Little Things Matter

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You and I live in a fast paced and highly complex world.  So much information, so many choices… so little time.  How do people make sense of it all?

If we were to process everything that crossed our path and analyze it thoroughly we wouldn’t have time to do much else.  Somehow and someway we need to make judgments and decisions using a more selective process.  And, according to social scientists, that is exactly what we do.

Consider this example from Robert B. Cialdini, PhD for a moment.

A jewelry store owner buys a new jewelry collection from a local artist.  It’s the height of tourist season, but none of the new pieces sell.  As a result, she does what most of us would do.  She lowers the price considerably in hopes that it will entice customers to buy.  No one does.

One day, before she goes out of town, she leaves a note for her head saleswoman. The note asks the woman to make everything in the display case, “price x ½”.  She simply wants to get rid of these pieces and cut her losses.  However, the employee misreads the “1/2” as a “2” and ends up doubling the price of the pieces.  When the owner returns, she is stunned to find that the entire collection sells out at twice the original price!

This outcome speaks directly to the “information overload” phenomenon we all endure on a daily basis.  How do we adjust for this overload?  We form pre-programmed tapes to help us make quicker decisions.   We create shortcuts to help us along the way.  We develop rules of thumb.  In the case of the jewelry store, tourists use a standard principle – a stereotype – to help with their purchasing decision.  “Expensive = Good”.

We can see this phenomenon in a wide variety of interactions.  Here are a few of my own personal examples.

Just today I went with my son to see his new first grade class.  Last year he had a fantastic teacher.  She was caring, outgoing and loved to teach.  Why did I pick these three traits above everything else?  Probably because I don’t have enough experience to truly know what might be the best educational experience for my son.  But I do know he had an enjoyable Kindergarten year and I also know he learned a tremendous amount.  Since his Kindergarten teacher possessed the three traits above I now use that as my frame of reference.  Unfortunately, his new teacher did not show these same traits.  She seemed preoccupied and cold when we introduced ourselves.  As a result, I spent the rest of my time in the classroom concerned about what my son was getting into, and wondering if this teacher was qualified to teach first grade.

Is this right?  In all honesty, I know it’s a mistake.  And yet, it remains in the back of my mind no matter how much I try to fight it.  In my world, it matters.

I once went to see a doctor trying to get help for something that was causing me considerable physical pain.  As I sat there telling him my symptoms and my concerns, he yawned.  It was the end of the day and I’m sure he had seen a lot of patients prior to my appointment.  And I’ve certainly yawned before when talking to someone.  But in my mind, at that moment, it was over.  I spent the rest of the appointment waiting to simply get out of his office so I could find another doctor.  Someone more caring?  More competent?  I’ll never know.

This leads me to my main marketing point and message…what are your potential clients judging you on?

The fact is, we’re constantly looking for clues and telling ourselves stories based on limited information.  Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Pay attention to the subtle and smaller details of your work, and understand that, right or wrong, they will make a difference.



  1. Katherine Gordy Levine  August 18, 2009

    My business motto is “Make Money Doing Good.” I have clearly mastered the doing good part. One problem in trying to combine the two seems to be what I call the prostitution factor. You can’t pay people to care, therefore when paying someone to care it feels to some as if the caring is somehow not genuine. I think this was one reason teachers and nurses were so poorly paid for so long. At the same time we want caring and when paying for scientific knowledge–cold teacher or the yawning doctor–we get turned off. The fact is when I am in my rational rather than emotional mind, I want the doctor who knows the most about my disease whether or not s/he yawns or smiles cherrily. But when ill, we don’t stay in our rational mind, but our emotional or child’s mind. Just my thoughts. Thank you for sparking them. Great blog.

  2. David Diana  August 18, 2009

    Fantastic points Katherine. I always find myself having to reassess my initial reactions to understand why I am feeling a certain way or thinking a certain way. It is amazing to me how much of an impact small things have in terms of influencing how I perceive things.

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