When Does it Make Sense to Change Your Lane?

On my way to an appointment the other day, I saw traffic backed up. The left lanes—the through lanes—looked stuck. I signaled and turned to get into the middle lane. That lane was stuck, too, so I signaled and turned to the right lane. I zoomed through in just a minute.

The other drivers behind me were still stuck in their lanes. I don’t know how long it took for them to get through the traffic.

I wish I could claim I was so smart. Or, that I have some kind of a crystal ball for traffic.

Nope. I took a chance that the lanes that looked open were open. I had no guarantee I would slip through the traffic. I made a new choice and “gambled” I would succeed.

This time, I was correct. (In the grocery store, I’m almost always wrong. I almost always choose the longest lane in the grocery store.)

I tend to ask these questions to see when it makes sense to stay or change my lane:

  • Is there some information I can gather to assess when I should stay or change?
  • What’s the time risk either way?
  • Is there some other risk I can see?

When it comes to traffic, I might listen to the radio station that explains the traffic. I wasn’t sure I would get information fast enough. I took a chance. When I passed the blockage, I saw guys on the road starting to set up cones. We were headed for road repair. (I live in the Boston area. We have two driving seasons: road repair and winter.)

For other decisions, such as offering a workshop or writing a book, I might gather potential data from clients.

As for time risks, I wasn’t late—yet—for my appointment. I didn’t want to become late!

Because I practice adaptability, I tend to change lanes. That’s because:

The overall risks of changing my lane are small. The possible returns are quite high. (I won’t be late for my appointment.)

What if I didn’t have experience driving? I still have access to many maps with options.

What if I made the grocery-store mistake on the road? I can set a timebox to assess my decision. (That’s why I like experiments.)

I don’t have to be perfect in my decision-making. I can make a decision for now and decide when to reassess it.

I see this a lot in projects and in my personal life. We become accustomed to doing things one way or in similar ways. We might not think to change our lanes. We have steering wheels in cars. We can create steering “wheels” at work and in our lives. We can change lanes. Often, without much downside, especially if we decide when to assess our decisions.

That is the question this week: When does it make sense to change your lane?

2 thoughts on “When Does it Make Sense to Change Your Lane?

  1. agileidiot

    Interesting thoughts Joanna. Here is what I do, I look for the norms and do the opposite
    (no plain stupid opposite for the sake of doing it). Adaptable behaviours which are outliers to the norms always come out ahead. The world is full of them in every field we see and they are on top. The rest of the ones (orgs) which dont want to change are all in the “norms” and “me too” space. Adaptive deviance :-)

    It’s not “AI” by the way, though I like that abbreviation. It’s Srikanth Ramanujam!

    1. Johanna Post author

      Hi Srikanth, Thanks for telling me who you are!!

      You said that so clearly: “Adaptable behaviors are outliers to the norms and always come out ahead.” I totally agree with the outlier part. More often than not, the outliers do come out ahead. We stick our necks out and we get rewarded for doing so.

      And, I’m not always successful. Often, but not always. I do like adaptive deviance :-))

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