TED Talks: Tying your shoes wrong

I was watching some TED Talks yesterday, and I found one claiming that most of us tie our shoes wrong.

Hmm... Well, why not try it? To have a control group, I tied one shoe the familiar way and one the improved way. What happened?

1) The new way was definitely tricky: my muscle memory fought going around the laces the "wrong" way.

2) The experiment with tugging on the shoe laces to differentiate the strong knot from the weak knot did not work for me the way it did for him at all. Both loops stayed pretty much right where they were in either case.

3) After a few hours, one of my shoes was untied. It was the one with the improved knot.

I also note the speaker ignored an important point on path dependence, made, for instance, by Liebowitz and Margolis: The historically chosen way of doing things can't be judged inferior nearly because another way offer slightly greater efficiency. The gain in efficiency has to pay for the cost of switching. And switching here so we have some costs.

Conclusion: I think I will invest my time elsewhere.


  1. The gain in efficiency has to pay for the cost of switching.

    Not just that -- it would also need to make up for whatever silent benefits it was providing due to its coupling to other phenomena (in this case, perhaps protection against knot slippage) i.e. the "Chesterton Fence" effects.

  2. I made the switch a few years ago. I've been happy with the (modest) benefits relative to the (fairly minor) switching costs, but my analysis is also probably tainted by confirmation bias.

  3. The funny part of that video was was that he is tying that knot the hard way. The "improved" knot works because of the relative geometry of the underlying overhand knot and the tied loops. So, if you just tie the first overhand knot the other way you can do the rest the way you normally would. The result will be upside down from what he has but should have the claimed superior tightening qualities.


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