The Evolution of a Legend

G. L. Filkovsky, TRIZ Master,
Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

I first heard this story in the beginning of the 1980s, from a student of one of the very first TRIZ courses I conducted in Israel. It was presented as an example of a “tricky”, round about solution, like it is posted by the Harvard Business School:
A number of years ago, a company that had just built a major building realized their elevators were intolerably slow. What to do? It was too expensive to reengineer the elevators. After thinking about the problem for a while, mirrors were installed in the lobby and elevators. It turns out that people will tolerate a much longer wait if they can see themselves in a mirror.

The joke was timely and funny. Everyone laughed, and continued on to learn about real inventive solutions.

Recently, I discovered the same joke told as a real story by the Nielsen Norman Group:
A classic example occurred in the 1930s in New York City, where "users" in a large new high-rise office building consistently complained about the wait times at the elevators. Engineers consulted concluded that there was no way to either speed up the elevators or to increase the number or capacity of the elevators. A designer was then called in, and he was able to solve the problem … by placing floor-to-ceiling mirrors all around the elevator lobbies. People now engaged in looking at themselves and in surreptitiously looking at others, through the bounce off multiple mirrors. Their minds were fully occupied and time flew by.

Indiana University tells the story in a historical perspective:
When elevators were novel conveyances, people felt the elevators ran too slowly. Since elevators move using weights and pulleys, it's unlikely that engineers would be able to make them significantly faster. ... Putting up mirrors solves the problem! This not-so-obvious solution would never had been possible if the right problem hadn't been identified.

Here the history gets closer to our times and more personal:
Everyone knows about this elevator pioneer "OTIS". When OTIS was providing the elevator service to some of the skyscrapers in New York way back in 1970's they had a problem reported from the users every now and then saying that the "elevator is too slow"..... OTIS analyzed this and they changed the elevator's with more powerful motors and better lubrication systems......after sometime, another survey conducted among the users unfortunately revealed the same complaint from the users, that the elevator is slow. Well, to resolve this OTIS appointed a new person who did lot of analysis and finally zeroed on to the problem statement... This was resolved by fixing up mirrors inside lifts which made a positive impact on the next survey.

The story continues to move to more recent times and to become more specific about who could and who could not solve the problem.

By the UWEB, "a high rise hotel manager assembled his assistants … called the elevator company and an independent expert on elevators… an architectural firm "

By the PennState, "Hotel management … decided to install mirrors beside the elevator…"

By the Bucknell, "... the building manager … … has mirrors placed between the elevator openings …"

By the IBM, "Computer programmers were brought in to change the algorithms … the owner hired structural engineers …. At this point, the owner's cousin suggested putting mirrors next to the elevators."

By the University of Iowa, "a systems analyst was called in…"

Next, the story gets truer by referring to real people. By the Ogilvy and National Capital FreeNet, the story is “much told by Edward de Bono”. However, by the Brand Strategy Group, “the building owner called in Edward de Bono, a man famous for lateral thinking and unusual ways of solving problems. After spending a few days in the lobby, de Bono contacted the owner and told him to install mirrors in the elevators.

By the University of Maryland, "A professor I had last spring told a story … about how he was hired to provide a solution to an office building that had too few elevators for the people wishing to leave all at the same time."

By the Universitetet i Oslo, "The owner ... contacted a friend of his who worked in a company that was working with creative problem solving."

Will TRIZ stay out of this game especially when some other “creative problem solving company” is benefited? No, it won’t. So, by the TRIZ Home Page in Japan, Salamatov's TRIZ Textbook "TRIZ: The Right Solution at the Right Time" claims that the problem of “the complaints of waiting long for the lifts … was solved by hanging a large mirror at the lift entrance … with brainstorming.

However the final touch can be found in the Forum on Creativity in Engineering Education:
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to have the TRIZ group make a formal presentation of the methodology to us at the CAT some years ago. The presentation was attractive and convincing. ... To one of my questions they gave me the following example. A client had a perceived problem with an elevator in a skyscraper. According to the riders, the elevator took what appeared to be too long to climb to the upper floors, and vice versa. Since speeding up the elevator was not desirable, the building management consulted with the TRIZ group who proposed the following creative idea: add mirrors inside the elevator so that the riders can look at and fix themselves during the ride. The diversion caused by the mirrors changed the perception and the complaints about elevator speed stopped.

Any guess, who the TRIZ group was?