• Rory Sutherland


Excerpt #4 from an interview with Rory Sutherland, published in Edge.org. Sutherland is Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman at OgilvyOne, a subset of 'madmen' Ogilvy & Mather, which in turn is a subset of WPP. OgilvyOne calls itself 'The Customer Agency', part advertising, part direct marketing, part of something else - 'The Thing for Which We Have No Name'.

'The single best thing the London Underground did in terms of improving passenger satisfaction per pound spent wasn't faster, more frequent, later running trains, it was putting dot matrix display boards on the platform to tell you how long you were going to have to wait for your next train.

'There's something about the human brain, for whatever reason, which hates uncertainty. That's an interesting case because if you research how can you improve the Underground, most people would have said, "I want faster trains. I want more frequent trains." They would not have said, "I want less uncertainty."

'Uber, the taxi-booking app, and Hailo, the British equivalent, are not that revolutionary in absolutely objective terms. You've always been able to book a cab by phone. You could pick up the phone and book a taxi. Big deal, okay. What makes Uber different is that when you phone for a taxi, in between that phone call and the taxi arriving, you enter the Twilight Zone of uncertainty. "Where is he? Why isn't he here yet? They said five minutes. I can't see him. Maybe he's outside. Should we go outside and have a look? What if he's left?" With Uber you watch the cab approach in real time on your map. And you go "Oh, look, he's stuck at those traffic lights. I'll make myself a cup of tea while I'm waiting." And you're both happier, you make better use of the time but you're also vastly less stressed in that period. Simply knowing that is really, really important. We don't like uncertainty.

'Now, nobody in market research goes on about this much. Economists wouldn't understand this at all. They'd be entirely clueless about the effects of uncertainty, just as it's clueless about the effects of regret or fear of regret.'

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