The Masterly Tram Innovation Plan


In 1967 a document written by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB) was officially stamped “Strictly Confidential” and was granted Restricted Access under the Australian Secrets Act for a period of 50 years. A few weeks ago, this document titled “A Plan to Enhance Tram Commuter Innovation via Strategic Design Disruption” was obtained under the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Laws and was promptly delivered to an eagerly awaiting Melbourne newspaper journalist.

After a few hours of detailed reading, the journalist dropped the heavy red leather bound 100 page document onto her office floor with a loud thud in a state of total astonishment and disbelief. She had just read a master plan cleverly constructed by the MMTB that explained in great detail how the Melbourne tram network was designed, developed and implemented as part of a secret psychological behavioural study commissioned by a leading Melbourne University Professor.  According to this Professor, the supple, malleable mind of the unsuspecting naive Melbourne tram user could be surreptitiously modified to think creatively via the use of some simple transport network modifications. Under the cloak of innovation, the following modes of tram operation were devised.

  1.  Punctuality
    An official MMTB tram timetable was published which made the commuter think that a tram might be arriving/departing according to the schedule. But no, this was never the intention, as all tram drivers were provided with a different, totally random timetable that had no correlation with that used by the commuter.
    The Benefit: This forced the commuter to develop innovative justifications to explain why they were always late. There was also an additional bonus of suspense as the commuter never really knew when the tram was going to arrive or depart.
  1. Tram Stop
    Tram Drivers were instructed never to stop in the middle of a designated tram stop, but always a few feet before, or after it. Some were even told not to actually stop, but to reduce the tram speed to an observable calculated velocity where the commuter thought it was just slow enough not to cause them significant personal harm as they scurried for the open door moving past them.
    The Benefit: In an attempt to reduce the growing problem of commuter obesity, this provided the traveller with some daily physical exercise, and always made sure that their reflexes were primed to leap into a partially open tram door when available.
  1. Tram Seats
    When the trams were being serviced at the depot in preparation for the following days commuter allocation, MMTB cleaners were instructed to deliberately dirty up a few seats, or to make some of them totally unserviceable.
    The Benefit: The forced some fortunate commuters to joyfully stretch their legs by having the delight of standing up for their entire tram journey. It also created a competitive seat culture where commuters were strategically jockeying for the remaining usable seats.
  1. Temperature Control
    Although most trams were fitted with large windows to regulate air flow to assist with commuter comfort, many of these windows were deliberately welded shut.
    The Benefit: The majority of the Melbourne commuters had never experienced the health benefits of a sauna. Here the MMTB gleefully provided this as part of the tram service with no additional ticket surcharge.
  1. Tram Break Down
    Tram Drivers were instructed to randomly turn the power off in their trams and feign an unplanned mechanical failure.
    The Benefit: This provided the commuter with an opportunity to bond and share personal experiences with their fellow travellers whilst they were all crammed into the stationary overheating tram. It was also great advertising for the MMTB as their trams became a readily identifiable symbol of iconic transport that all frustrated and fuming car drivers could continually look at whilst they sat for extended periods of time in the resultant traffic jam.

As you can imagine, the journalist was flabbergasted at the creative ingenuity of the MMTB in their attempt to create a culture of innovation on their Melbourne transport network. But what the journalist didn’t know, was that other cities all around the world adopted the MMTB commuter philosophy and applied the psychological learnings in all their trains, buses, trams, ferries and even some airlines. Was it successful? We will never know, however, the memoirs of that leading 1967 Melbourne University Professor do record that he never used public transport and was an avid car driver.

Let the Ideas In


Many corporate offices these days are starting to have a somewhat cloned appearance of the CIA, MI6, ASIO, and most other intelligence organizations, with all the security gadgets located throughout their buildings. This is evident by the increasing visibility of security cameras, sensor movement measuring devices, electronic swipe cards and other items that may have been derived from a James Bond 007 movie!

These security measures are very successful at keeping unwanted people out, and those valued people in, together with protecting the businesses intellectual property and other strategic assets. This security focus also permeates into the organization’s hierarchy and culture where only a limited number of vetted employees are allowed to represent the business in the external world to ensure consistency of message.

A major consequence of these established corporate fortresses is that many new ideas, creativity and innovations are also blocked from entering the organization. Many companies utilise a limited number of gatekeepers to filter and disseminate information inputs into the organization thereby ensuring a consistent methodology to evaluate potential opportunities in accordance with well established, and approved, corporate guidelines. However, this can result in stifling innovation and in restricting the highly needed creative thought that is essential to the longer-term and ongoing success of the organization.

The solution is for organizations to have a broad network of “idea collection systems” in place to seek out, identify and gather new thoughts that can analysed further to better understand current and future consumer trends and market requirements. The key is to allow many employees in the corporate structure, not just the chosen few, to have the opportunity to source these ideas without the use of the approved corporate filtering and distillation processes, otherwise this will again lead to a narrow view of potential innovation opportunities.

These “idea collection systems” do not need to be extremely ornate, sophisticated or expensive, but can be achieved via allowing people from a broad cross-section of the organization access to a variety of external information stimuli that they would not normally have exposure to via their traditional job roles. Examples of these “idea collection systems” could be; magazine subscriptions (HBR, The New Yorker, Food and Wine, MAD Magazine, Top Gear, etc), attending seminars, webinars, workshops, interest groups, factory tours, plays, book reviews, plus many more! The objective is creative diversity with ideas sourced from outside their current “thought zone”.

The vast array of collected ideas should then be pooled into a continually overflowing “idea bucket” from which those versed in the identification of potentially new ideas and products review on a regular basis. With time, I’m sure that this collective of numerous ideas will lead to many commercially new and innovative products being developed to provide future long-term benefit and financial sustenance to the corporate organization.

The corporate goal should be to have many employee “ears and eyes” constantly seeking new thoughts to add to the “idea collection systems”. But to do this, the corporate organization needs to be bold, to listen, and to “Let the Ideas In”!


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