Road Lightning

Is it a smart idea to switch off the general highway road lighting during the night? Proponents argue that it saves energy, reduces light pollution, and may even improve safety: After all, modern car headlights provide plenty visibility and a dark road may even improve driver attentiveness.

This is all true, yet it completely misses the big issue: When the road lighting is off and a dark object blocks a dark road—for example a crossing deer—the driver runs a much bigger collusion risk due to a lower reaction time. 

Therefore, switching off general road lighting optimizes the system, yet introduces additional exposure to low-probability, yet often fatal risks.

This phenomenon is called optimization until systemic failure: By taking out redundancy in the name of efficiency, systems become more and more fragile. For example, in the past decades global supply chains have been increasingly optimized to improve efficiency and profit. Yet, as the outbreak of the Corona virus pandemic has shown, we now find out we have introduced massive fragility as an adverse side effect: Low-probability events can be fatal for the system, and as a result not only wipe out the cumulative optimization gains, but put the entire business in jeopardy.

Thus, you may want to re-think your business and take a contrarian approach: 

  • Where have you switched off road lighting in your business or organization? 
  • How can you apply anti-optimization, and start adding redundancy?

photo credit: iStockPhoto/Jonas Rönnbro

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