Sell solutions, not deliverables

Something I’ve learned since starting a business:

When selling your products or services, focus on your potential customers’ stated problems/painsand not the product or service they think they need. Decide whether you can fulfill their expectations based on whether you can address and solve whatever problem they’re facing–not whether you can deliver the specifications they claim to need.

For example, I recently had a potential client (now an actual client) show me an example of what he wanted–a particular data dashboard for a particular application, similar to the one his predecessor used. He asked if I could recreate that dashboard for him with updated data.

If I were to answer his question directly, it would have been a definite “no.” Truth is, I have no idea how to create that dashboard, nor would I attempt to–it was outdated, cumbersome, and rather unhelpful to him (though he didn’t realize it).

But of course, I didn’t say “no.” I knew what his goals were, and that I could help him get there. So I said exactly this: “I can do much better than that.”

He was impressed. I got the job. They never knew that I couldn’t do exactly what they said they wanted, but it didn’t matter–I knew I could do what they really wanted.

Successful selling is about solving problems and relieving pains. It’s about managing expectations and thinking creativelyIt’s not about doing everything your client says they want, line-by-line, because the truth is: No one can fulfill every client expectation exactly as they initially conceive them.

To be honest, this is rather basic advice. I knew all this before I started selling research. But it means so much more now that I’m in the thick of things. It’s easy to be intimidated by a client’s request when you’re not sure if you have the tools to complete it. Under-delivering is enemy #1, after all. But think long and hard before saying “no.” What is it the client really wants? What problem are they trying to solve? Do you have a solution they never would have thought of–maybe something better, even different, than what they think they need?

On speaking clearly

Gosnell’s behavior was terribly wrong. But there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations.

This is the liberal Supreme Court’s argument against more abortion regulations. Ironically, it’s also conservative’s argument against more gun control.

In general, I think this type of confusion happens when people talk too much — when they go on and on about their position, using every possible reason to defend some ideal. We end up far from our original position, saying things we don’t really mean.

Better, and more effective, I think, to stick to one line — to get to the bottom of things and stay there. Why pro-choice? Because every woman has the right to control her body. Why anti-gun control? Because everyone has the right to bear arms.

And instead of pile argument on top of argument, dissect just one. Get hermeneutical. Explore the philosophical underpinnings of your fundamental position and dig deep into its history–even to pre-modern or ancient originators. Commit to speaking clearly and basically about what you know, and remember that fruitful debates are not combative, but investigative, and even exegetical, in nature.

Signs of the times

From the erudite Theodore Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine:

Since perfect peace cannot hold our attention for long, accustomed as we are to a life of constant stimulation, we tend, or feel the need, to focus our minds on the dramatic. Without violent manifestations of discontent and criminality somewhere in the world, we should soon grow bored. Universal contentment is our worst enemy and greatest fear.

So we are predisposed to see in infrequent and dramatic events not merely the events themselves, but signs of the times, a glimpse of the future, a future that makes us shudder in the same way as a horror film makes us shudder. Infrequent and dramatic events have transcendent meaning for us, so to speak, in a way that reigning peace, however preponderant, does not and cannot have.

The Fed’s new ‘regime-based’ concept

From a new paper by St. Louis Fed President James Bullard:

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is changing its characterization of the U.S. macroeconomic and monetary policy outlook. An older narrative that the Bank has been using since the financial crisis ended has now likely outlived its usefulness, and so it is being replaced by a new narrative. The hallmark of the new narrative is to think of medium- and longer-term macroeconomic outcomes in terms of regimes. The concept of a single, long-run steady state to which the economy is converging is abandoned, and is replaced by a set of possible regimes that the economy may visit. Regimes are generally viewed as persistent, and optimal monetary policy is viewed as regime dependent. Switches between regimes are viewed as not forecastable.

It is a good time to consider a regime-based conception of medium- and longer-term macroeconomic outcomes. Key macroeconomic variables including real output growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation appear to be at or near values that are likely to persist over the forecast horizon. Any further cyclical adjustment going forward is likely to be relatively minor. We therefore think of the current values for real output growth, the unemployment rate, and inflation as being close to the mean outcome of the “current regime.”

Of course, the situation can and will change in the future, but exactly how is difficult to predict. Therefore, the best that we can do today is to forecast that the current regime will persist and set policy appropriately for this regime. If there is a switch to a new regime in the future, then that will likely affect all variables—including the policy rate—but such a switch is not forecastable.

Seems reasonable.

The loss of the contemplative mind

From Teddy Wayne, writing at the New York Times:

Mr. Carr also noted counterarguments: Formulating relatively simple thoughts on the internet can yield more complex ones through real-time exchanges with others, and people whose reflex is to post a notion hastily rather than let it sit may not have been the most deliberative thinkers in a pre-smartphone time, either.

Nevertheless, he sees our current direction as indicative of “the loss of the contemplative mind,” he said. “We’ve adopted the Google ideal of the mind, which is that you have a question that you can answer quickly: close-ended, well-defined questions. Lost in that conception is that there’s also this open-ended way of thinking where you’re not always trying to answer a question. You’re trying to go where that thought leads you. As a society, we’re saying that that way of thinking isn’t as important anymore. It’s viewed as inefficient.”

I wonder about the connection between the limits of social media and the formulation of our opinions on contentious social issues. Do we limit our thinking to thoughts and ideas that can be communicated succinctly on Twitter or Facebook?

The medium shapes the message–the way we communicate affects the types of things we say. If we’re not careful, things go one step further: The things we say affect the way we think about things.

Therefore, the medium shapes not only the message, but the thinking. Scary thought.

I listened to this EconTalk yesterday, featuring historian Abby Smith Rumsey. She talked about the role of memory in shaping our thinking and our plans for the future, and discussed how the “digitization” of memory via the virtual logging of more and more of what we see, hear and experience may affect the way we understand the past and, more intimately, determine cause-and-effect relationships in the world around us.

It’s complicated neuroscience that I hardly understand. And Rumsey says it’s hardly settled science, as Wayne (author of quote above) is careful to note in his NYT piece. At the least, I think, the possibility that the medium shapes not only the message, but also the way we understand the world gives cause for serious, personal consideration about how our choice of media–how we get the news, how we communicate with friends and family, how we express our opinions–affects the way we think about things, generally.

For example, it seems possible, to me, that over-relying on written media to communicate with others affects the way we interpret body language. Given that practice and experience makes us more fluent, in general, I think it’s likely that over-relying on text to communicate with other people diminishes our natural ability to interpret their body language–a whole other dimension of interpersonal communication that tells us more than words alone.

Maybe you don’t care about all this. And maybe there really isn’t anything to worry about–our brains are partially “plastic,” but sufficiently hardened that basic, fundamental thinking isn’t meaningfully affected by media.

At the very least, then, in a world where most look down at their phones during quiet moments, one who looks up gains a different perspective–potentially very useful and marketable. One who looks up gains an edge over other people. What successful person wouldn’t want that?

We look at our phones, anyways, hoping to find new things. We don’t want to read old emails, or see the same memes, or watch variations on the same boring videos. We want to see brand new things. And the shinier and grander they are, the more we’ll give up to see them.

I can only imagine that those most successful in creating these new things are those who see things differently and, especially, those who do things differently–those who look up when others look down.

On social change, early birds = slow birds

An interesting generalization from fertility data (chart below) at Our World in Data:

We also see from the chart that the speed with which countries can achieve low fertility has increased over time. A century ago it took the United Kingdom 95 years and the US 82 years to reduce fertility from more than 6 to less than 3. This is a pattern that we see often in development: those countries that first experience social change take much longer for transitions than those who catch up later. Countries that were catching up increased life expectancy much faster, they reduced child mortality more quickly and were able to grow their incomes much more rapidly.

I’d say this is rather intuitive. At the least, it jives with our life experiences with regard to any new frontier–a new skill, a new method, a new process or way of thinking. The pioneers of anything have the hardest time, carving paths where none existed before. The rest of us follow on trodden, smoother ground.

Social change, especially, isn’t easy. Lots of fear involved. Lots of barrier-breaking and throwing off long-held traditions. But once the guinea pigs make it through unharmed, others gain confidence.