I'm disgusted. Terrell Owens recently signed a $25 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Yesterday he reportedly tried to commit suicide. This morning, his publicist was on the morning news claiming it was an allergic reaction to medication not a suicide attempt. "Terrell Owens," she said, "has twenty five million reasons to live." Terrell Owens' publicist needs a publicist.
There is so much wrong with that statement that I hardly know where to begin. First, it implies that poor people have no reason to live. But if that's true, how do you explain the dramatic fall ( 8.4% before to .7% after) in suicidal inclinations among residents of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina? Those people were poorer after the storm. Wouldn't they have fewer reasons to live?
Perhaps the worst implication of her statement is that money is our reason to live. The lie she wants you to believe is that your value is determined by your performance which is measured by your accumulated wealth.
In the book The New New Thing, author Michael Lewis wrote about Jim Clark. Clark is the only person ever to take three start-up companies to market valuations of over a billion dollars (Netscape, Silicon Graphics, Healtheon WebMD). In the process Clark became quite rich himself but maintained that once he was worth $1 billion he would retire.
One day Lewis pointed out that Clark was worth over $4 billion and asked why Clark hadn't retired. Clark changed his story and said his new goal was to have more than Larry Ellison, the head of Oracle who, at the time, was worth about $10 billion. Lewis did the math and pointed out that based on the growth of his wealth, Clark would pass Ellison in a matter of months. "What then," he asked? "Do you want to have more than Bill Gates?" "Oh no," Clark replied, "That's ridiculous." But a short time later Clark came clean. He said, "You know, just for a little while I'd like to have the most."
Why? Well, because if you measure your value by your performance and your performance by your accumulated wealth then you fall into a trap. As long as there is someone worth more, then you are worth less. And no one wants to be "worthless." This may explain why Terrell Owens can have $25 million dollars and fail to feel like a million bucks.
We have got to recognize that each human being has an intrinsic and immeasurable value endowed by the Creator and that this value remains constant even as their performance and wealth fluctuate. Your net worth is not really associated with your accumulated wealth.
It's a good thing too because it turns out that people value each additional dollar they receive a little less than the one before. The more you get, the less it means. It's called marginal disutility of gain and it explains why rich people can feel so dissatisfied. It is also instructive to marketers because of its corollary; marginal utility of loss.
It turns out we humans feel the pain of a loss twice as much as we feel the benefit of an equivalent gain. This makes us averse to risk. If the choosing the wrong product feels twice as bad as choosing the right one feels good, then we are less inclined to try new products or to switch brands. This problem can be paralyzing in a society with so much choice. Faced with too many options and afraid of chooing poorly, we stop trying to figure it out on our own and instead follow other people's actions. It's called social proof.
I guess my rant today isn't very closely tied to marketing. Oh well. I digressed, but I felt like it was important. Hope you did too. You may not have $25 million dollars, but you are worth much more and have many more than 25 million reasons to live. Treat your customers the same way. Spread the fire. GS