Vantage point

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tiny Bit of Freaknonomics

I had my own tiny Freakonomics-ish experience a few days back. It was fun to resolve a puzzle and discover that the answer too, like so many answers in life, and as pointed out by Levitt and Dubner, had to do entirely with incentives.

If you work in IL&FS Building in Bandra Kurla Complex, you will be aware of the 'Third Floor Elevator Summoning Ghost'. It is a name I have given to the phenomenon of the elevator mysteriously stopping at the Third Floor, the doors opening, and more often than not, there being nobody at the third floor waiting to get in. It's mildly irritating when this happens on a regular basis. Everyone in my office gets bugged whenever it happens and almost everyone laid the blame on some prankster security guard who gets his jollies making the lift stop without any reason.

I know fetishes can get as weird as possible, but this seemed very lame to me. Plus the fact that this happened at any time of the day, early mornings, afternoons, evenings and night. Surely no guard would have a shift that long. For a few months I kept promising myself I would "investigate" the ghostly phenomenon and nail the suspect, but never got down to it for some reason or the other.

Then one day when the elevator stopped at the third floor and there was no one outside, I ventured out, and for the first time ever set foot on the third floor. It seemed very similar to our floor. There were walls with a cream finish and 4 elevator doors. No ghosts yet.

The security guard looked questioningly at me, as if to ask whether I intended to enter the third floor office. Beofre I could answer, three women came out. And I noticed that they pressed the knobs for two different elevators.

And then, there was light!

You see, like most multi-storeyed office buildings, IL&FS Building also has different elevators going to different floors to share the load. So every morning when I come to work, I press the knob next to the lift labelled "-1 to 6th floors", and not the other one.

I discovered that the 3rd floor was on both elevator routes. I guess the reason 3rd floor got this "special" treatment was that it housed an organisation run by IL&FS. Even though the lift was on both routes, the chips which run the two routes are apparently not connected. So both of them send the lift to the third floor, if both the knobs are pressed.

Since people on the third floor had an option of using either lift route, they had the incentive to press both the knobs, because they could benefit from the quicker lift. Then they would step into the lift that arrived first, while the second lift would find the third floor lobby empty.

So there was no ghost and no prankster. It was just caused, unwittingly, by people working on the third floor who wanted to go home as early as they could.