In Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein discuss the importance of choice architecture in our everyday lives, and how small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts on our behavior. To illustrate this, they turn to the men’s toilets in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
There the authorities have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess, but if they see a target, attention and therefore accuracy are much increased. According to the man who came up with the idea, it works wonders. “It improves the aim,” says Aad Kieboom. “If a man sees a fly, he aims at it.” His staff conducted fly-in-urinal trials and found that etchings reduce spillage by 80 percent.
I must say that upon reading the book, I was pretty intrigued and set out to find the picture of the fly-in-urinal. Here you go.
My first thought was: How did they figure the reduction of 80 percent? Thaler has tried to imagine how the airport made its calculations. “I’m guessing somebody went to the urinals without flies and repeatedly soaked up the ordinary spillage with a paper towel,” which he then figures was carefully weighed on a scale. Then the same experiment was done at fly-emblazoned urinals, and presumably the scales reported a dramatically measurable difference in soakage.
My take on this: Based on his judgment, the cleaner mops the floor every time the spillage exceeds a certain threshold; for every ten times he had to mop it in the past, he now only has to mop it twice.