weeks back at a large store in close proximity to my residence in Mumbai.

I was standing in the queue at one of the billing counters as I had picked up a couple of things. It was a Saturday evening (I should mention that I absolutely hate visiting malls because of the crowds, and Saturday evenings are *really* crowded - but that day was one of those unpalatable exceptions) and the queues were all very long.

I would have chosen a shorter queue, but I stood in the queue for the billing counter nearest to the exit gate because my wife was standing outside.

She did not have a cell phone and hence I did not want her to worry about where I was.

The wife of the gentleman standing in front of me in the queue suddenly came barging in with their two kids and started admonishing the poor man for choosing "the longest queue". She literally dragged him over to another queue which was noticeably shorter.

The elder of the two kids must have been five - maybe six - years old, and as the lady told her husband, "Did you notice that you chose the longest queue?" while they were walking over to the other queue, this kid chimed out, "Which will slowly become the shortest queue."

Perhaps I am underestimating five to six-year old kids, but that moment really struck something in me, and got me thinking. Here was conventional wisdom of one kind against another. The lady employed a greedy algorithm of sorts.

The end result she had in mind was that her family should get out of the queue and the shop as quickly as it could. In a sense, her approach was probably near-sighted. All things (such as the efficiency of the clerk at the billing counter and the average number of billable items per head of customers in a queue) being equal, the shortest queue does guarantee the quickest path to the exit, but in the real world, all things are not always equal.

More often not, a variant of Murphy's law applies where you see that the queue you just moved out of suddenly starts moving a lot faster than the one you just joined (this could sometimes be just imagination and the fickleness that is such a big part of any human being).

However, I was amazed to see a young kid realizing the fact that this kind of a greedy approach to minimize waiting times at queues could actually result in a sub-optimal solution.

That said, one simply cannot just stay put in a certain queue if it is or happens to become the longest and one is short on time.

It is an interesting thing - pitting one form of conventional wisdom or common sense against the other.

Usually, common sense is derived out of fact and/or considerable experience, and here is one situation where neither really counts.

Like they say, 'Common Sense is not too common' .....

2 Response to "Wisdom gone for a Sixer..."

  1. shivani Says:

    haha...yeah the Murphy's law...but trust small kids to show more common sense than us adults.
    Just wanted to share this cunning that we normally do at Big Bazaar, Star Bazaar on weekends.Judging from the list that i carry and estimating the time it would take we survey the queue...my husband and i...then choose one...ask my husband to stand in the queue while i hurry around with the trolley rushing from one end to the other...groceries, fruits ,veggies...
    Now when there is just one person ahead... my husband gives me a beep and i rush back to him.
    It's worked perfectly fine for us.
    Later we go and grab a coffee and perhaps a McDonald Mahaburger grinning like cats.
    Good post...enjoyed it :)

  2. Tandarin Nike Says:

    Hey! that seems to be a very good idea indeed. Anyway, am just on a six week holiday here and hence shopping is on a bare minimum and in spurts. Abroad, the scenario is different as there are just too many counters and many of these counters are for less than 10 items. It works fine with us as we shop every other day.

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