(Guest Post From Boneflour)
From buying a used car to going on a first date, people are constantly asking, “Is this worth it?” If you know how people make that decision, you can change their answer. This is useful to get a job, make a sale, change a grade from a B to an A, plan a party, etc. etc.
I’m doing guesswork when it comes to Edenism, but I’d say these methods are naturally used by melony types as part of their “reality distortion field” toolkit. They get it instinctively, I read books and reverse engineer it.
This post will explain a bit of the how, and also explain why all those TV ads have the same bits in them. (“Call now, and we’ll double the offer!” “Just return it if you’re not 100% satisfied, and you can even keep the hair comb!” “This offer ends soon, call now!” Why do they still work, even though they’re so cheesy?)
All decisions are influenced by a few key factors, which appeal more or less strongly to different personality types and demographics. Each decision can be assigned positions along these axes:
cost/benefit – does it cost money/time/emotional effort, merely exchange one resource for another, or is it a net positive?
certain/uncertain – how likely are the costs and payoff?
large/moderate/small – big stakes or relatively small?
immediate/mid/long term – how soon will the effects happen?
urgent/can wait – do you have to decide now, or do you have time? (not covered here for space reasons)
Think of it like poker. You have multiple hands, and the best hand “wins” (i.e. you decide on whatever has the best hand).
For example, a lotto ticket is a certain, small, immediate cost (the lotto ticket) for an uncertain, large, immediate benefit (WINNING). For many people, the trade is worth it. But for plenty of people, that money is as good as gone. Avoiding that wallet pain beats a small chance of winning the lotto.
Old Man Beardy buys a ticket every month or so, just for “insurance”, but he don’t like losing money on the lotto when he could get a pack of Pall Malls instead. The lotto ticket loses the trade.
Good marketing changes the perception of these categories, beefing up the hand the marketer wants to win.
For example, most scratch off tickets have minor prizes and “extra chances”. Besides the main jackpot, sometimes you win a free ticket or a smaller amount of cash. Now there are multiple possible benefits and only one cost. Certain, small cost for “certain”, small benefit… AND an uncertain, large benefit. (Everything involved is immediate, so that part cancels out.)
The small certain cost and small “certain” benefit cancel out, leaving only the chance for the Jackpot on the one side. Lotto ticket wins the trade.
Old Man Beardy buys tickets every week, now. It’s just five dollars a ticket, and he’s won 50 bucks on the extra scratch that one time! One of these days he’s going to get the jackpot. With the number of tickets he’s buying, it’s just a matter of time, right?
Never mind that he’s opened up an even bigger money hole, statistically. It feels like winning, because the perception of the trade is different.
People as a whole are biased towards certain trade-offs, and against others. We don’t notice them because they’re obvious. Would you hold your breath until you died for 5 bucks? Exactly. Bad trade, no deal.
At the broadest scale, people want to avoid pain (costs) more than just about anything else. This is the reason people put up with shit jobs. A better one is right down the street, but you’d have to fill out an application, get your resume together, go to interviews… blegh.
Tim Ferris used this bias to ace his undergrad classes.
In The Four Hour Work Week, Ferris tells a story about how he got good grades despite so-so effort. Any time his TA gave him anything less than an A, he would visit the TA and spend hours going over every miniscule, agonizing detail of what caused that low grade… So the next time he turned in a B paper, the TA would bump it up to an A. Anything to avoid the hair-pulling hassle of dealing with that Ferris kid.
At the race/large group level, people have different biases as well. Alt-Righters often speak of “high time preference” in blacks. This basically means any “immediate” benefits automagically win against “long term” benefits… and even long term pain. Why invest money to buy things later when you can spend everything you got right now? Sure, a thug lyfe boi might do jail time later, but they get a pair of sneakers right now.
The Chappelle Show has a great bit about this:
So these are not hard rules so much as categories that people generally like. Which brings us back to marketing: If you can change the category your product is in, you can go from “hell no” to “shut up and take my money” in an instant.
Example: A home security salesman was going door to door, trying to sell home alarm systems. The problem was, he was selling something with a certain, large, immediate drawback: Security systems cost money to buy and install.
Worse, they only do anything if they deter a robbery. So for most people, there was essentially no benefit, only two kinds of costs to consider. It was a trade between a certain, immediate, moderate cost (alarm system)… versus a large, long term, uncertain cost (possible robbery).
Note: This is also why people don’t like to buy car/health insurance until they’re wrecked/sick. The whole “spend money now to maybe save money later” just doesn’t seem that appetizing.
Anyway, here’s how this particular salesman changed that trade: He hired some rough looking guys to walk around the neighborhood, looking mean. Suddenly, robbery wasn’t a far off possibility, it was right outside the front door!
Now, the trade changed… to a certain, immediate, moderate cost (alarm system) vs. certain, immediate, large cost (those robber types look about to strike). The alarm system wins.
Obviously you don’t want to do this particular tactic in real life. Bad juju. Just don’t do it. I’m including this story to show that the system works.
So you can change the trade-off in someone’s mind to favor the choice you want them to pick. You do so by adjusting different elements of the trade up or down… by emphasizing a small benefit to make it a large one, or by making an uncertain aspect seem more certain.
Well, dingus. I explained the “Lotto Ticket” method of changing certainty and cost. I talked about how Tim Ferris got straight As with B papers. But I didn’t quite get to the Money Back Guarantee. I’ll get that in Part 2. And as an extra, I’ll explain how you can use this information to do anything from putting together a basketball group to dodging a mugging without even fighting.