A Metric System Conversion Revelation (and a Weakness with Audio Books)

I had an audiobook from my local library that was about to expire so I spent quite a few hours during the past few days and plowed through it. The book was Daniel Goleman’s Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. I have other of his books, so I knew I wanted to read this one as well.

The book that was such a great help.

The book that was such a great help.

Thanks goodness I did because the last chapter of the book talked about the importance of focusing on the future and avoiding short-term fixes. The book also related the story of when Mayor Bloomberg announced in 2003 there was to be a ban on smoking in bars New York City:

The decision got huge opposition. Bar owners said it would ruin their business. Smokers hated it. He said, “You might not like it but you’ll thank me in 20 years.”

The book then asked the question: How long does it take for the public reaction to such a change to become positive?

What was next in the book next stunned me. Someone (whose first name I couldn’t make out—last name Webber or Weber) had done some research on that topic and indicated:

We did cases studies of how long it took for a change that was initially unpopular to become the new, accepted status quo. Our data shows the range is nine to six months.

Six to nine months? That’s all? That’s the sort of information that if you put it front of the right people (I’m thinking politicians here) you might really be able to get some attention.

I knew immediately I needed to follow up on that information but I couldn’t figure out the researcher’s first name. I listened several times but I just couldn’t make it out for sure. Google searches of lame attempts didn’t help me especially since I’d defaulted to the spelling of “Webber” for the last name for some reason. My library’s paper copy (I had the audio one) of the book wasn’t due until the beginning of next month so I drove into Santa Fe and found two copies in a bookstore.

The book’s index gave me my answer. “Elke” was the first name I was having so much trouble deciphering since I could only hear it. First and last name in hand, I discovered where she teaches at Columbia University and I’ll follow up with her by email to learn more about the case studies cited in the book. (Pages 250-251 for what’s in this post.) Her CV shows articles on risk management and decision making (among other things) but I couldn’t find this particular research. I’d really like to have that information in hand going forward.

To make sure I got my research for this post correct, I looked up information on the smoking ban and came across an article from March of last year (2013) that celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the ban. It contained the following:

Back then many people opposed the bill, and they tried to stop it. They said it was taking away people’s rights as though nonsmokers didn’t have the right to breathe clean air. They said it would destroy the restaurant and bar business in the city, as well as our tourism industry. There were dire predictions about how the ban would lead to job losses and tax revenue [losses],” Bloomberg said. “Well, here we are 10 years later, and we can look back now and see how accurate those four claims were.

Apparently the mayor:

…credited a nearly 50 percent growth in the hospitality industry to the fact that more people are dining out because they can do so without being around smoke.

The Yahoo story even goes on to cite a previous opponent of the bill who owns a bar in the city.

It turned out to be great, not this bad thing that I thought it would be,” Meagher said. At his side, Bloomberg beamed.

I’m confident that our conversion in this country to the metric system will get us to the same point in the future. A little hand wringing at first but then things will settle down.

Plus now I have a new data point that I can hang my hat on to help convince those in power that support of metric conversion could have potential positive effects on their careers since they’re focusing on the long-term national good.

To me, that’s a win-win.

Linda