What Traffic in Jakarta Taught Me About Slack

· March 18, 2015

Jakarta Traffic

The traffic in Jakarta, like many Asian cities, is notoriously chaotic. Amidst the sea of motorbikes and the apparent disregard for safety, I found profound lessons on the concept of slack.

It took me nearly a year to look beyond the apparent disregard for safety and see the underlying patterns that profoundly impacted me.

In this brief post, I aim to share those insights and perhaps spark some reflections that may resonate with you.

My dear friend Håkan Forss delivered an excellent presentation titled What Traffic in Stockholm Can Teach You About Queuing Theory, which inspired me to pen down these thoughts.

They Never Stop

Jakarta Traffic

One striking observation is that motorbikes never come to a halt. Understanding this fact could save your life. Asian motorbike drivers seldom stop, even in the face of imminent danger. This relentless movement, however perilous, yields incremental gains in the congested traffic.

The desire to inch forward, even by a mere meter, drives motorcyclists to navigate through the smallest of gaps between vehicles. The same urgency exists among car drivers, albeit constrained by their vehicles’ size.

They Are Small

Motorbikes’ compact size allows them to maneuver through narrow spaces, especially at traffic lights. While cars remain stationary, motorbikes exploit every available gap, resulting in chaotic movements when the light turns green.

Flow? Solutions

Reflecting on the chaos, one wonders about solutions to improve traffic flow. Packing more vehicles onto the road exacerbates congestion, as Håkan’s presentation aptly illustrates. Removing motorbikes altogether might seem drastic, but it could potentially restore some semblance of order to the chaos.

Eliminating motorbikes would create unavoidable gaps between cars, fostering a smoother flow. Similarly, eliminating cars could lead to more agile traffic flow, albeit with smaller work items (i.e., motorbikes) in progress.

Projects and Personal Life

In the context of projects or personal life, the gaps between vehicles symbolize slack — periods of non-productive time. Motorbikes filling these gaps impede the flow, mirroring our tendency to fill every moment with busyness.

Yet, slack is essential for reflection and improvement. Embracing moments of idle time allows for introspection and creativity, fostering better outcomes in projects and personal endeavors alike.


This post lacks a grand conclusion, much like the traffic jams it describes. Nevertheless, I hope it provokes some contemplation and perhaps a shift in perspective.

I penned these thoughts during a moment of slack at work, a fitting reminder of its value.

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