Why is there resistance to high-speed trains? Deborah Nas on accepting innovation

From Amsterdam to Paris in 35 minutes: this will soon be possible with the Hyperloop, a high-speed transport system with tubes. Everybody happy? No, Deborah Nas knows, because revolutionary innovations in the field of mobility always meet with resistance. During CWF2019, she wants to brainstorm with visitors about how people can accept innovation faster.

She is active on the cutting edge of business, technology and psychology. What new technologies are on the horizon? Which business models do they enable? And how does the innovation concerned affect people? Deborah Nas is a part-time professor of ‘Strategic design for technology-based innovation’ at TU Delft (Delft University of Technology). At CWF2019, she will give a presentation and hold a brainstorming session on the subject of mobility. In her presentation, she shows how people continue to focus on the negative aspects of new innovations and mobility concepts. “A lot of people tend to consider the potentially adverse effects of innovation and we see the same arguments coming up time and again.” The audience will then be asked to contribute ideas: how can we reduce resistance to a mobility concept such as Hyperloop?

‘A lot of people tend to consider the potentially adverse effects of innovation’


Nas is holding her workshop with José Eduardo Sanchez, Head of Design at Hardt Hyperloop. This company has developed a transport system that Nas describes as ‘revolutionary’: it allows you to travel from Amsterdam to Paris in 35 minutes. Another good thing is that the Hyperloop uses only 10 per cent of the energy used by an aircraft.

Quick to install then, these elevated Hyperloop tubes? Not so fast. Because not everyone is cheering about this innovation either, says Nas. “You hear all sorts of complaints. The infrastructure needed is far too expensive. The quick acceleration will make passengers feel sick. There are no windows.” All arguments which, according to Nas, are relatively easy to refute. She is fascinated by the question of what makes people afraid every time a new innovation presents itself – and what we can potentially learn from this for the future, starting with the introduction of Hyperloop.

Recurring patterns

The professor sees a pattern in the way in which mobility innovations are received. “People are always concerned about the effects on health, for example, both physically and mentally. The speed could be harmful. When the first trains were introduced, there was talk of damage to the intestines and that people might also be confused mentally by travelling at high speed. Another recurring concern is that new forms of transport may lead to an explosive increase in the number of accidents. Far too dangerous, all those new-fangled gizmos. The question I want to answer is what we can learn from these recurring patterns, so that people accept new innovations quicker. Hardt Hyperloop and I don’t want to do this by ourselves on 23 October, we want to get the visitors involved.”

‘People are always concerned about the effects on health’

Understanding the psychology

What kind of creativity is needed to make people look at and think differently about innovations? According to Nas, this is the key question. “You need to have a good understanding of the psychology. People who feel resistance to something new always compare it with something existing and then start thinking about what they are going to lose. Take the automobile, for example. Do you know what helped enormously in America? That they described it as a horseless carriage. It turned out that this description met with much less resistance than the term automobile. It made it less strange and threatening. So, a design strategy that can be helpful is that of analogy or comparison.”

The story that Nas and Sanchez tell during CWF2019 also includes thought experiments that make it clear that people view innovations from different frames of reference. “Your frame of reference strongly determines what you see. When working on innovations, it is very important to understand these different frames of reference and respond to them in the right way. This can reduce the chance of resistance and increase the chance of adoption of your innovation.”

‘I’m impressed with the scale of CWF2019’

Historical resistance

Deborah Nas is already impressed with the scale of the CWF2019 event. “I wasn’t previously aware of it, but I’m impressed by its scale; both the fact that it lasts for three days and the diversity of its programme.” She hopes that the interaction between the attendees, Hardt Hyperloop and herself on 23 October will provide good ideas for the introduction of this revolutionary transport system. “And for me it’s great to talk about historical resistance, because that theme is part of my field of expertise. Moreover, I love to share knowledge; CWF2019 is also right up my street in that respect.”

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