January 2011 Archives


An Innate Sense of Fairness

You might be forgiven for thinking that the world favors the greedy. After all, aren't our genes selfish? Don't the heavier specimens survive the famine? Isn't Wall Street only interested in profit? Isn't greed good? Well, extraordinary as it may seem, no, perhaps not. Animals exercise selfless cooperation in order to spread risk beyond the individual. The results of greedy eating, energy storage in fat deposits, has not survived MTV as a means of reproductive success, and consumers are inclined to turn their backs on companies known to favor the unfair deal. (Mortgage, cable and telecom companies, please take note).

The world it seems is taking a shine to the fair and honest trader. It turns out that we primates have an innate sense of fairness. If you take two innocent capuchin monkeys, arrange for them to collaborate on dreary tasks, and then reward one with a luscious grape (a capuchin favorite) and the other with a small, slightly dry, cucumber slice, you will greatly enrage the under paid monkey. In fact, after a while you will engender job hopping, petitions for a compensation committee and the formation of a capuchin union.

Similarly, if you take a set of high tech workers and add an MBA executive who is paid 20 times the salary of a programmer, you will generally obtain, in a short period of time, a turn around opportunity for a less well paid turnaround MBA and his HR accomplice to hand out pink slips to the dullards who have hung around. And so the iniquitous, greedy cycle is naturally damped by the market place.

However, when a company provides that little extra with its products, that little extra that makes the relationship to its customers not only seem fair, but be fair, then a virtuous cycle emerges. We over grown capuchins clap each other on the back and tell our friends, 'there is this great new friendly place, called Starbucks', 'if you want to find the good stuff on the web visit Yahoo', (or a least we did). We instinctively know when the deal is fair and we don't flinch when the vendor asks for his share of the deal. We know the adverts are targeted but we do not mind when they add value to the other search results. But when we visit a site with nothing but adverts we flee within a few moments.

So, don't hesitate to offer a fair deal. Don't be too aggressive with the advertising. Don't ask for money until you are absolutely sure you can provide more value than you are asking. Then and only then will your site be a success, because then and only then will your customers know that there is something there for them.

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