The Asymmetry of Importance

HaircutIn California, I started going to a barber near our office on a regular basis instead of finding some cheap place to get a haircut.  So each time I went, it was with the same barber and not the usual stranger hacking at my head.

So, at each haircut, I remembered the barber and our conversation from my last visit.  My memory was clear; his memory on the other hand was sketchy. For me, it was my only haircut for several months, for him, it was the 350th. Should I blame him for not really remembering me?

We encounter this asymmetry all the time. Whether it’s the high school teacher we meet at the grocery store that can’t remember our name, or the coffee barista who can’t remember our favorite drink that we order all the time. It’s easy to understand why our memory recalls a unique event as significant and others don’t, but this is not only a difference of memory, it’s a difference of importance.

We often assume that those we interact with in business have similar interests, similar values, or a similar perspective to our own – not the same, similar. Just like we assume others remember us as well as we remember them. We believe that our interaction with them is of equal importance to their interaction with us.  Most of the time, nothing could be further from the truth.

We ran into this difference when we were trying a new pricing strategy with our customers. We came up with a strategy that we believed cleverly aligned value with cost. We thought that anyone who thought about it could easily justify the cost on this basis. The problem was that the people having to make this decision were inundated everyday with many things that they had to sort out (not just this one) and a limited amount of focus to resolve them. If we were their only problem, they could think through this clearly and see the ingenuity of our pricing structure.  But we weren’t. So they would punt and tell us they wanted to buy way more than they needed just so they could avoid thinking through it now (or ever).  Then they were shocked and dismayed by the price. Clever models are only clever if other people are willing to adopt them.  We assumed their value on this deal was like ours because we had no idea all the other things on their plate.

All of us are overwhelmed everyday with ambiguity – but the important ambiguity that we make decisions on is different between all of us.  We have a hard enough time finding clarity in our own lives, so the simpler we can make it on others, the better.  Don’t be surprised by the asymmetry of importance between ourselves and everyone else.

[Picture Credit:  Steve Rhodes]






One response to “The Asymmetry of Importance”

  1. David Delp Avatar
    David Delp

    The revelation about what’s important to “the other” is so powerful and one would hope delightfully surprising. So often it feels crushing to learn that what I think is important isn’t really that important to someone else, even though it’s rarely personal.

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