Talk about thinking outside of the box. Each spring crows entered the abandoned lower floors of the research center. They stripped away pipe insulation for their nests. They left behind feathers and droppings. What did the researchers do to stop the crows? They put up signs reading, “No Entry to Crows”. The crows stayed away.
The May 12, 2017 article in the Asahi titled “Posted Warning: ‘No Entry to Crows’, Somehow Effective” tells the story. The lower two floors of the Tokyo University coastal ocean research facility in Otsuchi City are abandoned due to the damage from the 2011 tsunami. Crows learned to salvage nest-building materials from tsunami-damaged and abandoned buildings and homes in the area. The staff at the research center called animal behavior science Professor Sato for advice on keeping the crows out, but he was at a loss. So he called Mr. Takeda, an environmental medicine researcher specializing in crows, at Utsunomiya University.
Mr. Takeda’s advice was, “Why don’t you try posting a warning?”
“You must be kidding me,” thought Prof. Sato initially. But they tried posting a “No Entry to Crows” sign. And lo, it worked. The effect was not temporary, but long-lasting.
According to Mr. Takeda, the posted warning is effective because staff and students at the research center see the signs, and this causes them to direct their gaze or point their fingers at the crows. The crows dislike the human attention and hesitate to enter the building. The more that people pay attention to these signs, look up at the sky or look at the crows, the more effective are these signs.
There are other visual controls that don’t use words. We try to keep away crows or other animals with scarecrows, balloons with concentric circles like a huge eye, and silver streamers that dangle and flash in the wind to scare, or a life-size plastic owl. We humans ignore these. We assume that the farmer or gardener knows what she is doing. Or we don’t notice them at all. Their effectiveness varies.
The important ingredient in this visual management mind trick is human attention. The visual control is just a visual reminder that there is a situation here. It makes us curious. It causes us to care. In an organizational or business context, such visual controls engage people to see if the process is working. It enables frequent checking of standards. It guides the leadership’s gaze.
This story of the crows demonstrates that it’s not necessary for people to understand the meaning of a visual control for it to change human behavior. The signs are meant to modify the behavior of the crows, but crows can’t read. Crows understand that humans are making a visible change in the environment. Crows notice humans paying more attention to them. Crows feel comfortable in abandoned buildings, but when humans redirect their attention to these buildings, the crows stay away. The “No Entry to Crows” visual trigger a behavior change in humans. That behavior change influences the crows.
How effective are your visual controls in capturing the attention and interest of the people you need to check on, care for, and maintain the process standards?