Everybody loves freedom, but when it comes to using a system, it’s usually the opposite


Going through security check at the airport is painful. Long lines, get your shoes off, please place your personal items on the tray, large electronic devices go separate, make sure your pockets are empty, and sir is this your bag.

Everybody has their least favorite scenario. For me, it is when there’s a gap between the pile of trays and the belt, and I’m forced to hold the trays, now full of things, until there’s a spot available.

Some clever people have figured out a pretty good solution. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but this is how it works:

The checkpoint counter is divided in a number of lanes. When it’s your turn, you get assigned one of them. Trays come automatically through a belt that runs under the counter. You can take as many as you need, but one at a time. As you pick one and fill it with your personal items, another becomes available, and when you’re done that spot is assigned to the next traveler.

There are a number of things that make this system work, but I’d like to focus on two of them: you cannot choose when you can grab a tray (you have to wait until you get assigned a lane), and you cannot take more than one tray at the same time (you get and fill trays one by one).

The salad bar by our office allows customers to mix and match ingredients for a fixed price. I’ve seen people’s salads (I’ve seen my own!) and let me tell you: the same person choosing their own salad wouldn’t eat that disgusting nonsense leftover mix they just created if they saw it on the menu.

More degrees of freedom usually means ending up with things that are more dificult to use and more stressful. Less pleasant, less satisfactory.

With less freedom you can do less, but if someone worked a lot to make better informed decisions, they will free up some brain bandwidth that you can use for something else. The experience improves for you and for those behind you.